Monday, June 13, 2011

Pentecost: Centennial

Bob and Mark

Bob and the visitors from Ohio

Pentecost. Coffee with Amanda at Joe’s then to the church where Danielle is waiting and Hope arrives soon. Much to be done before guests arrive. But when I check outside, the steps have already been swept. 
Chairs to move. Garbage bags to move. Final cleaning of my office, now looking good. And checking out how we made everything Pentecost red for the day. Andre is at the piano warming up. Mark Koenig of the UN office asks what he can do. Move some chairs, I say, and he does. 
Soon Amy arrives. And James, telling me he was up for doing some work this morning so he tackled the steps. That’s why they looked so good. Then Mark’s visiting church group from Ohio. Almost time for church. I begin in my black robe with the red doctor’s stripes. And a tie.
Talk to the children about Pentecost. The Jewish roots. The 7 X 7+1. Super good luck plus. Jubilee.  Moses receiving the ten commandments and that’s why people in Jerusalem. That’s in people’s minds when they first heard this story. 
Pentecost. It’s known as the birthday of THE CHURCH. How it moved from a small fellowship support group of Jews in Jerusalem to a multinational, multiethnic, multilingual global triumphant CHURCH. That’s what Pentecost was.  But for us, it is the birthday of this church. On June 11,1911; West Church and Park Church came together to form West-Park Church.

1911. We were part way through the Taft Administration. William Jay Gaynor was mayor of NewYork City. The only mayor of the city to survive an assassination attempt. Lived the last years of his administration with three bullets in his neck.  Fought for the subway to be built. Died soon after. The Presbyterian Labor Temple was a year old. Will Durant running the school. Presbytery accusations against the Temple’s Leadership of Bolshevik leanings. (Not sure where our pastor stood on that one.) The Triangle Shirt Waist fire and tragedy had just happened. Hundreds of immigrant women workers incinerated behind locked doors. The Mexican revolution had just begun and was making people along the border nervous. The US backed a coup to overthrow a popular President in Central America. (Sigh.)The first Indianapolis 500 had just taken place. Ronald Reagan born, but also Tennesee Williams. And Jean Harlow, the actress. Revolution in China. In March was the first international women’s day march.  Musical hits of the day included  Oh you beautiful doll, and Alexander’s Ragtime Band. Meanwhile, WC Handy is writing the Memphis Blues and calling it, for the first time,  jazz.  Max Sennett started his studio. And signed Charlie Chaplin. And at 86th and Amsterdam, a church was born. One former church had money and few people and the other lots of members and was almost out of money. A shared commitment to compassion, if not justice. 
How many came? I don’t know. Maybe some day, looking through boxes, we’ll find  report of that day.
You can look around the church an see the history: the rainbow flag that has hung here for 33 years, the balconies where the 1982 march against nuclear proliferation was planned by SANE and FREEZE. The plaque renaming and rededicating thre Tiffany Window as the Steven Window, in honor of Steven Festa. The theatre designed by Joe Papp where right before the Iraq war a group of formerly homeless and formerly incarcerated people put on a production of Lysistrata as part of the Lysistrata Project, international theatre against the war. Trying vainly to stop it in its tracks. 
As I preach, I explain how my 1911 predecessors wore black preaching robes like mine, with their doctor’s stripes and  ties. I change into m white alb and my red stole from Guatemala, as Presbyterians rediscovered liturgy, color, the senses. Then, with a nod to  my friend Bruce Reyes Chow, the first tieless moderator,remove my alb, my stole.Two years later, Bruce’s style had become the new norm. In a nod to the most recent trend, I tell them I’d change into jeans if I could.  
That is who we have been. Who we will be is rooted in that legacy and finds expression in our vision of a center for spiritual and social transformation. The scriptures give us some direction for how the message of the Pentecost story helps get us there...
First, in Numbers we read of Eldad and Medad. Found to be prophesying in the camp. Joshua objects. And Moses finally says, Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the lord would put his spirit on them. No leader, can, or should, stand alone. We need people to find their own prophetic role, take on their own responsibility. In the book about Johnny Ray Youngblood’s East Brooklyn Church, Upon this Rock, we read how he started the Eldad and Medad Society to help African-American men to find their own prophetic role. A role that ultimately takes some of the burden away from the leader.
A similar thought is found in the Corinthians passage. .... Many gifts, the same spirit... We each have our own gift, it is important for us to honor, to offer, our own and not seek to be anyone else’s. 
We recently were the home of the play As It is in Heaven, by the Three Graces Company. It’s set in a Kentucky Shaker community of the 19th Century. (They were the first religious group to use the phrase Mother/Father God.  Full equality of men and women, full acceptance of all races...) Their original ecstatic expression had been tamed and ritualized. New members are finding it again. Older leadership is unsure. Is it of the devil? Angels? The special qualities of each are known as gifts....’tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free, tis a gift to come down where we ought to be... Can we shake out of our ritualized, calcified expressions? Rediscover the spirit within us? Rediscover our gifts?
Amanda must sing her song, not someone else’s. If it’s another’s song, make it her own.  When Andre chants the psalm, it is his song. It’s our call to help each person to find their own song and add it to the chorus...when brothers and sisters live together in harmony...

That Pentecostal miracle was one that took the church from a small committed band to  global empire, one that is crumbling,still  somewhere between death and being reborn. All you have to do is go to a presbytery meeting, a synod meeting, a General Assembly Council meeting to see the signs of death. What was is passing. We have the opportunity to be part of, helping to birth, what will be. It will take the power of the Holy Spirit, of Pentecost to get there. 
The miracle of Pentecost was of hearing, not so much of speaking. Everyone who heard, heard in their own tongue. And not just languages like French,English, Urdu...The language of rich and poor, of deaf and hearing, of wheelchairs, service animals, canes, sign, immigrants with and without papers, those hurt by the church, those of different faiths and no faith...everyone hears and says they’re speaking my language, they’re singing my song...we must learn to be multilingual in every way...
Some people call it the Risen Christ, the Holy Spirit, the inner voice, the inner doesn’t comes from the same place...  
We’re called on to uncover that, to get in touch with that, to claim and celebrate that power...that is how we will become what we are to be...
We take up the offering. Sing the Doxology. Then, adapted from the 1929 Celebration of the 100th birthday of West  Church and 75th of Park, we pray this litany of reconsecration:
Act of Reconsecration
In 1929, celebrating the 100th Anniversary of West Church and the 75th Anniversary of Park Church, the service included an "Act of Reconsecration."   On this,our 100th Anniversary, we claim that at as our own. This litany has been adapted from the original by Pastor Robert Brashear

One:  To Jesus Christ, our brother, our companion, our savior
All: We reconsecrate our lives
One:  To the sustaining of the life, worship and purpose of the church, seeking together to be the Risen One, living for the Beloved Community
All: We reconsecrate our lives.
One:  To a faithful and earnest effort to understand and exemplify the principles of Jesus, especially the principle of love, in all our actions, conversations and relationships
All: We reconsecrate our lives
One: To the building of a more just, humane and sustainable world
All: We reconsecrate our lives.
One: To a steadfast and generous support of the life and mission of the church through time, talents and treasure, 
All: We reconsecrate our lives.
One: To the mission and witness of  the church, at this time, at this corner of creation where God has called us to be
All: We reconsecrate our lives.
We sing together Canto de Esperanza, then receive the benediction. Then we form our circe of blessing  and do a call and response Every time I feel the Spirit, with Andre. And the worship service is over.
We share a beautiful cake made by Lily. I meet the friends from Ohio, one of whom has read my blog. Share my stories from Wooster, where I went to college. Where they’re celebrating my 40th (!) year graduation this weekend.
Throughout the afternoon, we greet visitors, neighbors. There’s Louis, who’s been an intern for our city council member. He completely understands  the social  issues involved in forced landmarking. The power of the state imposing its will, the impact on poor and working class families. The rhetorical invective against developers, with a crypto liberal voice to it, masking the displacement of those without money. Few people really understand the complexity  of this issue.  No clean liberal vs. conservative lines. 
Amanda and I head to the street festival over on Broadway. Stop first at council member Brewer’s booth. Why hasn’t she sent out an e-mail about our concerts? She promises t do it that night. A year ago she won the landmarks vote by convincing her colleagues she could raise all the necessary money.  Even 20 million. We’re still waiting. Still waiting.  Who really cares? Landmarking West-Park did not save West-Park. But no one has figured that out yet.
We go to where Matt Turk is performing. Matt takes our flyer and gives the concerts  a good shout out.  After his set is over, we talk about the difference  between self-promotion and community building. And he invites Amanda to go with hi to a meeting of independent artists.
Back at the church, there’s Mig and a friend. Mig remembers working upstairs helping people fill out  forms for housing She led the campaign to turn the SRO Capital Hall around the corner into supportive housing. She’s interested in our future. It’s been a long day. 100 years to remember, to honor. 

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