Thursday, January 6, 2011

Epiphany: They get it


Today is Epiphany. I’ve always loved the idea that we have this separate time for the wisemen. And one more opportunity to light candles. Sing “We Three Kings.” More so, I like the idea, the linguistic sense of “showing forth,” or in Spanish, manifestacion, a word also used for political rallies and demonstrations. And how the word has migrated in meaning in English to the sense of “getting it,” how in an instant, like a flash of light, all of a sudden you get it, it makes sense.

So today I’ll be “showing forth” the building again to the Housing Works folks. Ted will be with me. And Jon, to be the real estate pro on the scene. And our neighbor Susan who set this up and whose sister volunteers at Housing Works shows up too. And Tom from the Belnord across the street, just to see what’s going on. From Housing Works, there’s program staff and executive leadership and board people. This is serious.

So I lead the tour. Again. Point out the two stained glass windows from 1890, from the Lightbearers and Seekers for Pearls. And the four windows never finished. The vaulted glass ceiling painted over in World War II, in case of air raids. The maroon and gold stenciling that appears as water washes off the paint. The original rose walls from what must have been a beautiful color scheme. The rainbow flag commemorating how this church was the first mainline one to welcome the lgbt community at every level of leadership. The original Tiffany rededicated at the height of the AIDS crisis to a man’s lover. The balconies where SANE and FREEZE officed and together with the Presbyterians from the Peacemonger Press planned the 1983 march against nuclear proliferation. I tell the story of the African American live-in domestics who integrated the church. The refugees from First Havana and First Chinese Havana who founded La Iglesia Presbiteriana de West-Park. I’ve done this so many times. Every time it still moves me. I point out the little flags from the time when our congregation of slightly under 100 had members from 36 birth nations.

We tour the theatre built by Joseph Papp. Abandoned. Excavated by my friends from Frog & Peach. And recently reclaimed by Amanda for the Balcony Music Festival. And I remember tending bar there when my son’s Brooklyn based neo-psychedelic band had their storied cd release concert here.

We go through the ruins of the church house. The stately chandeliered McAlpin Hall, exposed lath and all. The 1890’s gym with late afternoon sun and Germanic stenciled beams, perhaps the original chapel roof. The former office of God’s Love We Deliver revealing the paranoia of the crack-fueled ’80’s...a metal security grate protecting a fourth floor window. Crack-head ninjas? The outdoor security garage strength gate that guarded their fourth floor office. That was a different Upper Westside.

Matt the Vice-President has all kinds of thoughts. The director of programming is excited. We make clear that this is not about “space rental” but about collaboration, creativity, transformation. And the spot Amanda picked for a cafe still looks like the right one. Direct services, community programming, book stores...all seem possible.

They talk about the early days of Housing Works,the defense of and advocacy for persons with AIDS. Their work with groups like Act Up! , Gay Men's Health Crisis, God's Love... and more. They ask us again what the Centre’s vision is. As we describe it, heads nod, smiles.They get it. Like an epiphany. That’s what happens in these discussions: people get it immediately or they look at you like you’re crazy.

But then there’s this reality. No heat. No water. So, next week their guys and some Belnord staff will start to check out the pipes, the boiler, figure out the cost. It’s a step.

Who knows what will come of this conversation. At least another conversation. Information about pipes. Then? We’ll see.

Out on the street, we shake hands, part ways for the day. There’s a sense of hope. I need to go back in and lock up. The last thing I’ll do is blow out the votive candle on the steps that I lit for the Wisemen, the kings, before anyone else arrived. It’s been burning. All afternoon. Hope.

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