Why a Church in Greenwich Village?
Many churches in different cities or schools or regions can say: “We belong here because this place has a Christian heritage!” We cannot say that. New Amsterdam was founded by Belgian merchants to make a gilder from beaver skins. When the first Dutch West Indian ship sailed into the harbor of Manatu in 1609, its mission was not to advance the purposes of God, but to make money. By 1626, slave trade had become the economic base of the new colony. Peter Stuyvesant arrived to find filthy streets and one tavern for every twenty men. The secular nature of the first settlement has cast its karma over the whole of New York’s subsequent history.
But something else lodged on this island, whether it came across on those Dutch ships or was present with the Lenotti, Canarsie and Iroquois tribes that lived here before. And this other thing located its center in the rolling hills of Green Village, an area originally north of the young city. This other thing was this: a discontentment with the way things are. A feeling that what is needed is not so much reform but something more like revolution. A suspicion of the matrix.
The attitude of revolution against conformity has characterized Greenwich Village from its inception. In 1811, when New York numbered 80,000 people, the city planners foresaw the need to plan out the streets for the entire island. They laid out the famous grid of North-South avenues and numbered cross streets. It worked. The grid made an orderly solution of a rapidly growing city. It worked everywhere, that is, except in Greenwich Village. There residents went into an uproar to keep their roads following the ancient criss-crossing cow paths and streets whose house numbers changed mid-block. They rose up in such vociferous protest that the city-planners had to back down. That is why, when you come out of the Village Church, located at 490 Hudson Street, and walk around the corner, you will come to West 4th Street crossing West 11th Street.. Greenwich Village is about revolution against the matrix of our age.
We find, living or working here, that that revolutionary spirit still abides, whether it is in the gender-explorers who light up the streets by night or the artistic professionals, academics and sundry characters that populate the Village by day.
And this is why The Village Church belongs here, proclaiming Jesus Christ. Because Jesus intends nothing less than a revolution to overturn this age. It is not that revolution is bad, it is only that the usual revolutionaries don’t take it far enough. We tell people, to be in our church, you need to agree that there is something desperately wrong with the world. You need to be skeptical of false Messiahs. And you need to be open to new experiences. By that we mean you need to be radical in your commitment to follow the truth, to follow it into whatever experience constitutes the real revolution.
This is why a church radically true to the Scriptures and steady in the resources of the Reformed Faith belongs in Greenwich Village. For the ultimate nonconformist is none other than Jesus Christ. He fulfills that spirit of New York City, specifically of the Village, that challenges the matrix. Jesus is here to complete the revolution in our lives.
How does The Village Church Resist the Grid?
Overheard descriptions of the church indicate that we are challenging people’s expectations of church.
Whether it is nonbelievers speaking…
“There is such love here…”
“I don’t know what I believe but I keep coming back to find out more about Deuteronomy”
…or Christians speaking…
“They would be charismatic if they weren’t so theologically conservative”
…many are being surprised and challenged by a community translating (not updating!) the historic Reformed faith.
A smattering of actual quotations may give an idea of the transformations of lives through Christ’s revolution going on in our community.
Our consistently grid-challenging Sunday Service has brought comments such as:
- On music: “When we first walked through the door, it was like a breath of fresh air; this church worships like our God is worth getting passionate about”
- On liturgy: “The first time I came here, I took communion and felt the Holy Spirit.” “What I love most about the church service are the Benedictions.”
- On sermons: “In all my study and reading and listening, I have never heard that Bible passage explained so clearly.”
Our Sunday Service Kapellmeister recently brightens up when going to practice with the musicians because, she says, “their hearts are so worshipful that it benefits me every week to play with them.”
Then there are our yearly events, such as our Village Church does the Park:
- Nonbeliever: “Such a beautiful service—the sermon really convinced me to think about centering my life on Christ.”
- Believer: “I was so moved by this music in the park—can’t we do this every week?”
- Visiting Church-Planter: “We are definitely bringing this idea to Berlin.”
or our Church Retreat:
- Nonbeliever: “This retreat changed the meaning of ‘repentance’ for me—if there is a sequel, I am there.”
- Believer: “How thankful my wife and I are for the retreat. The emphasis on repentance really changed the way we have been thinking, particularly in our jobs.”
- Visitor: “Just sign us up—my family and I want to join this church”.
But just as transforming are the regular ministries of the church. Our Gospel In Deed ministries address both internal needs and needs of Greenwich Village in tangible works of love. In one year, for example, the heroic Village Church Mercy Team, along with the generosity of our community, helped a couple in debt to pay an important medical bill, a newly-married couple facing a financial crisis to cover an insurance premium and a family needing a crucial payment to keep above water. They coordinated meals for several new parents in the church and one couple who lost a baby. They assisted half a dozen singles in the church facing unemployment or other emotional strain to receive counseling. Many of these needs are exposed in the regular prayer, each Sunday, for anyone in need.
Our Gospel in Deed team assists those outside our church as well. Our recent trips to Uganda and Israel sought to bring hope to some of the world’s most troubled areas. Our recent relief visit to New Orleans brought workers, joyfully smiling in their gasmasks, to where no one else wanted to go. Regular visits to nearby Village Nursing Home brings light and care to many who have no one else who cares.
Similar against-the-societal-grain stories could be multiplied from our dozen Fellowship Groups, our Christian Education classes, our Prayer Bands, even our Church management. All enact an alternative to the status quo of city life, a portent of another revolutionary Kingdom to come. This is what Christ’s revolution looks like.
Who is The Village Church?
It is fascinating to see who Jesus Christ seems to be enlisting in His revolution among us. In terms of personas, we cluster around three groups, which seem to reflect three major groups who are in, or who come to, the Village: artists and performers, young professionals, and students and intellectuals.
Whereas many people associate “church” with “boring,” “stagnant” and “repressive,” we find the Gospel of Christ to be an instigation to the arts. When people convert to Christianity, there is usually a tremendous creativity unleashed. Much to her surprise, the soul of the converted artist feels healed. Her art is born from a different place. One man in the church who writes songs says that it was his conversion to Christ that first inspired him to start.
So we support the arts in a number of ways: through incorporating all art forms into our unique worship service offertories and through contributions to culture bridging organizations like the IAM ministry of sabbatical elder, Mako Fujimura. We put on bi-monthly Zoae Arts events in a local pub to celebrate the various talents of our church. But, mainly, artists come for the community we provide and the message we preach, both of which buoy them up in their calling. One artist said that it was the message of Christ’s attention to her that delivered her from doing drugs long enough to produce some art. Another of our members wrote “Red Herring” called by Talkin’ Broadway the “Most Outstanding New Play” of the summer of 2006. Artists like these, working in all mediums, find a home in the Village Church.
We find that we are half married, half single. Our singles are half women, half men. A financial analyst joined the church because of the community. A neuro-scientist serves as an elder. A midtown marketer plays in our worship band because he loves the church’s challenge to him to live in holiness. A movie maker (who produced the winning short at Cannes in 2004) helps lead one of our fellowship groups. These folks, often just starting, or in training for, their life’s work, have unique needs that Christ’s revolution addresses. We held a single woman’s luncheon that one attendee called, “the most healing experience of the year for me because of the issues laid to rest.”
Wise to Academics
New York University, continuing to gulp up large portions of Greenwich Village, is now the largest private university in the country, serving 50,000 students with 1,900 full-time and 4,000 part time faculty members. Furthermore, 70% of NYU alumni continue to live in the metropolitan area after graduation. It is not surprising that folks from this and other schools of the city show up at The Village Church to find another kind of wisdom. One of our elders, an NYU neuroscientist, talks with the pastor to develop a theology of mind-body connection. An NYU drama graduate student helps run our Zoae Arts events. We can serve these folks and others like them because Christ’s revolution allows us to connect our heads to our hearts. The wisdom of Christ comes behind no other path intellectually. This is why our church believes the best way to proclaim the truth is to provide an environment of free enquiry, ending each Sunday with a Question Authority time, in which all comers are invited to comment on or challenge anything they have heard that day. As one new member put it, “I joined because this church welcomes thinking as part of its religion.” Intellectual integrity is a key part of Christ’s revolution.
Want to Join The Cause?
These are just some of the people and activities that show the potential of The Village Church to effect real revolution, appropriately beginning in Greenwich Village. As one new member recently put it,
“I heard a lot of different things about what the Village Church was. When I got here, I found out the truth—The Village Church is a place where people come to meet God.”
We welcome you to come experience the church in our gathering each Sunday. Perhaps you can come to say with us, “I was part of the action when the matrix of this world was unplugged in Greenwich Village.”