Why Brooklyn Needs Plymouth

When my styNew York City in the glow of sunsetlist at Supercuts finds out that I have only lived in Brooklyn for five months, she offers to explain New York to me.  She looks me in the eye and says, “If you love New York, she will love you back.  If you don’t love New York, then you need to leave right now.”

I love New York and, most days, she loves me back.  I wake up in the morning and thank God that I am here.  The river, the skyline, and the people rushing around make me grateful.  I am thankful for the amazing art, theater, and food.  Our city is vibrant, diverse, and resilient.

But I have also been here long enough to know that New York is complicated.  Some things are more difficult here.  Driving unpainted, narrow streets filled with bicycles, scooters, adventurous pedestrians, and aggressive taxi drivers is frightening.  Parking—alternate side unless it’s a street cleaning weekday with an R in it 8 am to 6 pm—is confusing.  Paying a reasonable amount for housing is impossible.  Raising a family is tough.  Helping children get the best education is complicated.  Lugging groceries home is problematic.  Finding a quiet place or a restroom or a way to retire is tricky.  Being kind is challenging.  Making friends is difficult.  Feeling like you matter is hard.

New York makes it clear that we need the church.  We need others to help us recognize God’s presence.  When the city treats us poorly, when we feel confused, alone, or sad, we need Plymouth.

We need Plymouth because we need a place where people know who we are, treat us with kindness, and let us be kind.  We need a place where people listen to us, talk about the things that matter most, and trust us.  We need a place to spend time with children and senior adults, be around those with a deep sense of spirituality, and serve those who need our help.  We need a place to pray, sing, give, and listen for the Spirit.  We need Plymouth.

Dorothy Parker said, “London is satisfied, Paris is resigned, but New York is always hopeful.  Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it.”

That is a good description of the church Brooklyn needs—always hopeful, believing something good is about to happen, hurrying to meet God.





How to Ride the Subway


Londoners have reacted with horror to an attempt to get them to speak to one another on the subway.  Three weeks ago “Tube Chat?” buttons began encouraging riders to engage in conversations with fellow travelers.  The response on social media has been universal distress:

“I feel like civilization is ending.”

“You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot lead a Londoner into social interaction on the Tube.”

“It’s bad enough on above ground trains, where random strangers want to talk while I’m on Twitter, chatting to random strangers.”

New buttons have appeared: “Don’t even think about speaking to me,” “Wake me up if a dog gets on,” and “Nope.”

One Londoner argued:  “Only drunks, lunatics and Americans talk on the Tube.  Resentful silence is the proper way.”

The man behind this attempt to get commuters talking is indeed an American.  Jonathan Dunne admits that he has not received the friendly experience for which he hoped.  He explains his motivation by saying he comes from a small town in Colorado where “We actually talk to people.”

When I moved to Brooklyn, I got lots of advice on how to ride the subway:

Do not be discouraged if your metro card does not work on the first five swipes

If there is an empty car, avoid it.  There is a reason it is empty.

You should offer your seat to a woman with a small child or a pregnant woman—though she should be at least eight months pregnant.

Hang on to the pole.  This is no place to pretend you are surfing.

Face the right direction—the direction everyone else is facing.

If you look at the “NEXT STOP IS . . .” sign, you look like a tourist.

Do not stare at anything that is hard not to stare at.  This includes tattoos, piercings, uncovered body parts, and hair colors Disney has never tried.

Do not pay attention to the crazy guy giving a speech—even if he is making sense.

If someone tries to hand you something, do not take it.

Move to the side to let people get off the train and avoid getting moved off the train.

I enjoy riding the subway.  I am amazed by the number of nationalities you see.  I love the singers and musicians—both the ones who have permission to be there and the ones who clearly do not.  $2.75 is a bargain.

An early morning subway car can be amazingly quiet.  When this many people live this close together, we need to give each other space so, for the most part, we leave each other alone.

Commuters hold on to their coffee as if it is their last hope.  College students study.  People in suits read The Wall Street Journal.  People in Philadelphia jerseys read The New York Post.  Teenagers play the kind of games I am too smart to put on my phone, but which I wish I had on my phone.  Lots of folks wear earbuds which may or may not be connected to anything.  Commuters have a surprising level of weariness.

While I love riding the subway, I am afraid it might make me less caring.  I do not want my silence to become apathy.  I do not want to learn to ignore those around me, so here is what I am doing.  I look at the people on the train.  I look at each face and say to myself, “God loves you.”  That crying little boy.  That elderly woman.  That angry man.  That bored teenage girl.  I need to think “God loves you” so that I will remember that it is true.

And if there is ever a moment when it does not seem horrifying, I will start a conversation.



The Coolest Thing about Plymouth

“What’s the coolest thing about your church?”

The minister asking the question doesn’t know Plymouth.  Where was I to start?

I could talk about our history.  Tourists hang on the fence to hear the stories of Henry Ward Beecher ignoring threats to fight slavery, church members breaking the law to be part of the Underground Railroad, and Branch Rickey praying in the minister’s study until he decided to offer Jackie Robinson a contract.  Our Congregational tradition is a rich heritage.  We have a great story.

I could talk about the friendships we share.  In many churches, the building is empty ten minutes after the postlude.  At Plymouth, Hillis Hall is crowded thirty minutes after worship, and it isn’t because we want Oreos for lunch.  Fellowship hour is loud and happy.  The conversations sound like they are about faith, politics, and family, but the real subject is our love for one another.

I could talk about our ministries.  When I asked a guest at the overnight shelter which church was the best to visit, he said, “Yours, of course.”  Our support of anti-trafficking continues our commitment to proclaim as Jesus said, “release to the captives.”  We participate in creative hunger initiatives like Brooklyn Delivers.

I could talk about Plymouth Church School.  Walking up the stairs takes longer when you are behind a line of three-year-olds, but singing with them is fun.  I could talk about the delightful confirmation class Carol and I are getting to lead.  I could talk about our church staff, whose dedication to Plymouth is inspiring.  I could talk about our thoughtful, inclusive, and welcoming theology.  If asked the coolest thing about our church, we have lots of answers from which to choose.

One of the many reasons I love Plymouth is clear every Sunday morning.  When worship begins, people in our sanctuary expect something sacred to happen.   Plymouth sings joyfully, prays honestly, and thinks deeply.  We expect to be challenged.  People in our church give themselves to God each Sunday.

The best thing Plymouth has going for it—that for which we should be most grateful—is the presence of God.  Though most of the time we don’t see it, a goodness bigger than we are has pulled us this far, and made this church holy and wonderful.

This sound odd, but God is what’s coolest about our church.  God makes this place and these people home.  God is here when we help one another and when we help people we don’t even know.  Plymouth is more than the sum total of what we can see, because God is with us.