Christ in the Capital of the World
There is a single Baptist church building in Queens that hosts Korean, Indonesian, and Punjabi congregations. Many Catholic parishes, such as one in the Bronx, offer services in English, Spanish, and Twi. As the historian Andrew Walls writes, "The Ephesian moment—the social coming together of people of [different] cultures to experience Christ"—has come again, describing a church that is more diverse than ever. And that global church is here in New York City.
Manhattan continues to see churches thrive in stately buildings, school auditoriums, and music clubs. But the centers of Christian life and growth are increasingly found where immigration has had the greatest impact—in the borrowed church buildings and repurposed spaces in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. This development, however, is not about numbers, but about how the young Christians of GBIMC and others are doing theology "on the ground," working out the gospel in every sphere, culture, and segment of life.
Living in New York and teaching at City Seminary has helped us see a more global and complex New York City. As a seminary community we bring our stories together, seeking to discover how we can more deeply enter God's story and understand this "Ephesian moment."
To illustrate how this boundary-crossing faith is being lived out, we look at three stories, starting in Brooklyn.
'We Will Not Go Home the Same'
"It's going to be an awesome day in the kingdom!" says pastor Abosede "Abby" Oyesile on a Sunday morning at Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Chapel of Hope. "We will not go home the same."
The air in the overflowing storefront church in the heart of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, is swaying. For nearly an hour, the largely Nigerian church of over 100 members praises God in song and dance. The choir, drummer, and keyboardists lead the choruses, while others bring together hands, tambourines, and shakers: "Awesome God, mighty God, You are lifted up / Awesome God, you are highly lifted up." Young and old are dressed in a mix of traditional African and contemporary Western clothing. Some wear brightly patterned, flowing garb while others sport business-casual attire.
Pastor Adebisi Oyesile, Abby's husband, wears a suit that would blend in on Wall Street. When he steps forward to preach, he kneels and begins to pray: "You are so good, blessed be your name." Standing up, he instructs each person to say, "Thank God I am here," and then preaches on how "the spiritual presence of God will always be with you." He should know.
Oyesile moved to New York from Lagos in 1974, at age 22, to study accounting and finance, making his home in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Those were among the city's toughest days; "Bed-Stuy" was, and still can be, among its roughest parts. In 1981, Oyesile was shot in an attempted robbery, the bullet going through his chest.
A few years after graduation, Oyesile went back to Lagos. A decade later, he returned to Brooklyn, seeking more opportunities for his children. He became one of the earliest members of RCCG in Brooklyn, a Lagos-based Pentecostal ministry that is thoroughly global in scale. In New York, RCCG started with a handful of parishes; within a decade, it grew to more than 50 congregations throughout the five boroughs. To belong to a local Redeemed church is to be part of a ministry where leaders, themes, and songs continually cross back and forth between continents and cities.