Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Church Post (Joining God in the Renewal of Brooklyn; Knowing Christ and Him Crucified)-- Part 2

Picking up where I left off yesterday.

We moved. And we visited a few different churches. And thankfully, we found places we fit really quickly. Our time here is limited and I really am so thankful that the Lord led us to the places where we are so quickly and so effortlessly (baring transit, I mean-- that shit is still hard!).

So, first the story of Trinity Grace Church: Crown Heights.

Trinity Grace is a network of church plants throughout the city. They operate from the "parish" model, meaning they desire to be structured as neighborhood churches that have a real presence in the neighborhoods. From the website: "We call this neighborhood model The City Parish. Like the traditional Catholic or Episcopal church, our neighborhood churches exist as part of a larger, unified family.Historically to have a parish meant to take spiritual responsibility for a geographic area. That's why members of Trinity Grace parish churches believe in taking ownership of the spiritual condition of their neighborhood, finding ways to not only love one another, but tangibly love those living nearby through acts of service and stewarding resources for the common good."

It's absolutly fascinating how this works. As soon as there becomes a group of people from a neighborhood going into another neighborhood to attend a parish, they have this group start meeting as a "missional community"- fellowshiping and praying and dreaming about what the church God rises up in their neighborhood will eventually look like (while still attending an already established church). 

The community aspect was very appealing to us. It's non-denominational and I know that weirds some people out, but their statement of belief lined up with what we believe.

 I think the first plant was about ten years ago in Manhattan. As of now there are two in Brooklyn. We went to a service at one of the Manhattan churches when we visited last August and enjoyed it. We also have friends who attend another one of the Manhattan ones. Initially it appealed to us because of the community focus, the not-hugeness of it, and the fact that they are very orthodox theologically even if they aren't very specific theologically.

We started going to a branch in Park Slope (which is one of the more affluent neighborhoods in Brooklyn) and we liked it there. We found out quickly, though, that there was going to be a church plant in Crown Heights. It's a neighborhood near ours and it was only slightly farther and even though it took two buses instead of one like Park Slope, we really loved Crown Heights.

 It's an area that's in the process of gentrification, which can be both good and horrible for a neighborhood, and it's a very diverse community. That was something we really wanted in a church and in Crown Heights we found it! The people we met there were some of the most friendly, most welcoming, and most authentic people we've met yet. We've developed the start of some really great friendships there. It is also TGC that led us to A House on Beekman, which has been a really important part of our lives here. The love these people feel for one another is very real and it's special to be a part of that. So many people have reached out to us and genuinely cared for us.

I guess it could be said that this seems like what I was trying to gently push back against yesterday (moving to the South Bronx is different from moving to Africa, but it's not something most people are signing up for). For some reason, though, it just feels very organic and natural here. People's hearts are stirred and they go as God calls them. And their neighbors who stay in Manhattan? I've yet to see anyone make them feel like dirt because they aren't "sold out" enough or whatever. Also, there is a broader range of ideas about parenting and culture and politics and such and I find that refreshing.

There is a certain vernacular and one of the things you hear about is "joining God in the renewal of Brooklyn". And quite honestly, you feel like it. You feel like you are watching the Lord work in this place and you are allowed the privilege of joining Him there. You are watching God make all things new and you're are part of it. Quite the powerful experience, really.

Well, right after we found TGC: Crown Heights, I attended the Mockingbird Conference at Calvary-Saint George's. Mockingbird was also a powerful, powerful experience for me. First of all, the "craziness" (i.e. the Spirit's work) that even got me there was just intense. A friend from home linked to a post on the Mockingbird blog, which I immediately became fascinated with. A week later, I read something about last minute registration for a conference in Manhattan (until that point, I had no idea the blog/conference originated int he city). I signed up, even though I was terrified of going by myself and it was one of the coolest things I've done in the city. Eh, in my life. It was all about things that resonated deeply with me- "Anxiety, Identity and the Christian Message" was the theme. I mean, hold the phone. I met people I immediately connected with and truthfully, I heard the Gospel in a fresh way. These people were not paying lip service to grace in any way. It was everything to them. And I insisted we visit the church the following weekend. We did and the message struck me as powerful again.

Over the past few months, we've met lots of friendly faces there and become friends with the priest and his wife and their children. They are incredibly kind and probably the most hospitable people I know, in the South or here. We've been to their place numerous times and last week Melina told me that they genuinely don't consider the rectory (THEIR APARTMENT!) theirs. They think it's belongs to the people of the parish. And they sure act like it. It kind of blows my mind.

In addition to feeling really loved and appreciated, we recognized a theological depth that we've been missing out on. This is more Peyton's thing- he's just very interested in theology and a more academic style preaching appeals to him. In fact, I think he experienced this even more at Redeemer, where he has been going on the weekends he works (because it's the only service he's found in the city that starts tat 7:30). Boyfriend LOVES a three point sermon. I enjoy the sermons at Calvary-Saint G's because there's a lot of cultural references and there is, honestly, a focus on emotion and anxiety and issues of identity and such and that's really meets me where I am. But more than that, I am, like I said, hearing the Gospel in a new way. I feel like it's grace upon grace.

Take Creative Arts Camp. The song for the week that a talented church member wrote declares "Though you don't do all you should, God will work it all for good". And I just pray that isn't a trite platitude in my children's heart, but something I can very truly help them understand as they continue to belt it out in the coming weeks and months.

It's funny because I never, ever thought we'd be attending an Episcopal church in the city. I've said it before, but I lacked a WHOLE LOT OF NUANCE...because my images of an Episcopal church in New York City had a lot more to do with active homosexual clergy than with the proclamations of the historic faith of Christ and Him crucified...bold proclamations that I now cherish. 

Anyway, shortly after the conference, Peyton and I discussed it and I really wanted to make Calvary-Saint George's our temporary church home. I was on a high from the conference but Peyton wanted to be part of a more diverse church that was really at work in serving the community in a ton of ways (TGC).

I realized pretty quickly we could swing both if we were willing to do the work and (especially when Peyton's working) allow Sunday to be the hardest day of the week. I remember Peyton was impressed I was considering that, knowing how hard the transit was for me. Peyton is rarely impressed with people.

I decided we'd give it a shot and see if it was worth it. It has been. It requires two buses to and from Crown Heights and three trains into Gramercy. It also required a $175 toddler carrier for Graves to make the train even feasible because I could not do all the steps into and out of and within the stations with a stroller and him in my arms. It also means going to a service at Calvary-Saint G's that has no childcare. Which sometimes means I miss half the sermon making sure Graves isn't being loud and obnoxious. But it's been worth it. Every time.

There is a big positive to the evening service, though, actually. It's a "contemporary" service, but that does not mean the same thing it does at a lot of places. It's not a rock concert (TGC isn't either- not by a long shot, for what it's worth). The worship has been some of my favorite I've ever been a part of. It's not the typical Episcopal service that you think of (the morning one is, mostly). It retains a ton of liturgical elements, but it's more casual and the worship is just soul-stirring. It's one of my favorite things all week.

But there's a catch here, too. The ironic thing about the "thick" theology is that, in some areas, it's a theology we don't really agree we. In fact, it's one we've (specifically Peyton) really pushed back against. The theology, at times,  has a very Reformed bent and if you know anything about Wesleyans, we, well...don't. I thought Peyton might really take issue with it because it's something he feels STRONGLY about. But he said it was actually a really good thing to be challenged with it. And I think Jake (the priest) is happy to have an open dialogue about it. We're reading books that he's told us about and learning more. [As an aside, I had no idea Episcopalians leaned this way. I don 't think all do. But if you think about Anglicanism and it's tie to the Reformation, it makes sense.]

Of course, we care about doctrine. It's important. But this is a small part of the teaching there. There is such a focus on the cross, on grace, on the law vs. Gospel, on "knowing Christ and Him crucified" that these debates aren't the crux of the matter for me.

That said, it's hard to hear Jake say "the phrase 'free will' gives me the heebie jeebies". Because geez, *that* gives me the heebie jeebies.

Another good example is the other night we sang a beautiful song. I was distracted by Graves and only caught the melody and the last stanza:
"Praise the God of all creation;
Praise the Father's boundless love.
Praise the Lamb, or Expiation,
Priest and King enthroned above.
Praise the Spirit of salvation,
Him by whom our spirits live.
Undivided adoration
To the great Jehovah give."

It was actually one of my favorite things we've sang. I came home and Googled it. It turns out it's a Lutheran hymn called "Lord, Tis Not that I Did Choose Thee" with a contemporary version. I couldn't download it. I just couldn't. And I felt so conflicted about if we were even in the right place that I was in tears. 

I talked to Peyton about it and he reassured me and a few weeks later, I'm confident we are. There are quite a few areas of my life I've learned to live in the tension and this may well be another one the Lord is calling us do just that in for reasons we don't even know.

If anything, in addition to maybe having a richer understanding of the Gospel, we'll maybe have a more nuanced perspective on the whole free will discussion.

We have gained SO very much from this city and this experience, but near the top of that list are joining God in the renewal of Brooklyn and weekly hearing the bold proclamations of the historic faith of Christ and Him crucified.

As I finish this post, I do so with tears stinging my eyes. For the great work God is doing in the city. And for the great work God is doing in my heart. I don't know that I've ever felt Him more near. 


Bech and Marley Evans said...

I loved reading this post...thank you for sharing! I am super Reformed and I love Reformed theology. But I am also constantly reminded (sometimes in spite of my own stubborn pride!) that the belief in predestination or free will is, thankfully, not the crux of the gospel! I am thankful that y'all have found good churches there, that are Bible believing and preaching. I love the way we as Christians can move to new places and have community so quickly through the network of believers!

Anonymous said...

Hey Sarah Denley. I've written before asking for prayer, but will you pray again for me to see the beauty of
Christ and him crucified? And for the ability to stop obsessing over theology and just to know that we're undeserving and God is kind? For strength to live by faith. Thank you.

Niki said...

I realize this post is from last year, but I just clicked through from your Calvary post today. I was raised Lutheran, Tyler Episcopal, we attend a non denom now. Which, if I'm completely honest, it's because of the people, not because of the theology. At different times in our lives, I think we need different things from church. We need to be challenged, we need to feel love, we need to sit in the back and blend in, etc. right now, we need a church that feels like family and that's what ours is.

Well that went off on a tangent. Ha! The whole reason I posted was to say, as a Lutheran, I LOVE that hymn. As I read it, I sang it aloud. It makes me want to visit the church I grew up in.