Saturday, April 16, 2011

Thirty-third day of Lent: Persevere

Chuck and Paula are waiting for me at the door. Chuck and his family  have been part of West-Park for almost as along as I’ve been here. His wife Angela was once our volunteer coordinator and in the eighteen months after 9-11, directed our Hub Church program where we responded to the needs of people who fell between the cracks of government programs.  His children Martha and Jasper baptized here. And those children led directly to our bringing Holly here. 
Chuck, like most people in this city, came with a dream.  Philly roots, Syracuse, acting dreams. Supporting that dream by working in the food service industry. Union man. He and his family part of the migration of young families from the Upper West Side to Harlem as the cost of housing has moved beyond working/middle class means. 
(Our neighborhood has always “worked” because of its economic integration. Because of that, we have had the most successful public housing projects in the country. No one is seriously thinking about the heightening social tension caused when the middle class is forced out of a neighborhood and only rich and poor remain.)
Chuck was also part of our  Men’s Spirituality and Writing Group, a cell group that ran for years. 
He and Paula were both founding members of the 29th Street Rep Theatre Company, the home of so-called brutal theatre, though Paula says that was a kind of tongue-in-cheek way of saying they did the plays they wanted to do. 
Over the years, I’d seen them both in intriguing and challenging pieces like Bobby Supreme and The Censor, and South of No North which opened up the world of Charles Bukowski to me. They were willing to push the boundaries, explore rough places but always with an eye to the complexity of human relationships. They lost their theatre in the ongoing rising tide of commercial rental rates. They’ve come to West-Park to see if this might be a place to bring those dreams back to life. So we take the tour.
Paula has other ideas, too. Possibilities that could emerge out of art and her evolving role in that world. We are attracting people with dreams, it’s at the very center of this project. But to make them real...

Bob and Paula

LJ comes up the street while I’m sweeping. She’s coming to see about getting married. Surprised to see me in the street. I explain to her the story of what we’re trying to do. She’s asking me about doing her marriage  because she’s read I’ve got experience in interfaith and bilingual ceremonies. She slipped into Spanish in our phone conversation to see how I’d respond. But the clincher was when I identified the 503 area code as Portland, Oregon. And said, PDX.
There is this odd connection. My friend Ken, an Episcopal Deacon and publisher who was in residence at West-Park for a year developing our Deacons’ program and creating a weekly Taize service moved there.  Dave, co-chair of a PHEWA network and Pastor for the mother of Jane Galloway. My old friend Bill from Tulsa. Amanda. Bill who spoke about Ritual Space. The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. The US office of Sabeel, the Palestinian Theological and Liberation project from Bethlehem whose director Naim Ateek I’ve known for years is there. I’ve only been to the city once, but, well, these connections.... Despite the joke about being  a place where young people go to retire, or what Kermit said on Treme, they clap on the beat there,  there’s an ethos that seems to connect with where we’re trying to go. 
LJ’s interfaith New York Jewish-Peruvian Catholic marriage is actually not the future, it’s the world we’re living in now. 
Paul, a young African-American, comes in to take a look. “I always wanted to see inside here,” he says. “I like looking inside of churches. This is beautiful.” Been here three years. Usually goes to St.Gregory’s. He crosses himself. On the way out he asks, "Are you the guy who takes care of the church?" I pause for a moment. “Yes, I am.” We shake hands.
Outside Elle is coming past the church with her companion. Arm in a sling. I ask her what happened. Broken elbow. Ironically, I’d spent the morning with Andrea and her newly broken elbow. Elle lives in an apartment that would have been blocked by our proposed condominium tower. She says she appreciates how much better the church is being cared for. Asks how we’re doing. And I tell her.
“You’ve got to persevere,” she says. “You can’t give up. I was a designer. Fashion. When I’d be out out one door, I’d go right in the next. Persevere.” I thank her. She heads home. 
If only it were that simple. This part of the story is taking too long. 

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