New York's New Hope
In the Ocean Hill-Brownsville area of Brooklyn, the site of a brutal struggle between Jews and blacks in 1967, pastors are rehabbing their churches to prepare for the newcomers moving into homes built by new church development corporations.
"We have to be prepared because the people are coming," one deacon told me as he supervised construction workers.
Rap, rock, gospel, soul, and classical music spills out into the street mixing into a grand orchestration of cultural renewal. Many churches today have recording studios, and mothers push into visitors' hands sample cds of their children's music. "Listen to this! My daughter did this one," one mother told me urgently. A visit to a ministry is an invitation to walk out with sample cds and fliers for art shows, gospel pantomime, and dance services.
There are now 7,100 evangelical, charismatic, and Pentecostal churches in New York City, according to a recent church census conducted by Columbia University for the Christian Cultural Center. The situation is reminiscent of the early 1900s when sociologist Max Weber arrived here to prepare for his 1904 book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, and noted "the wild buzzing and whizzing of the city."
Weber said, "The buildings rose as great fires to a God above all."
Preparing for the new
Amid this diversity of energetic activity, New York's evangelical church leaders are finding new unity in transforming the city's culture. Three kinds of urbanism compete for pre-eminence in New York: secularist modernism, magical urbanism of voodoo and Eastern religions, and "glorious urbanism" of the new Christians.
These church leaders want to usher in an era in which the church makes a citywide impact through compassionate service, principled politics, and multicultural arts.
One nationally well-known example of this glorious urbanism is Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Pastor Tim Keller, formerly a seminary professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, learned to be nimble in the pulpit as well as on Broadway, where his office is located. Keller has translated megachurch ideas into the urban setting, generally attracting New York's working professionals. Since 1989, Redeemer Presbyterian Church has grown to 4,200 in attendance on Sundays, meeting in three locations. The church has helped plant 100 neighborhood congregations in greater New York City. Keller's formula for reaching urbanites entails culturally aware preaching, sophisticated aesthetics, and fiercely pro-city sentiments. ("I hate the suburbs," he said in one sermon.) The church's vision statement would be considered audacious if the church weren't having such an impact: "To spread the gospel, first through ourselves and then through the city by word, deed, and community; To bring about personal changes, social healing, and cultural renewal through a movement of churches and ministries that change New York City and through it, the world."
A less well-known example, at least nationally, is A. R. Bernard and the 21,000 people at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn's East New York. Whether he's meditating on a flower in the church's gem of a horticultural garden or riding his big bmc Chopper down the beach to pray, Bernard is restless about bringing a gospel-based cultural revolution to the city.