loren Eric Swanson: Waking up in a City that Never Sleeps

Monday, August 22, 2005

Waking up in a City that Never Sleeps

This morning I returned from three days in New York City with my pastor, Tom Shirk, of Calvary Bible E-Free Church in Boulder. For the past two or three years, Tom has been leading Calvary in becoming internally strong and sound but externally focused. In 2004 our church received the “Colorado Cares Governor’s Award” for being Colorado’s volunteer organization of the year for our work we have done in serving the community. Tom is on the last couple weeks of his three month sabbatical designed to renew, revision and refresh.

We were settled into the city…in the heart of Time Square by 2pm and the first thing we did was buy tickets for the History Channel’s history tour of New York on a trolley-style bus. Howie served as our knowledgeable tour guide. Tom and I were his only passengers. Howie was a retired Conn-Ed worker in his mid-50s who had learned well how to ply his new craft. Ray Bakke recommends that the first thing one should do in a new city is to take an historical tour of the city—preferably from someone who knows the spiritual history of the city. Lacking such a person, we settled for Howie. I was particularly interested in the historical tour, having finished 1776 and now immersed in Washington’s Crossing—both which detail accounts of the Revolutionary War in New York City.

After the tour we took in Mel Brook’s “The Producers,” on 44th Street, a couple blocks from the Millennial Hotel (thanks to Hotwire). Some are lauding this musical as the best thing to hit Broadway in decades. Certainly it doesn’t contain the moral lessons of Les Mis…but for comedy, it was hard to beat. Afterward the play we stumbled across Carmine’s—just down the block. Carmine’s serves huge family-style meals and we had our fill of Chicken Marsala.

On Saturday morning we met with Larry Christensen—one of the very best people in all of the city. Larry and his wife Deb have lived in the upper west side of NY for many years, giving leadership to the Campus Crusade ministry in NYC. Since there was a new restaurant, called “Eggs” in Brooklyn, Larry suggested we go there for breakfast. “Eggs” is located in a redeveloping part of Brooklyn, called Williamsburg—and the restaurant was a depiction of the neighborhood—an eclectic array of chairs and tables covered with butcher paper. One of the walls was bare concrete. But what makes the restaurant so interesting is the trained chef preparing breakfast, the individual containers of French-pressed coffee, and the ability to replicate the direction of the neighborhood. Larry commented that a church plant in this neighborhood should have the same look and feel—authentic, but absolutely no pretension. After breakfast we walked the neighborhood, stopping into a Greek Orthodox Church that was being restored. We walked through a park where kids were learning to play baseball. There were signs of hope in the city. If you wanted to invest in the city, this is certainly one of the growth plates!

Now picture this…maybe the highlight of our trip—in the depths of a subway station…a midget who, through the wonder of plastic surgery, had his face altered to be a mini-me replica of Michael Jackson. Now picture an enraptured crowd applauding and cheering to mini-Michael dancing, moon-walking and lip-synching to “Beat-it.” The guy was incredible! And if he can make it here…well, you know how the rest of it goes.

The afternoon found us in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Again Bakke says we should visit the museums of a city, for in their museums the city recaptures its history and tells its story. I’m not sure I can fully grasp the artistic value of a 8’X8’ black canvas, or a chalkboard with scribbling on it, but I did appreciate the work of Picasso, Monet, Gauguin, Andrew Wythe, etc.

The evening found us queued up for a Saturday evening service at Time Square Church—David Wilkerson’s (Cross and the Switchblade) church at 7pm. I blamma myself for not understanding that the service was on Friday night and not Saturday night. But now we had the opportunity to go back to Carmine’s—this time for the Chicken Scarpiella—possibly the most flavorful chicken I’ve had—rosemary, garlic, lemon, olive oil, shallots…just great.

On Sunday, we took in the 10:30 service at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, meeting at Hunter College on Lexington Avenue. Redeemer is a leader in the NYC church planting movement and pastor Tim Kelleris a brilliant thought leader on missional churches. After church we met with Glen Klineknecht, Director of Here’s Life, Inner City for lunch, then made our way back to Brooklyn for the 3:30 service at Brooklyn Tabernacle.

Brooklyn Tabernacle is like no other place in the world. Brooklyn Tabernacle was invigorated by the arrival of Jim and Carol Cymbala in the early 1970’s. The congregation was barely alive and Jim and Carol struggled to pastor this fledgling congregation. On a fishing trip in Florida Jim was seeking the Lord, when, in Jim’s words, “I sensed God speaking: If you and your wife will lead my people to pray and call upon my name, you will never lack for something fresh to preach. I will supply all the money that’s needed, both for the church and for your family, and you will never have a building large enough to contain the crowds I will send in response.” It is on the basis of this call that God has blessed Brooklyn Tabernacle. They measure what happens not on Sunday’s attendance but by Tuesday evening prayer meeting. Today they have four Sunday services that are packed with over 1,500 people each. The Brooklyn Tabernacle choir has cut several CDs and although Carol Cymbala cannot read music, the church has sold well over a million copies of sheet music.

Leaving Brooklyn, we caught the subway to 34th Street and 8th Avenue to look for “The Journey” meeting in the Manhattan Center. The Journey is a three and a half year old Southern Baptist church plant. After reinvigorating ourselves with a Grande Starbuck (probably 200 stores in Manhattan alone) we made our way to the Manhattan Center. We followed the greeters and the well-placed signage to the 7th floor and stepped into a meeting hall with room for a thousand people. Along the back wall were bags of cereal (Captain Crunch, Fruit Loops, Fruity Pebbles, Minibuns, Count Chocula, etc) along with bowls, spoons and milk. The cow tipping scene from Tommy Boy kicked off the service followed by driving worship music, a skit and a 30 minute talk, as the penultimate summer series message, entitled, “What should I say to my friend who is gay?” This service is one of three Sunday services with a total worship attendance that pushes a thousand—mostly under 30.

Reflecting on our three church experiences over dinner at O’Lunny’s (across from Millennium Hotel on 45th Street), Tom and I debrief on what we experienced that day. At Redeemer we were singing songs from the 1500s, listening to classical music and hearing a three point sermon from the book of James. Redeemer is very Presbyterian—filled with young but now aging, mostly Anglo and Asian professionals. The Journey was at the opposite spectrum. The music could have been written during the afternoon. The audience was made up of predominately white students or transplants working their first job in the city. It was non-contextualized for the city but was doing a good job reaching the young suburbanites that had relocated in NYC, in the same way a church targeting Puerto Ricans would attract and reach Puerto Ricans. At Brooklyn Tabernacle, we both agreed that we sensed the presence of God in that place. Jim and Carol are “anointed” by God. As good as this service was, what we continually heard was the power of the Tuesday evening prayer service.

Tom and I spent a lot of time talking and reflecting on the work of God in the world and in Boulder…about the need for self-renewal and continuing education…about the need to create strategic initiatives that help give legs to people’s desires.


At Monday, August 22, 2005 7:38:00 PM, Blogger Steve Van Diest said...

Facinating trip. That sounds like a huge life classroom. Thanks for sharing.

At Tuesday, August 23, 2005 7:59:00 AM, Blogger Houdini said...

Dear brother and fellow Yooper Eric,

Thanks for giving me some images of the city we will become familiar with for the first time this weekend as we get our daughter off to The King's College.

It will certainly be an adventure.

At Tuesday, August 23, 2005 8:20:00 AM, Blogger Mesothelioma said...

I like your blog. Very nice! I should probably bookmark it for later.

I just got done putting the finishing touches to a new website about: Mesothelioma. It's got some
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You should check it out sometime when you get time. :-)

At Sunday, August 28, 2005 8:44:00 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Hey, I really liked your article. I think I saw the word Puerto Rican in there and it caught my eye. :) I am on staff with Destino Student LINC in Orlando, FL and just wanted to let you know about our new destino blog www.destinomovement.blogspot.com and it would be great if you could put it up as a link on your site.

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