Monday, April 27, 2009

New York City and Community

We came home a bit tired Friday night after about 12 hours of travel. Although our angelic son had handled the trip both ways like a seasoned traveler, we all three were so glad to be home. New York City was amazing, edifying, and huge, but we sure were glad to be back in the not-so-big, not-so-busy city of Montreal: our stomping grounds!
We've now had a few days to reflect on our whirlwind experience, and have all agreed we did things like New Yorkers in New York City. When in Rome... And although I feel I'm still processing much of what took place there, I really want to share some of our experiences before I lose any precious details.
To summarize, as mentioned in an earlier blog, our main goal (beside doing some sight-seeing, touristy stuff) was to visit a few communities that we felt were exemplifying what it means to live in Christian community. The whole concept of "living in community" has been burgeoning anew in and outside of Christian circles throughout North America. It's often viewed as a way to fight against our individual-oriented, materialistic North American culture. New York City proved to be fertile ground for such a goal. All in all, we visited with six communities: two churches, four intentional communities, and one Catholic Worker.
One community, Bruderhof, was a community of 15 people living under one roof, families and singles. Although this community shares all its money and eats together each night, most of its members have jobs out in the city somewhere where they are able to serve the larger community. Some were teachers, some nurses, some volunteers, some worked for Non-profit organizations, etc. These people lived in close community, and welcomed us into their home for dinner and lots of good conversation.
Another community, All Angels Church, comes from the Anglican tradition and is located in the Upper Westside, a very rich area of Manhattan. However, this church has struggled for years to include the poor and homeless in its congregation. Through this, they have developed weekly soup-kitchens, where not only food is provided, but also professional counseling and career opportunities. They were very honest with us about the many struggles that have resulted from being radically open and welcoming to the poor and homeless (mostly black and hispanic males) amidst their predominantly rich, white congregation.
New Song is a 150 person church in Harlem that is about 10 years old. The pastor there told us that when the church began with six people in an apartment, they commited to focus on a 10-block area of Harlem. Out of this very narrow focus, they have been able to do some amazing things within the last 10 years. Not only do they have a church building, but they also own affordable-housing buildings, a youth development center, a health and wellness center, and are soon opening a restaurant where they will serve healthy food and offer hospitality. This is all within a 10-block area of Harlem!
Another community, Bronx Household of Faith, was in the roughest area that we visited during our time in New York City. This community, started by two couples, has been there for nearly forty years. They too have a very modest, yet focused area that they work with. The community resides in two houses and one apartment all along the same street. One of the couples that started the community has had six of their own children and adopted seven, most from pretty rough backgrounds. The father runs a ministry that helps troubled men in the troubled Bronx area get back on their feet, while the mother has home-schooled and is still home-schooling all 13 of their kids! Two of her children gave us a little concert with their cellos while we visited. Amazing stuff.
Lastly, we visited the Catholic Worker in the East Village. The Catholic Worker exists throughout the world, but is concentrated mainly in the U.S. The one we visited was the original, started by Dorothy Day, an amazing woman. She died in the 80's and is somewhere on her way to being canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church. The lady who spoke with us worked with Dorothy Day, and told us that she often said, "Don't call me a saint because then you won't take me seriously." Dorothy Day was and the Catholic Worker is still today extremely concerned with serving the poor and homeless in each respective community as well as affecting political change on a national, even international, level. It's quite a decentralized organization, so much so that you wonder how it doesn't lapse into chaos. Nonetheless, it has done some great things much thanks to the woman who got it all started.
I could go on and on about our experiences there, but I'll stop here. Needless to say, the week definitely clarified for us what it means to live in community in a culture that goes in the opposite direction. It was an extremely interesting and extremely challenging week, one that I will continue to reflect on for months, maybe years, to come.

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