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.

New or New Again

Part of the mandate of the Imago Dei Initiative is to understand emerging culture and emerging generations so that the Church can meet people where they are – outside the prevailing, some call “normal,” walls of the Church and ways of thinking about life and faith.

This isn’t easy, often times, because pouring new wine into old wine skins more-often-than-not results in the rupturing of the old wine skin.  This makes people nervous!  This makes institutions nervous, even while the people that are the institutions know that change will occur regardless of thought, comfort, or even permission.

Currently, the Imago Dei Initiative is experimenting with a few different things under a tag-line that goes something like this: “Finding new ways of living a profound Faith in simple ways.”  Again, more-often-than-not, these “new” ways are really the discovery again of the ways that have resonated with the human heart and soul from generation-to-generation.  All things are made new again.

If we pay attention to the demographic data, emerging generations are seeking out those kinds of faith expressions that demonstrate something that is tried, is proven, is not trendy, that actually proclaims a belief in something specific, and is lasting.  There is an expectation for questioning and wrestling with the issues, but there is an appreciation for honesty and being up-front about what is believed and proclaim to be true.

For example, churches all over the place that are full of young folks are picking up the Book of Common Prayer and are finding in its ancient forms and liturgies something intriguing, life-giving, and that has been missing in most of their faith experiences.  The Anglican Tradition of the Christian faith is well situated for this generation – an openness to difference, debate, and questions; simple belief assertions that get at the core of the Faith; and the slow, formative elements of ancient liturgies.  Although, the preoccupation of political and theological warfare going on in the Episcopal Church (and the break-way new “Anglican” denominations) right now does little to draw younger folks to the institution that is supposed to be the  holders of the Anglican Tradition in the U.S. – the Episcopal Church.  We’ve got to experience again is not politics or social-agendas, but the experience of God in relationship.

Younger folks also think very differently about pet issues that the Church has been wrestling with for the last 40 years (since the rise of the 1960’s/Baby Boomer mentality).  Younger folks don’t look with disdain and mistrust upon institutions.  There is a draw to that which is ancient in the Tradition.  Younger folks do not think the same way about issues of race, sexism, homophobia, political and social liberalism or conservatism.  These are not the issues most younger folks dwell on (with exceptions, of course) – and not that these issues are unimportant.  

For example, most younger women I’ve encountered and talked with don’t have the same issues with gender-inclusive language as do Baby Boomers.  Younger women realize that the Scriptures and the Tradition were developed in a different time under different circumstances, so if male pronouns are used today (in accordance with the actual Greek or Hebrew word in Scripture that is male) there isn’t the same feeling of disenfranchisement or diminishment or exclusion or an expectation of subservience to males.  Their womanhood is not threatened by male language or imagery in their original forms.

So, considering all this, how does the Church do things differently without a preoccupation with trendiness?  We focus on Christian formation within our relationships with God and one another.  Another way is to rediscover or relearn the ancient forms of the Tradition – that which has survived through persecution and trial among a multitude of cultures throughout the past 2,000 years.  This is what we are trying to do. 

How?  Well, here are a couple things:

1. The Imago Dei Sunday Evening Service at St. Paul’s Church – we are a new and still small gathering of people who wish to experience the presence of God in contemplative and meditative ways.  We use the tried and true form of Evening Prayer (perhaps Evensong at some point) with lots of time for silent/quiet contemplation.  We hear the Word of God, we pray for our needs – most importantly we desire to grow closer to God.  We end our time together with the celebration of Holy Communion in a very simply form.  We meet Sunday evenings at 5:00 PM and the service lasts almost an hour.  We attempt to form a spiritually conducive atmosphere with candles, bells, incense, quiet, and a beautifully rich physical space.

2. The Imago Dei Red Hook Gathering – we are organizing a small group of folks in the Red Hook neighborhood that come together to support and challenge one another to live more fully into our Christian Faith in simple ways.  The main purposes of this kind of gathering is to build relationships, to hear how we are growing in our Faith, and to support one another in all the challenges we face in our chaotic world.  We are meeting in a more public space twice a month for about an hour and a half.

3. The Imago Dei Home Group in Carroll Gardens – this is similiar to the “Gathering” mentioned above, but we meet in a member’s home.  This affords us the ability for a little more privacy and intimacy.  We spend time catching up on each others’ lives as we gather together, we transition into a time of quiet, of prayer, and then we discuss how Scripture interacts with our lives.

4. 2nd Saturdays for Good Works Initiative – every second Saturday of the month (well, almost every one – see the Events page for updates) we come together to do some sort of good work as we give of our time and talents to serve others.  Fundamentally, the purpose is to help us grow in our own faith by better understanding God’s will for our lives, but other people receive the benefit of our work.  This past year, we adopted Coffey Park in Red Hook as our project.  We helped the permanent gardener (John Clarke) and community folks who volunteer to help keep the park in good shape.  It is great exercise, a good time to meet new people and grow closer to people we know, and it is good for the soul.

5. The “Faith meets Art meets Space” project – this is a formation project for artists of all kinds that focuses on how our Christian Faith influences our creative impulse. How does our faith and the physical space influence our art?  The goal is for the artist to create something new while investigating how faith and space inspire them.  There will be during May 13-15, 2011 exhibits and performances at St. Paul’s Church that presents our new art.

6. “The Church and ‘Post-Constantinian’ Society?” The Imago Dei Society in cooperation with other groups is planning a conference during the late-fall of 2011 to discuss how we live as individuals and the Church within a culture and society that is becoming “Post-Constantian” – a culture that no longer supports a common Christian understanding of life and our place in the world.  More info coming…

These are just a few things that we are doing and would like to do.  The goal of an intentional-community where residents live for a time to help develop the habits of the Christian Spiritual Disciplines is in the works.  Anyone is welcome to help in this project of discovering new ways of living the profound Faith in simply ways.

Authentic service

I’ve heard from time-to-time that much of the “social justice” work done and the “social services” given by “White folks” to the “needy” (who in these instances generally mean Hispanics and African-Americans) are nothing much more than attempts at expunging their “liberal White guilt” and in the end accomplish not so much the “empowerment” of these groups but actually contribute to continued “dependence” on these “good White folks.” The “good White folks” feel all good about themselves because they’ve helped the “poor people who cannot do it for themselves due to so much institutionalized injustice and oppression” (which does exist!, but perhaps not as the imaginations of those suffering from liberal White guilt conjure up).
As I’ve heard, what these “good White people” do is not so much enable poor or disadvantaged people to fish, but just give them fish so that the downtrodden people have to continue being dependent on and accept the “good White people’s” pity. This kind of thing, this way of “helping the poor and disadvantaged,” smacks too much of paternalism and “liberal White hubris!”
Is there truth in this kind of accusation? Well, that is debated, but when “good White people” suffering from “liberal White guilt” need ways to alleviate their guilt feelings and find ways to make themselves feel good about themselves, it isn’t beyond the pale that even subconsciously there are devised methods of keeping the status quo as it is in order to continue to provide relief for “liberal White guilt” for those who suffer from it.
I really don’t know, but I wonder! I have seen such things in action, particularly in Academia. I do think there is legitimacy in the idea, whether or not a majority of “Liberals White people” act out in this way is up for debate.
But, the question arises – What is authentic service, or Good Works, from an enduring Christian understanding? The following is quote out of the book I’m reading entitled, Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry, by Mark Yaconelli. The particular chapter, thus the quote, is actually by Frank Rogers, Jr. as he details the real-life experience of the Youth and their sponsors from Lake Chelan Lutheran Church. They were on a youth ministry trip to Nicaragua.

Their first three days in the Nicaraguan capital only solidified their concern for the poor. They saw firsthand the insidious web of social structures, bureaucratic process, and cultural prejudice that conspired to bar the peasants form access to universities, opportunities in the business world, or voice in the government. By the youth were bused to the countryside for three days of living with peasants in their homes, their indignation was high and their sympathy deep as they burned to made a difference.
When they pulled into one struggling settlement, the teens were horrified to see a group of women, some pregnant, some elderly, hacking through hardened soil in the day’s heat to dig trenches alongside withering coffee plants. Moved by their plight, the teens swarmed over and insisted that they relieve the women and dig the trenches themselves. The women, surprised at the youthful zeal of the Norte Americanos, stepped aside. Some of the teens were athletes strengthened by modern regimens of weight training, most were amply well-nourished on North American abundance; all were bolstered by the nobility of their Christian convictions and the invigorating rush when taking care of those in need. Within an hour they were ready to pass out. Exhausted by the labor and beaten down by the heat, they guzzled draughts of water, then napped in the afternoon shade. The peasant women smiled as they refilled the teen’s buckets. They they retrieved their tools, and dug throughout the rest of the day.
Their discussion that evening reflected upon the paternalism that permeates U.S. attitudes toward the poor, particularly within the church. A conversion of thinking took place among the teens. Their notions of poor and wealthy, service and empowerment, were turned upside down. They saw how taking care of another, however well intentioned, can mask arrogance and reinforce dependency. For the rest of the trip, the young people allowed themselves to be served by the vibrant Nicaraguan people, sharing in the wealth of the Nicaraguans’ culture and sense of community, their dreams for a better world, and their hopes fueled by festive faith and active organizing. The teems no longer tried to rescue the peasants. They simply asked how they might become their allies. They were learning about authentic action – action spurred by visions of justice and mutuality, chastened by the shadows that motivate us all, and energized by a commitment to birth power, not dependency. By maintaining hearts that were attentive, open, and vulnerable to the Nicaraguan people and their situation, the youth of Lake Chaelan gained a new awareness of both the struggles of the poor and their own privilege.” [Yoconelli & Rogers, pp. 175-176]

What can and should we learn from this? When I think about Good Works for the Red Hook Project and the Imago Dei Society, it is authentic ministry coming from a Christian perspective – not fueled by “Americanisms” but as much removed from our American enculturation as possible. How are our Good Works to come out of the Kingdom of God rather than the Kingdom of Man?

See Red Hook #2

A second photo of the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Pray for wisdom, discernment, and vision for God’s work in our neighborhood.
Red Hook is a real mix of environments – public housing, hipster lofts, new condos, boarded up buildings, light industry, warehouses, art galleries & good restaurants, and a working port. These are two photographs of the port.

Red Hook #1

I’m going to start posting my photos of the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. I love that place and am developing new ministries for the area. The photography may not be particularly all that compelling and I’m certainly not satisfied with a lot of it (I’m just getting back into photography after a long absence), but I like doing it.
This is a photo of a couple women working in a nursery. This was their last day before they flew back to the West Coast for school.