I wish I could have brought you all along on my day today. My fellow Episcopal seminarians and I are studying urban ministry this semester in our Anglican colloquium, and we are visiting churches in New York City and Boston in teams to see different churches, communities, and the priests or lay leaders who lead the communities. My team of 4 wanted to visit Father Earl Kooperkamp of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in West Harlem. Earl Kooperkamp is one of many ministers in New York who received a grant from Trinity Wall Street, which sends quiet, anonymous observers around the city to find people who are doing great ministry.
We left New Haven around 8 a.m. and arrived at St. Mary’s, which is across the street from the 126th Street Precinct of NYPD, and there is just no mistaking a NYPD precinct. The entire street in front of St. Mary’s was lined with NYPD blue cars and vans, and I thought we were on the wrong street. I was pulled over by the police on that very street because I, a lifetime Californian, had just made a right turn on a red in front of a police precinct. Turns out that right turns on reds are illegal in New York City. The officer who pulled me over kindly informed me of that, and when I said, “Oh, sorry, I’m a Californian,” he said, “I know.” I guess they check license plates. So I have saved a LOT of money in driving infraction tickets by not getting Connecticut plates yet! Even NYPD pities dumb Californians who don’t know da law.
So anyway, that wasn’t the most auspicious beginning. But then we worshipped with the people of St. Mary’s, singing a mixture of traditional hymns and more Gospely ones. In the church hall, I drank coffee and almost got drafted into a spontaneous ECW (Episcopal Church Women) meeting. Then one of the women there started chatting with me and said that St. Mary’s is one of the few truly interracial churches in New York City. She is from Morningside Heights, the academic community around Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University ten blocks south, and she has seen a lot of churches in the area go all white or all black. She pointed to the people around the room and said, “This is what heaven is like.”
After that, we made bag lunches and packed up hot soup to take to Ecclesia, an outdoor church service held in parks every Sunday for the homeless and anyone else who wants to attend. It was cold, and we stood in the snow, and that’s when I regretted not wearing wool socks. We handed out the lunches and hot soup and took the extra lunches to another location, and then we sat down with Earl back at the church and talked with him about the community and his ministry. Earl is all about community organizing, about negotiating win-win-win solutions to problems of injustice caused by power players such as the City of New York, the Episcopal Church headquarters, and Columbia University. (If you’re wondering why an Episcopal priest is talking to the power at Episcopal Church headquarters, it is because they dismissed their union construction crew to save money with a non-union construction crew. Earl is negotiating the return of the unionized crew.) When I asked him what was the biggest surprise, positive or negative, in his ministry, he starting giggling and said, “I can’t believe they send me a paycheck twice a month to do whatever I want!” The whatever-he-wants consists of advocating for the poor, the sick, and the mistreated in his neighborhood. As Earl said in his sermon this morning (quoting Paul Tillich, who taught at Union Theological Seminary nearby), “Love without justice is sentimentality.”
If that isn’t enough of a great day, I came home to an email from the Yale Divinity School student body president regarding the Div. School-wide FAST FOR HAITI. FAST FOR PEACE I have been organizing for March 24-31, and he is asking those of us in the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, “Why limit it to the Div School? Should we throw it out to the whole Yale community?”
I hope we do! That would be great, especially since one of our goals is to raise funds for Haiti from the money saved on groceries. One of the important things I have learned from my study of the life and teachings of one of my heroes, Mahatma Gandhi, is how galvanizing fasting can be in the name of peacemaking. So please pray for fasting Yalies in March, and for the people for Haiti, and for the swift end to war. (We are fasting not only for the people of Haiti, but also for all those involved in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and for a quick end to this war.)
Now I really, really, really need to read some Paul Tillich and Walter Brueggeman. Just as soon as I catch some of the Olympic pairs figure skating. Or write a scholarship application. Or take the dog out for her nighttime outing. (It looks like the dog’s pleading look has won out. See you later.)
I made that same driving mistake coming from Arizona to California. I made a Left hand turn on a red light in the center divide. In Arizona you dont have to wait for a green arrow, you can go if there is room for you to go. Do you have any picture of the church in Harlem? It sound really interesting. You sounded like you were in your element. I am glad you are doing well. Love your blog.
Mihoa and the Kids.
Hi, Mihoa. We did get a lot of pictures of St. Mary’s (and the police department across the street), but my friend has them on her camera. I’ll ask her to send some my way.
In many ways, I was in my element. But I miss you guys in California, too!
Hey, Mihoa. I thought I responded to this, but I guess not. We did take pictures of St. Mary’s (and all the police cars across the the street), but they’re on a disposable camera, so we have to get them put on a CD. In many ways, I was in my element. I love NYC. But I also miss California a lot. And I miss you the kids. I don’t think we’ll be out to California until August, though. I have CPE from June 1 – August 13.
Congratulations on your great work! Thanks for writing about it and sharing it with others.
I’m a religion reporter for the Columbia Spectator, Columbia University’s daily newspaper, and I’m interested in learning about the Ecclesia program you describe.
What is there contact information and where does it meet?
Keep up your fantastic work,
Hi, Shira. Ecclesia meets in Marcus Garvey park every Sunday. I think it’s at 2 p.m. The Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, the priest at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on 126th St., is very involved, and helps lead services there once or twice a month. I would start with him.
Good luck with your story!