Friday, May 31, 2013

That was then


Ft. Scott Presbyterian Church

The youth group from Ft. Scott and their pastor Jared Witt are here waiting for me when I arrive. Jared was a colleague trying to build a start up church a few years ago. Along with a vision of a contemporary urban monastery and craft micro-brewery, like the medieval monks. I thought our basement would have made the perfect location.

I start by asking them about where they live. A small town an hour south of Kansas City. Pretty rural. Stagnant economy. Meth wars. Church small, building about the same age as ours. But larger. And not many youth.

Then I take them for an interpretive walk around the block. Showing them how to read an urban neighborhood, our neighborhood. About changes you can see and not see. What your eyes can tell you about who lives there. Income levels. Religions. What’s it meant to see exotic avian hospitals, wild bird rescue centers and check cashing places, Greek diners and yuppie restaurants, public housing and doorman buildings all around the same block?

Then we return to the church and I share our social and religious history. They’re happy to learn about how God’s Love We Deliver, began at West-Park since they’re going there to volunteer tomorrow.

I talk to them about a holistic video of ministry where there is no division between evangelism and social justice, where they are seamlessly connected. Of the connections between beauty and justice, ethics and aesthetics.

I get them set up  to do sweeping and cleaning  of the steps and outdoor policing the area before I have to run to make a noontime rally in front of the governor's office  the shameful inadequacy of his minimum wage proposal.

On my way back, I’m reflecting on my interview with the WBAI reporter. (to hear the interview on this story, go to ) Long story short: she lives across the  street in the Belnord. One of those throwbacks to the days when the city joked about the Peoples' Republic of the Upper West Side. Or that when the  Berlin wall fell, there were more communists on the Upper West side than in East Berlin. The Belnord continues to house the publisher of a long term leftist journal and the last of a generation  of activists, planners of the 1983 march against nuclear proliferation  mostly  octogenarians now. The former labor leaders who moved uptown to establish a more middle class life are increasingly replaced by young families and new wealth celebrities like Matt Damon. The nearby streets on weekends experience stroller gridlock. Such is gentrification on the Upper West Side. 

When I come back, there’s only  a short time before I need to head to 475 Riverside for  meeting and ultimately down to St. PAul’s Chapel where we’ll elevate the 25th anniversary of the 200 day occupation of City Hall Park but homeless, the so-called Kochville. The founding of the Interfaith Assembly in Housing and Homelessness by my predecessor Bob Davidson, the heroic priest and activist Daniel Berrigan and the prophet of Argentina’s dirty war, Rabbi Marshall Meyer.

Karen comes in to offer us maintenance products like those she supplies to other nearby buildings . And to play the piano and fill the walls with  her music. 

A long night is ahead.

To lean more about Kochville and the homeless occupation, see John Jiler's Sleeping with the Mayor (

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