These past couple of months have been a bit traumatic. Thankfully, no one has died or been harmed in any way. I was called upon in November of 2009 to lead an effort to study, understand, and establish new ministries that are present with emerging generations and within emerging culture. The initial focus of the effort was the neighborhoods of Red Hook and Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn (the 11231 zip-code). I began the world on January 8, 2010. The sponsorship of the Red Hook Project and Imago Dei was to be for three years, after which we would be on our own.
I’ve spend the last year doing the hard work necessary to get this sort of thing going – an entrepreneur, a project manager, a researcher, a community organizer, etc. I’ve meet and talked with numerous community and religious leaders. I’ve conducted focus groups of current residence of the neighborhoods, particularly in Red Hook, of artists, of young people of various ages. I’ve interviewed students, and the list goes on.
I studied, read, and researched adolescent development, traits of the emerging generations, and the particulars of emerging culture. My goal/intent has always been to understand the contexts in which we live not just right now, but to also understand as best we can were things will be in the 2020’s. I’m doing the work for the Church to be able to meet the culture and young people head on – to be present with them where they are – rather than trying to play catch up and doing a terrible job at it.
The Church has a terrible time being “on-time.” We tend to always be 15-20 years behind the curve, yet we think these “new” things we are suddenly enamored with are cutting-edge, when they simply aren’t. The positive side of the slow crawl of the Church is that it should be able to ride through in a good way the crass trendiness that simply overtakes everything for the moment and then is nothing, again. The is a difference in trying to be trendy in order to attract people and understanding where people are in their understanding of themselves, their world, and their place in the world and trying to be present with them in the mix. When the Church decides to ride the trend waves, all is lost. We stop being authentic to who we are and what we are.
The Church is always “other,” with respect to the prevailing culture. Why are we afraid of that, unless we have lost confidence that we have anything worthwhile to say or contribute… let alone the whole stuff about the Cure of Souls and salvific relationships with God.
Anyway, starting in January 2011, this past January, we began in earnest the doing of ministry. Because the genesis of the Red Hook Project came out of St. Paul’s Church in Carroll Gardens, and because of the formation I received within this parish, and since St. Paul’s has carried on ministry in Red Hook for over the last 18+ years since the diocese closed the parish in Red Hook (foolishly), the beginning efforts for new ministry starting out of St. Paul’s. In addition, since we are unable to afford a space in Red Hook (the foolish part mentioned above – selling property in New York City), St. Paul’s provides the space we need to begin ministry and to experiment with what has been learned over the past year.
Currently, we have the “Imago Dei Sunday Evening Service” that is currently meeting at St. Paul’s (which at times has a larger attendance than some of the established parishes in the area). We have the “2nd Saturdays for Good Works” that began last August (our first ministry effort). There is the monthly Imago Dei “Red Hook Gathering” at a local Red Hook eatery and pub (Rocky Sullivan’s) where we have a bit of food, a little drink, and talk about life, faith, and how it all fits together. We have a “Home Group” meeting in Carroll Gardens with nine members. By February, we had a very good start resulting from all the work beforehand that set the foundation upon which the new efforts rest. In addition, last month we started the “Faith meets Art meets Space” project for artists (another target group for the Red Hook Space) to intentionally investigate how their faith influences their art with the rich space of St. Paul’s nave as their backdrop. We intend on having the exhibition and performances the first of June.
Then, in February, I was told it was all ending. Ending because of money issues, ending because of opposition to the effort others in the diocese, ending because the will to do something new outside the convention boxes was not there.
This is a very big blow. There have been mixed signals since February about what exactly will be stopped and what might go forward. I’ve continued working as if the project would continue beyond the June 1st cut off date, hoping that they would find the money and have the will to continue. It hasn’t happened. I was told that as of June 1st, it all ends.
What in the world do I do, now? I am fighting a real melancholy – a mix of disappointment, anxiousness about attempting to find a new place of ministry, real concern about the people who have a stake in this effort and now will be left high and dry, a profound sadness about suddenly leaving the people of St. Paul’s and the lone priest for a growing congregation in a lurch (I’ve been ministering in this parish for 7 years). In a month and a half, I’m gone.
Ideally, I would love to continue working at St. Paul’s to continuing implementing all that I’ve learned this past year, all the ideas and plans that have been developed and are ready for implementation, to continue ministry development in Red Hook, etc. But, the parish doesn’t have the money for a second priest and the diocese will not “pay me to be at St. Paul’s.”
There are several of priests I am in conversation with who know that pouring new wine into old wine skins just doesn’t work. I had great hope that this project might be an exception, but it is not. The Imago Dei Initiative and the Red Hook Project are new wine efforts, and the wine skins of the present institution will not make space for them at this time. What then do we do? Do I try to find a secular job to support myself and continue doing the work, anyway? I did that sort of thing for four years, and it is very unhealthy, but that may be the sacrifice. These priests (and lay people, too) know that we are going to have to do something on our own. This is just the way the Church is and the lessons of history bear this out. What am I willing to do? Right now, I’m depressed and anxious. Do I just take anything that may come along, even if I sense that it wouldn’t be right?
Another consideration is that I’ve made a life here in NYC. It has only been the last several months that I’ve felt that I have friends with whom I have enough history and comfortableness to not feel terribly lonely. It has taken me six years to get to this point. The prospects of moving to another city, another place where I will have to start all over again at this point in my life just is not something I want to do.
Yet, there may be a very good and real opportunity to put into place what I have been dreaming of and planning for over the last couple of years in another diocese, city, and state. Is this of God? Is this the next step? Do I simply forget about the relationship issue and go? I don’t know. Right now, I’m not emotionally in a particularly good place to be making these kinds of decisions. I’m very thankful for the support of friends and family. We shall see what happens over the next month and a half.