Saturday, July 30, 2011

Today's word is asbestos

A cardbaord bed. Mark has been here again. Pick up the empty soft drink cups. 
Later, I look up from my desk.  See Louis N. He's been walking around the sanctuary. Comes into my office.  Reminds me of our previous conversation about sound. We go back into the sanctuary. I point out what I learned this  week:   all the Tiffany windoiws, and furnishings and that 800 pound  Art Nouveau baptismal font. We talk about architecture. Where a sound booth might go. I suggest he draw up a proposal. He asks if I’ve ever made any connections with Redeeemer Presbyterian, a large megachurch. Not PCUSA, but Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Their popularity with young adults, especially given their no gays, no women in leadership policy has always somewhat astonished me.  Uh, no, I say. A bit more talk. He wishes me well. And is off. 
And I’m off for lunch with Katherine. When I return, John and Ted are there to work with me on the business plan. I find the whole process intimidating. Always not sure where, how, to begin. John is always sharp in his assesssments and gives instructions  that leave me staring  blank  faced. Ted is a good interpreter. And has done some work on his own. The figures begin to fall into  place. But the narrative writing will be hard. 
Stephen comes in with Michael Rattasca of Creative Enviroment Solutions. Go to tour the asbestos areas. He describes the work he will do. Can begin that night. Be done by morning. We talk it over. No choice. We have to move forward. He will encapsulate  the boiler room. Abate the heating pipes.  And do twelve random air samples. And then see where we stand. He’ll test. We’ll hold our breath, so to speak. A lot is  riding on this.  Stephen’s production. Our future as a church with usable public space.  No choice. I sign the papers. He’ll begin later, around 9 pm.
Outside we talk about our green heating dreams. He tells me of his work with various hotels, unions. And the UN. Would like to be involved if we go that route. He offfers to walk around with people looking in to this.  Pro bono.  I tell him I’ll chek ot see if that’s ok. We shake  hands. He’ll be back.
We’ve made a decsion. Moving ahead. Stephen invites Danielle and I to join him in the backyard for something cold. We talk about seminaries. What do I think o f Union? I look at Danielle. Her husband Nate goes there.  Intellectually, academically,  great, I say. A little heavy in the identity politics business, and Danielle nods her head in agreement. And if local grass roots  church training is waht you want...I have had some great interns from Union, though. 
So we feel good about our work. Faced a scary possibility, worked out a solution. Put it into action.  Now may the random test results just come out ok....

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The day that began with him, ended with him

When I throw the doors open, I hear a whoa! Our new guest is there. I tell him that he can’t sleep there in the morning. He tells me ok. I tell him to remove his cardboard and clothes. He says ok. When I ask, he says that his name is Mark. Later when Danielle arrives, she’ll find him asleep on the sidewalk, a few feet north of the steps again. She calls Reachout. And they have reached out. With no real response just exhausted resisistance.
I’ve asked Chirstian to come and tell me of his plans for his chamber orchestra. He wants to begin rehearsals in September, perform in October. And I’d like to schedule some appearances in our worship services. He seems excited about that possibility. Wants to know the story of the church. I take him into the sanctuary, show him Norm’s display. And tell him the story. He stops to clear dates with Danielle. He’s off to Hungary for August.
So it is asbestos after all. This has caused a bit of a crisis of confidence for Stephen’s people. If that could be asbestos, what else could be wrong? So  Stephen and I go to sit in the yard and talk. Review the history of our coming back in.  The safety expert who came in with Landmark West! The electrician. The cleared exit ways, safety lights. Refilled and replaced fire extinguishers, new system installed by American Fire Alarm company. Visit to the local firehouse. Meeting Equity’s standards before rehearsals for Three Graces began. The thin line between absolute 2011 standards and reasonable responsibility. We’ll have to see where this goes. Didn’t need this today. 
Run into Jeremy and Jane at Starbucks. Feel a bit odd about her hiring him. But then we’ll still do our Wednesday night gig.  And I can still try and work him into Sunday services, maybe even with Jane. He drops by to see Danielle to see about scheduling a rehearsal for the Sacred Center Choir at West-Park. Yes, a bit odd.  Still, all can work for the good. 
The day ends with Mark still asleeep on the sidewalk.

A new guest

When I get to the church after my lectionary group, Danielle reports that she found someone asleep on the steps. Thought he was Edward, but maybe not. Told him he can’t sleep there during the day.  I tell her that my experience in working with homeless people tells me that if someone is sleeping here during the day, there are probably bigger issues going on. I go out and check. He’s not on the steps. But just moved a few feet down on the sidewalk. I tell her he’s not Edward. This man is bald. Edward has hair. We call Reachout.  They don’t start their rounds until afternoon.  Government cut backs. Again.
A movie location scout comes in. A new indie starring Annette Benning. Looking for holding area space. And regal prewar apartment buildings. I tell him about 161 West 86th. And our neighbor on 87th. And the Belnord. All regal. Danielle gives him a tour.
Danielle’s beginning to feel overwhelmed. Asbestos. Pigeon guano. Falling bricks. All too much. Where will the money come from?  We talk again about the difference between romantic imagery of old buildings and hardcore reality. And I remind her how far we’ve come since last August. But the abyss always looms.
James stops in on his way to the hospital. Wish him well on his chemo.
I head to Cardinal Cooke to visit Rachel. She’s had another fall. Tripped over a dog. Broke her leg, femur, between her new hip, her new knee. I’ve got to learn that when she’s not in church, something’s wrong.
Back at the church, the new guest is back again. It’s late afternoon. Too early still for him to be here. But.... So we call Reachout. Again. 

This is good work

Lisa Semple is waiting for me when I get to the church.  She’s a professional fundraising consultant who offered her services pro bono for the summit meeting at Councilmember Brewer’s office last Thursday. She’s here for a discussion to  see what it might take to put together a coordinated community wide fundraising effort to make this project happen.  
She has heard pretty clearly that it can’t just be an exterior renovation effort. That the interior and exterior issues are inextricably linked and that for any of this vision to take place, the church must have sustaining, bridge, money to get to the place where partnerships and rentals can begin to carry the financial burden.  And our priorities are clear:
  • the boiler....the key to everything else
  • the loose bricks outside
  • the elevator
  • pigeon guano removal
  • restored bathrooms
And that we want to do this green. Be a model of restoring an old building in a sustainable way. Then exterior has become, after landmarking, part of the community’s cultural heritage. But the interior, and everything that goers on inside, will be a vital part of community livability.  And the congregation is growing to understand that its history of voting to remsin here means having to claim this community comtext not as circumstance, but calling. Our fates are linked together. She agrees to work up a proposal.
We must  keep working on that business plan. 
The enevironmental expert who’s putting together a proposal for the pigeon clean up comes in to go over his findings. This is a big job. Could take a week. Maybe $12000. Depressing news.
A new issue has raised its ugly head. Asbestos. There’s a suspicious looking pipe in the basement outside the boiler room. The Woodshed folk are concerend. We are frantically going through electronic insurance files lookiong for a detailed report. Danielle is making phone calls. It’s all quite unclear. And must be dealt with. Just like those loose bricks. Stephen comes in and we put our heads together.
Hope comes in to sign checks, review items for the next session meeting. I head out to the backyard for a PHEWA executive conerence call.  RL comes in with a contractor to check out the bathrooms again. Get that project started. This weekend. He laughs and says, Not sure why I’m doing this...and why I’m still sober. I say, Both those work for  me.
Andrea stops in to walk me home. I take her down to Stephen’s command post in the old chapel. We walk through the building, see the beehive of activity going on. See all the young people all over the place. (Saying that makes me feel old.) Walking up Amsterdam, she says This is good. You love this. All this creative activity. And you love being around young people. This is good.
And I realize that she is right. If it wasn’t for my worries about money, I would actually be happy. This is good work. And  it is me, why I’m here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Good to know we're not alone

I look up from my sweeping and see Krystin buzzing the 86th Street door, getting no answer. She  doesn’t realize  we’re a front door open church yet. I call out to her he sees me, walks my way. The yellow goves are a nice touch, Bob, she says. They play their part, I say,looking  down at my rubber  kitchen gloves wear for steps duty. 
I invite her in. Looking good in here, she says, and I point  out the archival exhibit. She sees the picture of a young Laura Jervis. That determined look,even back then, she says. We go to Popover’s for breakfast and conversation. We’ve been colleagues in our Wednesday morning lectionary study group. She’s been the interim pastor at Broadway Presbyterian . And now that they’ve called a new pastor, her time is up. I hadn’t realized how small they’d become or how she had brought them back.
Take her all through the church. Want her to see everything that’s going on, all the activity. Take her down through the speakeasy and out to the backyard. Coffee and conversation. She is also the first of the Presbytery trustees to visit us here. Come see the oft talked about little talked with  West-Park chuch. There’s a commonly accepted to calk about curches on the westside completely ignores their differences, theologically, missionwise, etc I feel she understands more, having come here. She’s been a good colleague. And will be missed. 
Trina and her husband Phil come by for the ride up to to Stony Point.  We’re off to have more conversation about how to live off the grid, so to speak, churchwise.  Ironic how similar the situations are for each of us. Having to make it month to month. From scratch. Rick with his camp and conference center, Trina with a social ministries network, PHEWA, me at West-Park. None of us with security. All working, at different levels, to bring a new church into being. Good to know we're not alone.
When I get back, Leila is looking for places to store thier paintings durig the Woodsed run. Later, Berik comes, looks like the balcony will the best space. 
I hear noise out on the steps. Miguel is having  animated, but friendly conversation in Spanish with a friend. He’s got housing. A new bike. Things are looking up. He’s come by to find out when he can come and reclaim the things he’s left with us. I’m happy he’s made it this far. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Seekers for pearls

Steven the proud father is waiting for me to open up. He’s brought food and refreshments for the party to follow today’s baptisms.  Andre’s next and then Luis arrives. Muscle is needed to move the late Victorian Tiffany baptismal font that weighs a ton.  Extended families are arriving. Feel a sense of excitement and  anticipation as the service begins. 
It’s me and Andre again on the music. As we come to our time for prayers of the people, I read these words from Romans :
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.( I say this as part of our prayers every week, want them to know where it comes from.) And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (And mention the difference between all things being good and  that all things can work for the good.) We sing Nada te turbe, and then we pray. For the shaken people of Norway. Those who suffer for peace in Africa. And our own friends and family.
And at the end of our prayers, I read: What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I begin my sermon by pointing to the stained glass window in the northeast corner of the balcony and asking What does that window say? No one is aware that it is a gift from a group called the Seekers for Pearls. And then, if we believe that scripture is a living word, the question is, what is the living word for us right now?

kids on the steps
I say that this is an exciting morning. We have two baptisms! Jordan and Xavier. And I want nothing I say today to take away from that, only to enhance that fact, maybe add a blessing. Only build on that. We're talking about faith, and the kingdom of God, or as we say today, the kindom of God,  the beloved community.

Parables. Fredrick Buechner says that parables are  like jokes, if you have to explain them don’t bother. But being a preacher, I can’t help myself.
We have here five parables from Jesus:
  • a mustard seed
  • yeast
  • a treasure hidden in a field
  • a merchant seeking for pearls
  • a fish net
The mustard seed is small like a baby. Small like a little church. Not like the mighty cedars of Lebanon  (or churches on 5th Avenue, Madison Avenue) but ordinary, democratic.  We can become what God intends us to be.  Emphasis on can, not necessarily will. Saying that even a tiny grain of faith is enough to get started.  There is no such  thing as too little faith, it’s like you can’t be a little bit pregnant:  you have it or you don’t, you are or you’re not. 

Yeast...who knows what about yeast?  (Lots of hands go up. People talking about bread.) It’s not always good, is it? (Lots of knowing laughs) ...but you need it to make bread, or beer. There is that sense of rising. In Jesus day, it was also a saying kind of like one bad apple. The point is your tiniest gift can grow and spread and help lift up...and the tiniest rumor, gossip, hateful word....can destroy.
Treasure. Why does he have to hide it? Why not just take it? Was the box too big? Lots of questions here. But the  point he sells all he has in order to get it.
It’s like the pearl. The Pearl of great value. Or like it was in the King James Version, the pearl of great price. Seekers for pearls. I wish I knew who they were. Their story. What role they played in this church. They gave that window in 1890.  And again sell up all else for this pearl. We need to ask oursleves, what’s our goal? What’s to be pursued? What is worth giving up everything for? What would you give up for your chidren?
And then the fishnet. Separating evil from righteous. Not sure how that shakes out. Is it like the sorting hat? You go to Slythern? You to Griffindor? I have to believe that God’s grace is sufficient. Anyways, it’s end of the age stuff....though I’ve always liked that gnashing of teeth part. It's not up to us to worry, to judge or condemn. It's up to us to seek to live faithfully. 
But here’s the BIG each of these parables, somebody has to do something...sow a seed, add some yeast, buy a field, search for and buy a
You  are called to take whatever you have and ACT, do something...
for your family, your will be blessed...
Now, back to takes faith, courage to bring them in the world..We honor and respect that faith and courage. Your job is to love these children. To raise them to know they are loved and valued above any and all possessions....they are your pearls of great price. And we, your church, promise that we  will stand with you in this journey.  
And then  it was time for the baptisms. One of the godparents, Samantha Santiago, presented the children on behalf of the session. They all gathered around the font. We baptised Xavier Steve Santiago, son of  Deyanira Velez and Edwin Steve Santiago and Jordan Ayala, son of Jaime Ayala and Camille Ayala.  Cesarina Calderon and Jaime Ayala were godparents for Xavier and Samantha Santiago and Manuel Padilla for Jordan.
I said that these were good names. Jordan, like the Jordan River, where Jesus himself was baptised. Xavier comes from the Arabic zafeer, meaning bright and splendid. Which he is in your house. 
The Martinez-Ayala- Santiago family is now a five generation family in the church. And that is worth celebration.

After church, we gather deacons and elders and go through our mebership list, dividing up names for calls. We’ll report back in a month. No conversation with Marc and Sarah this week, Marc’s dislocated his shoulder. Stop and have a word with Stephen in the bcak yard before leaving. 

Out on the street, there's Marty.  He asks what book we're on. Genesis, I tell him. Ah, the beginning, he says. My father used to have  a question, why if this is the first book, does the first word start with a bet, Bereshit, and not an aleph? Why? I ask. Don't know, can't remember, he says. Tells me how his father always had him write little essays. How he'd copy them from other books and his father never knew. Tell you the truth, he says,  my brother did the same thing to get into NYU law school. No one ever knew... 
Stay cool, Marty, I say. Enjoy the afternoon, Reverend, he says. 

It’s been a good Sunday morning. Hot, but good. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

319 homies

The heat has kept the turn out for this week’s speakeasy low. It’s hot outside. Jokes are made about the clammy basement being the ac. Still there’s time to catch up on some of the Woodshed folk who are living with us these days. Stephen and Lailah share the working class/union roots. I enjoy learning more about the worldview that informs his work. And his respect for faith and its role, despite its abuses and misuses. And the failure of a broader identity to go beyond nationalism and identity politics, especially as the Soviet Union collapsed. Lailah says, welcome to my world. Trying to piece together Cuba and Catholicism and a coherent politcal analysis. 
Eugena has brought her mom from Iowa. to visit.  Danielle recognized Eugena as an Iowa homie from the 319 area code. Another point of connection. Jillian, Asian, is 100% Boston Irish Catholic, like she grew up. With a small town's worth of  first cousins. She and Eugena came here with dreams, theatre creams. They talk of where they might go.
It’s too hot. I’m tired and ready to go home. No one’s on the steps tonight. There are bags filled with clothes. Random cup lids and straws. Tomorrow morning for that. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

100+ day

Today is the day it reaches 100+ degrees in New York City. The days of freezing in the church are long gone. 
Spend as much time as I can in Starbucks before showing up in the office. I’ve got a service to pull together, lots of phone calls to make. 
A young well muscled guy comes in. Turns out he’s a producer, without defining that. But he does work for Sleep No More, the immersive theatre group doing a kind of Macbeth in a derelict midtown hotel. Word of what Woodshed is doing is getting around. More and more people want to check out our space. Danielle leaves to give him a tour. 
When she gets back, she says, you’ve got to see this, it’s crazy. Meaning the work Woodshed is doing throughout the buidling.  And she’s right, like overnight, walls are going up. A Parisian apartment building is coming to life. She also suggests I look at their new website, what they say about themselves. She sees now how they connect:
Woodshed Collective creates installation theater presented free of charge to the public. The company realizes handcrafted, visceral worlds in diverse locations for our audience to explore, athleticizing their senses, emotions, and minds. Inspiring spectators to claim a presence that helps author the experience itself, our productions aim to create a genuine sense of wonder.
Offering free admission is essential to the company’s goals. It expands our audience beyond the traditional demographic that supports theater. It underlines the audiences’ role as active participants rather than as passive consumers. It ties us more closely to the local communities in which we perform. It helps us breathe life into an increasingly marginalized form of art.
We rely on the power of language, story, and image to bind groups of people, and break down the barriers of everyday life. The theatrical worlds we create incorporate and celebrate the transformative power of music, dance, and visual art. We reject the dominant understanding of theater as a static monologue in favor of a noisy, delirious, horrifying, and hilarious conversation. Our commitment to installation is a commitment to reinvigorating this essential art for a new generation.
Getting very hot. Time to take Danielle to the office. Always see Amanda here. Today thinking that it was her idea for us to do 100 events in honor of our 100th year and pushed me to start counting.  And now Sarah’s marketing theme, 100+: events, artists, picks up the same theme, idea. Oh, and today, in NewYork City, it was 100+.

You sir, have broken your word

Hope and I meet at the church following our meeting at Councilmember Brewer’s office. Mim has gone on to save us a table at Popovers where we’ll meet next in this day of 90+ degree heat. There were representatives of the Landmarks Conservancy, Friends of West-Park, Landmark West!, the Belnord and a professiona fundraiser. We left feeling that for the first time we had the chance at a comprehensive, community based long term strategic committee that could build a long term future. I look to see where Hiope is in these moments. And she, too, feels encouraged. 

We stressed that our priorities were boiler, elevator, pigeons, sustaining funds....then exterior. 
We stop to pick up Danielle then into the air conditioning of Popovers.   Ted and Katherine are there, too. Before getting back together with Marc and Sarah, we need to clarify where we are. To distinguish between producing, presenting and just renting.  What criteria do we have for events that we will produce? Looking for the intersection of beauty and justice, ethics and esthetics.  Talk again about going beyond  socially didactic art. Mim agrees that the artistic expression itself can be a form of activism. Lot of talk around spirituality. A word that’s positive, negative, empty? The difference between transformation and material based activism. Arts and culture, intergenerational education, social and sprirtual engagement pathways to transformation.  All towards the end of building a more just, humane and sustainable world. Katherine’s going to work with these words.  

Katherine tells me there are two Jehovah's Witnesses outside under the scaffolding handing out tracks. Do I want people to think that's what we're about? she asks. Of course not, I say, why don't you move them along? I'm semi-reasing her. She goes over to  speak to  them. At first they protest that it's a public sidewalk, but Katherine  points to our scaffolding overhead.  By the time I get there, they're down to shaking ands and wishing us a good day. 
Hajee is wating for us when we return. He’s regaling Sarah with stories of Kashmir. When he sees me, he comes and says in that brit subcon accent, Where is my money?
I explain that yesterday I had it. He had said that he would come back in the afternoon and didn’t. 
Oh but I was very north of here. I had no phone. 
And I have no money with me. I talked about Goddard-Riverside, where he might find real help.
 As he goes to the door he says, All we have in this world is the word, then looking at me with his intense charcoal eyes he goes on, and you sir, have broken your word.  And he turns and goes. 
Seems like the contract and pr blurb issues are resolved for now. Sarah, Danielle and I plan the next meeting with the session, talk about film series, other programming. Dream. Real. Hard. 

Jeremy, Jane and I talking about a new Wednesday night worship possibilty using Jeremy’s music. Bible study. Serious teaching. That part’s easy. The content, the how, is harder. Not always clear that Jane really hears where I’m coming from here. Thinking about the differing needs of our two congregations. I’m looking for intersections. How to build at that intersection.
Jeremy says If we could get people of means and people of little means to share a sacred space, a song, a moment, that would be enough.  And I agree. That’s what I want, need. Maybe Genesis is the place to begin.  The conversation will continue. 

Our neighbor Elles is passing by. With some extra oxygen because if the heat. Says worries about air quality keep her fro coming inside. Lots of breathing issues.
The prophet has been sitting outside. Stripped to the waist again. Wrapped in cloth. Straw hat again. There is a wet path down the steps and onto the sidewalk, the strong smell of beer. I say, gentle as I can, Excuse me sir, what happened here? Hoping I’m not implying anything. He looks at me, looks down, puts his head on his knees. I say, Look, if you ever need to go, just come inside. We’ve got bathrooms. I hope I didn’t hurt him. Wasn’t the idea . I go inside. When I come back, he’s gone. 

Ready to leave. I notice that someone has left a bag with canned fruit cups and spoons. Consider throwing it away.  Decide to leave it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Expecting at least a twenty

Hajee comes in looking for money. I remind him that we as a church have little money and I individually have little in  my pocket. I reach and take out  a five. It’s all I’ve got. I was expecting at least a twenty from you, he says.
 It’s all I’ve got, I reply. (And it was.)
 I’ll come back later for more. Just leave it with her, he says, gesturing toward Danielle. I look with incredulity. He leaves. 
Actually, I do go out at lunchtime and pick up a twenty. But he never comes back.  I do call SPSA. Yes, he did live there. In the youth room. Finally, the one on the other end says, And yes, we kicked him out. 
Why? I ask. 
Kept bothering the pastor for money.
 Oh, I say.
 Don’t give him anything, the voice says. He’s got to go somehere that can really help him. 

An annoying cold call from Texas trying to sell youth group packets of some type.. And then one of those outsourced gas/electirc companies trying to save us money. Reading a script  from somewhere inIndia. My blood pressure is rising.  We just need to...
When are those who train telemarketers going to understand? Never ask someone you don’t know how are you today?  It’s a dead giveawy. I know from those wordds on nothing good is going to happen and I start to go to resistance. Every time. 
A young man in a suit walks in. He’s an office supplies salesman. Wants to know who’s responsible for ordering supplies. I point to Danielle. She is, I say. She is not amused. Later he will come back for a shoulder bag he left behind. 
A latina woman comes in. Looking for food. Me siento mucho, hermana. No tenemos  alientos aqui. Se necesita ir a St. Paul y St. Andew at 86 and West End.  Dos bloques de aqui. Hay alimientos alla. 
She thanks me and is gone. 
Sarah calls. More contract questions.  One last look at the press blurb. I’m ready to be done  with this.  Hours spent on budgets and business plans. 
I look outside. The prophet is there with African print cloth wound round him. And little else. Dressed for summer, Danielle says.  His little straw hat on his head. And today he is wearing sun glasses. And smoking a cigarette.  When I come back an hour later, only an empty Ballantyne 40 remains.