Perhaps you have seen the recent New York Times editorial by Katherine Stewart, which represented the Village Church, being one of those churches in New York who rent a school for Sunday worship, as a pariah of the West Village neighborhood (“Separation of Church and School,” June 11, 2011). Her piece was a commentary on the recent 2nd court ruling (“Court Lets City Restrict Church Use of Schools”, June 2, 2011). While we welcome Ms. Stewart’s recent arrival to New York City, her anxiety over this country’s long-standing legal precedent, allowing churches, along with any other partisan groups here to rent week-end space from public schools, is uninformed.
People tend to fear what they do not understand. And clearly some have a hard time understanding Christians, as evidenced by the misrepresentations in Stewart’s piece. The Village Church has been a presence in Greenwich Village for over sixteen years, serving the needs of the neighborhood in large and small ways. If Stewart knew anything about the church, she did not show it by her characterization.
Stewart asserts that churches are “attracted to New York by the combination of cheap space and the opportunity to save the city from its parent godlessness…” The idea that any group is attracted to New York seeking “cheap space” is, to put it in the kindest possible way, laughable. (Do you know anyone coming to New York for “cheap space”?) Instead of pouring money into a building, our church rents space in the local school (PS3), leaving more resources for our community programs. The cost along with the Security Guard we provide, is not that much less for other space in the Village. We should pay — and now it looks like ‘will pay’ — a comparable amount for using an off-off-Broadway theater or rehearsal space on those Sunday hours.
But to what does Stewart object? Does she object to how over a five year period (2004-2008), our church, though quite small, gave away over $120,000, a tenth of our income, to various charities? Many of these charities were local, such as the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, Greenwich Village Block Association, International Arts Movement and St. Vincent’s Hospital Chelsea-Village Shut In Program. Or maybe she objects to our mercy network, which has fed homeless, helped service Washington Square Park, and connected needy villagers to financial, counseling and educational services for a decade and a half. I wonder how many of the hundreds of people who will tell you that the Village Church improved their lives would be persuaded by Stewart’s cost argument.
Stewart writes that the Village Church is one of those groups that “has little connection with the school community…” In fact, members of the Village Church have both attended PS3 and taught there. Her picture of us, along with other churches, as some kind of vulture swooping down to pick at innocent children “for religious purposes” is hard to fathom, unless it is a muddled reference to our monthly Parents Night Out program, open to caregivers and parents (who number among PS3 parents) of any creed, color, party or orientation. Participants are offered a night out while we provide free babysitting by trained church volunteers. This program, held at PS3, is non-religious. The children are led in a evening of artistic crafts and creative play, and delivered happily exhausted to the better-rested parents at the end of their date. The people of our church give up their Friday nights simply to serve the needs of parents, again for free, because Jesus Christ has given freely to us. Maybe that is what is so hard to understand, but that is what Christians are about.
Our ministry, G.A.M.E. (Gender Affirming Ministry Endeavor), seems to particularly bother Stewart, who crafts the careful phrasing of how we are “…associated with the movement to ‘cure’ gay men…” Anyone actually involved in helping those struggling with their sexual identities would find the word “cure” offensive, including us–we have certainly never used the word.
Again, G.A.M.E. began as a response to the needs of our community. We have found that there are some same-sex attracted individuals who do not wish to define themselves as gay and no amount of cultural affirmation has changed their minds. We do not seek them out. They come to us. And they do so because few will support them in their own decisions of self-determination. But we walk with them. Stewart’s suggestion that such a group does not represent the neighborhood just proves how little she knows of the Village’s diversity.
The doors at the school are open on Sunday mornings for all villagers. Those who avail themselves of the experience of a visit encounter artistic offertories and sermons for those who wish to think about issues in depth. Maybe they agree. Maybe they disagree. But no one yet has suggested, as Stewart does from her perch on the Upper East Side, that our voice should not be a part of Greenwich Village’s conversation. And no one seriously thinks that PS3 endorses our views by renting to us. The United States Supreme Court feels similarly and has said so.
We live here. This is my neighborhood. It is a strange phenomenon that Stewart, who blows in recently from California, can present us, genuine New Yorkers, as some kind of alien race. If she is unable to countenance worldviews in her own neighborhood that she does not like, even views that oh-my-gosh include hell, I guess that it is good that she moved here, so she can spend a little more time learning from New Yorkers how to practice actual diversity in peace. That could help her over her “separation anxiety.”
Rev. Sam A. Andreades
Pastor, the Village Church
June 15, 2011
The New York Times declined to publish this response.