Why the Supreme Court Ruling Is an Opportunity for NYC Christians
On Sunday mornings in the heart of Park Slope, Brooklyn, a small yet bustling farmers' market draws shoppers to the sidewalk outside of William Alexander Middle School (MS 51) on 5th Avenue. Even on a cold winter morning, as the browsing patrons move a little more slowly around the wooden tables, the vegetables sit vibrant in the morning light. You can taste free samples of several varieties of the best apples from Upstate New York.
Halfway down the block, near the side entrance of the school, you can hear the squeak of shoes stopping fast on the basketball court of the school gym. The youth basketball league of the 78th Precinct uses the gym when it is too cold to play outside.
If you are there at the right time, you may also hear the strains of a cello or piano drifting out from the school auditorium. Give it a few more minutes and you will faintly hear voices singing. It is the sound of a church preparing for worship. This is my church, where I am a pastor and where my family attends. By 10:30 a.m. all three groups are using the school's property. Families and friends fill the church, the gym, and the sidewalk outside of MS 51 for weekly sustenance of mind, body, and soul. It is a peaceful coexistence, each group quietly acknowledging the other, asking questions, slowly getting to know each other's stories.
Last Monday morning, December 5th, word spread quickly, especially in the circles of New York City clergy, that the Supreme Court had decided not to the hear the case of Bronx Household of Faith vs. New York City Department of Education. By letting the appellate court's ruling stand, the Court ensured that in early 2012, over sixty churches that rent space for their weekly worship gatherings in public schools will have to move. One of them is ours.
MS 51 has hosted our church at a crucial time in its growth. What began as a small home group five years ago grew into a larger Wednesday night prayer and worship evening, and then blossomed into a Sunday worship service two years ago. I remember walking the neighborhood looking for space until my feet ached. As a new church with a small budget, we quickly learned just how high a premium is charged for meeting spaces large enough for a growing congregation. Our options were very limited. When we learned we were going to be able to meet in the school auditorium, it was an answer to prayer.