Thank You, Plymouth Church School

The biggest concern about moving our family to Brooklyn last year was how our (then) four-year-old daughter Rosie would adjust to the change. Rosie, like most everyone, experiences bouts of anxiety when facing the unknown, and moving from Georgia to New York is an especially difficult experience for a child.

Rosie’s entire world changed when we moved to Brooklyn. She went from travelling in a car seat in an SUV to riding on the A Train while standing. She went from having a large playroom in our house, to having a small play “corner” in our apartment. She went from riding her tricycle around our cul-de-sac to riding her scooter down Henry Street. As worried parents, Chris and I constantly prayed that God would send us people in Brooklyn to love, comfort, and guide Rosie during this first year of transition. And wow, did God deliver!

Plymouth Church School has been the best school experience I have ever had, both for my daughter and for myself. From the moment Rosie stepped foot in the Red Room, she was surrounded by joy, wonder, and acceptance. Kate and Annie have given the very best of themselves to my daughter, and to all of the children in the class. By encouraging the children to explore their environment, ask questions, and discover wonder, Kate and Annie are sending off confident, responsible, and curious students into Kindergarten.

Rosie’s favorite part of Plymouth Church School was the new Enrichment Program. The program is designed with a different after-school class each day of the week, and taught by PCS staff. Not only did this program provide much-needed childcare for our family, but it exposed Rosie to a variety of experiences we could not have given her otherwise. Because of the Enrichment Program, Rosie has bonded with children from other classrooms. She knows more people walking around in the neighborhood than I do! Enrichment has also given Rosie a passion for art, dance, and nature.

My appreciation for Plymouth Church School goes beyond the classroom. As a parent, I am forever learning how to listen to and care for my child. It seems once I have this whole “parenting thing” figured out, Rosie moves into a new phase, and all the old tricks stop working. Adrienne Urbanski and Mindy Goldstein have seen me through personal parenting struggles. They have hugged me in my worries and congratulated me in my victories. I could not have survived this first year in transition without them.

When we think of the ministry of Plymouth Church, I encourage everyone to think of the amazing ministry that comes from Plymouth Church School. It is truly God’s work being done through the staff, teachers and administrators that welcome the youngest among us. Thank you, Plymouth Church School, for helping a scared, anxious girl in a new environment find a home (and for helping her daughter, too).

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Lending a Hand for Mission

Every morning when I drop my daughter Rosie off at the Red Room at Plymouth Church School, I give her a quick hug and kiss and say the words, “Be good.” The phrase comes out of my mouth without even thinking. It has become such a part of the morning routine that I rarely realize I am saying them.

“Be good.” Parents often say these words to their kids in hopes that they will listen to their teachers, be kind to other children, and make good choices. The more I think of this phrase, I don’t think it adequately reflects what I am asking of my daughter. I am not asking her to “be” anything other than who she already is, the person that God created. Instead, I am really asking her to “do” things that reflect who God made her to be.

“Do good.” Now that’s the phrase I should be saying. Share your snack. Play with the lonely kid. Wait for your turn. Help someone who is in trouble. By “doing good,” Rosie reflects the wonder and love of God. And ultimately, that is what I hope for her to do.

Over the past few months, Plymouth Church has spent intentional time “doing good” in our neighborhood, our city and our world through various projects, retreats and special events. In our “doing good” we show others God’s wonder and love in the world.

Amy Anderson and I reflected on these recent events, and here are the good things we witnessed Plymouth doing:

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Feeding the hungry. Eight teenagers and four adults attended the Senior Youth Mission Retreat at YSOP in Manhattan. They prepared and served food to over 300 people. They learned about hunger and homelessness in New York City, and discovered ways to share God’s love to others.

 

 

 

 

 

img_2800Visiting the sick. The Junior Youth Group hosted an Ice Cream Social at Cobble Hill Health Center. Eleven participants served sundaes and spent time sitting down and talking with  around forty residents and patients. They showed God’s gentleness and grace to people who are recovering from illness and injury.

 

 

 

 

img_7023Providing shelter. Plymouth church members and Plymouth Church School teachers partnered with Habitat for Humanity and spent a day rehabilitating affordable housing in southeastern Queens. Plymouth people find joy in lending their hearts and hands to revitalizing neighborhoods and giving families a chance to build stability in a new Habitat home.

 

 

 

 

img_0129Caring for seniors. Plymouth adults and youth added cheer and sunshine to a Senior Center in Brownsville, Brooklyn, with bright paint and colorful murals as they worked with Habitat NYC’s Brush with Kindness Program.

 

 

 

 

 

photo-apr-26-7-44-36-pmBringing hope. Plymouth welcomed Rev. Charles Sagay and received an update of the great ministry that he is continuing to the Baka people in Cameroon through The Mission School of Hope. Plymouth presented The Mission School of Hope with a grant of $30,000 so they can expand their campus and bring God’s hope to even more students.

 

 

 

 

photo-apr-08-12-34-20-pmEncouraging the disheartened. The Plymouth congregation continued the battle against human-trafficking and worked with Sanctuary for Families to create parenting supply-filled tote bags for mothers receiving services at Sanctuary for Families’ offices. Aiming for a goal of 100 totes, the Plymouth people poured their care and generosity into the project and our final tote count was 175!

 

 

 

 

img_2833Helping the imprisoned. Plymouth’s Racial Justice Ministry organized a Mother’s Day Bail Out event which brought awareness to the unjust practices of bail on the poor and raised over $400 for the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. This fund allows misdemeanor defendants who are awaiting trial to be home with their families.

 

 

 

James 2:26 reminds us, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.” Our “doing” informs, nourishes, and shapes our “being.” The things we choose to do vitally impact who we are and what we believe.

As we move forward continuing to lend our hands in mission projects, let us be encouraged and empowered knowing that the good we do not only heals the brokenness in the world, but heals the brokenness inside our own beings.  When we do good to others, we do good to our own souls. And God thinks that is pretty good, too.

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Youth Group Shenanigans

On Sunday nights a small group of teenagers and adult volunteers gather together in the Plymouth Church gym. Sometimes we eat pizza and talk about prayer. Sometimes we have burritos and play basketball. Sometimes we dine on spaghetti and do a service project.  No matter what we eat or what we do, the Plymouth Church youth group meets regularly to know God, grow together and live out our faith.

I have enjoyed being with the Plymouth’s youth each week. Teenagers are entertaining people. We laugh a lot. We share stories. We make memories.

Here are some of my favorite memories from our youth group so far:

  • James teaching me how to play Stratego at The Brooklyn Strategist (and watching him revel as he proceeded to kick my behind in the game)
  • Holding hands in silent prayer with Brian, Freja and Aaron in front of the Reception Room fireplace
  • Cason playing corn-hole with Edith Bartley
  • Wilsie making slime with Dick Yancey
  • Amelia giving a thoughtful, spirit-filled answer to “Why should we still pray if it doesn’t change our circumstances?”
  • Clay teaching me how to play basketball
  • Melanie making a ginormous Christmas cookie which took forever to bake in the church oven
  • Anaya and Daisaya talking about the ins and outs of middle school as we walked down Cranberry Street
  • Noah enthusiastically collecting trash in Harry Chapin park
  • Starr and Martin’s kindness and patience when I stressed out over our dinner order not arriving
  • Being envious of Ayo’s boundless energy walking back from the movie theater
  • Natalia, Lulia and Charlie leading the Christmas Eve family worship
  • Everyone asking “Where’s Calder?” and cheering when she comes to youth group late from swim practice
  • Lulu patiently helping her sister when her orthodontics malfunctioned at our Christmas party
  • Being inspired by Lucy’s passion for gun safety in America
  • Bringing the entire youth group to Avery’s house after her surgery
  • Robert doing a cartwheel in Beecher Garden
  • Being moved by Owen’s intelligence and honesty
  • Living vicariously through Kalia’s recent adventures
  • Kai’s agility and strength on the ropes course at the church retreat
  • Paul and Matthew asking difficult theological questions (which I am still unable to answer)
  • Coming to know Emily’s deep desire to own fuzzy slippers during our White Elephant gift exchange at Christmas

Adult Christians often ask the question “What impact does the church have on the lives of young people?”

My experience with the Plymouth youth group has me asking different question: “What impact do young people have on the life of the church?”

Thanks be to God for the youth group here at Plymouth. These young people make the church a better place, and me a better pastor.

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Marching On

marching-baby

The crowd was spectacular: fathers donning pink hats with ears, women holding bright signs inscribed with colorful language, and little girls wearing t-shirts that said things like “Future President” and “My daddy is a feminist.” Last Saturday’s Women’s March on New York City drew over 200,000. Women, men, children and even some dogs started gathering at Columbus Circle and lined up all along Central Park West, reaching as far north as 72nd Street.

Going to the March was a last minute decision after receiving an invitation to go with a friend. I hadn’t gone to any of the marches last year, mostly because I am claustrophobic and can’t stand being trapped in a sea of people (the 8 am A Train is my living hell). This year I thought I would brave the crowds and see what this marching is all about.

After getting out of the oh-so-congested subway at Columbus Circle, we were greeted by law enforcement instructing us to walk up Broadway. We walked past the Trump International Hotel and Tower. We walked past Lincoln Center, home of The Metropolitan Opera. We walked past a number of male street vendors selling buttons that said things like “Stay Strong, Stay Nasty” and “Girls just wanna have Fun-damental human rights.” Just when it started to feel like we were journeying on a sexual assault trail of tears, we finally arrived at ABC studios, where we could cross over 66th Street toward the park.

“Is this the march?” I heard one woman ask as we turned the corner.

“No,” said her friend. “We are marching to the march.”

Right before we got to the end of the intersection of 66th and Central Park West, the crowd had come to a stand still. Police kept us from joining the rest of protestors. Stuck and frustrated on 66th, we followed the lead of an elderly woman holding a poster that read “My arms are tired from holding this sign since the 1960s” and busted through a side barricade when the police officer was looking the other way.

We were finally on Central Park West and headed north to find an opening that would allow us to cross the park side of the street. Once we crossed, I felt like I was able to breathe again as there was a bit of elbow room. Now that we were done marching to the march, it was time to stand in line for the march. It was tough for me to find the perfect standing and waiting spot. I needed a place where I could feel a part of the crowd, while still maintaining my personal bubble.

We walked down the sidewalk through the crowd and finally stopped by a stone wall that bordered the park. The journey from the subway exit to this resting place had taken us a little less than two hours. We finally claimed a spot and waited for the crowd to start marching.

As we waited, we took it all in. Looking at all the signs, the t-shirts, the various costumes of lady liberty and female genitalia, I was surprised by how many causes were represented: immigration rights, racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s empowerment groups, disability rights, women’s reproductive rights, women’s and children’s healthcare, peace and reconciliation, environmental protection, science education, anti-human trafficking, domestic violence prevention, sexual harassment and abuse prevention, and children’s rights. There were so many voices shouting in the chorus, “We will not be silent, and we are not going away.”

The intersectionality of the Women’s March was undeniable. People of all races, genders, ages, sexual orientations, religions, education levels and apartment sizes came together as one group to say, “This Matters.”  Yet, in the clamor of it all, I felt lost.

I had journeyed for two hours to this place, only to feel empty. I felt like an outsider, a spectator. It didn’t make sense. I care about these causes. I, too, am angry with the current administration’s negligence towards human rights. I whole-hearted believe in the impact of organizing for social and political change. I am glad we live in a country that gives us the freedom to peacefully protest and speak our minds. But I wanted more. I wanted something that a march just couldn’t provide.

Last Sunday a group of parents got together at Plymouth Church to learn how to talk to our children about racism. This Sunday a group of Plymouth people will watch a documentary and learn how to end human trafficking in Brooklyn. The first Sunday of February, volunteers will pack food bags to give to hungry families through Brooklyn Delivers. When I think of these and the other Plymouth ministries, I realize that social and political activism doesn’t just happen in the streets. It happens in the pews, in the prayer circles, in the baptismal font, in the pulpit, in the offering plate, in Hillis hall, and in the Sunday School classroom.

Church isn’t just a house of worship. Church is an auditorium for the voiceless, an assembly of protest, an incubator for activism, a forum for forgiveness and a place of peace. The Church is continuously marching. There are no barricades to keep people out. There is no waiting around for things to get started. The march is here and now and always.

 

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Helping the Holiday Hurt

The Christmas season can be a time of celebration for many people in our community. Twinkling lights on Montague Street, Christmas carols played by street musicians, and bedazzled storefront windows can stir feelings of wonder and joy. While it is easy for us to get caught up in the splendor of Advent, we must remember that for many people Christmas is a time of sadness, stress and grief.

The holidays make pain more painful. For those facing the recent death of a loved one, the loss of a job, financial hardship, the breakdown of a relationship, or a physical or mental illness, Christmas festivities serve as reminders of loneliness and want. If you are someone who hurts during the holidays, here are some suggestions to find some peace while in pain.

Admit the Hurt
Trying to gloss over your hardship or pretend that the pain isn’t there will only create frustration. People are emotional pressure cookers.  If you continuously stuff down uncomfortable feelings, eventually the pressure builds and those emotions will come out one way or the other, usually in bursts of rage or anxiety. During the holidays, make sure that you give yourself moments to express your feelings in healthy ways: take time to cry, talk with a minister or counselor, or write in a journal.

Change Traditions
Holiday traditions are never the same when there is a major change to your life situation. Trying to recreate the happy moments of the past will leave you deeply disappointed. Doing something different for the holidays can ease some of the pain. Some ideas would be to go on a trip, decorate your house differently (or not at all), or plan to eat out on Christmas rather than cooking at home. Even small changes to your holiday routine can make big differences in your emotional state.

Play it by Ear
December is filled with invitations to happy holiday gatherings. Rather than avoid the parties altogether, tell your friends that you hope to attend, but will not be sure how you are feeling that day. Ask if it would be ok if they could plan on you coming, but know that you might have to cancel last minute if you are having a bad day. Friends that are worth your friendship will understand.

Find Support
There is a world of support available to people in pain in the city. Now is the time to seek out that support. You can find grief and emotional support groups online. Multiple AA and Al-Anon groups meet throughout the city each day of the week. There are holiday dinner meet-up groups for those who are alone. Many churches, like Plymouth, will have Blue Christmas services, which are worship services specifically designed to help people cope. If you need help finding support, talk to a minister or counselor and they can give you a list of resources.

Hope in What Really Matters
While the secular world tells us that Christmas is about family, presents, laughter, and fun, we must remember what it is truly about. God entered into the world to give hope to people in pain. Jesus came to earth to teach us that God’s love, peace and joy are available to us at all times, no matter what life throws at us. God’s love is more comforting, God’s peace is more healing, and God’s joy is more igniting than any carol, twinkling light, or adorned window.

Much hope, peace, joy and love to you this Christmas season.

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Loving as Jesus Loved

 

Last Sunday our youth group learned about hunger and food insecurity. We played games and ate a meal that taught us about hunger and clean water issues around the world. My favorite part of the evening was when a spontaneous discussion occurred in the middle of our games. We all sat down on the gym floor and talked about our experience serving those who are hungry and food insecure in our city. Many youth shared their personal stories of helping people through Brooklyn Delivers, the Plymouth Shelter, and food drives at their schools.

One particular story has been circling my thoughts since the youth met. A middle schooler talked about the time she saw a homeless man on the street asking people for money. She had some food with her, and generously gave her meal to this man. He accepted the gift. After walking halfway down the block, she turned back to look at him, only to see that he was throwing away the food she gave him. “What am I supposed to do?” she asked the group.

This teenager’s story has me wondering if Jesus ever had someone snub his gifts of kindness. Was there anyone in the crowd of the 5000 who turned their nose up to the fish and bread he supplied? Did a wedding guest complain that the water-turned-wine had too many tannins? Did the owner of the herd of pigs file a lawsuit against Jesus, claiming coerced porcine suicide?  The stories don’t tell us. But I’m sure not everyone thought Jesus’ miracles were all that great.

What are we supposed to do when our gifts of Christian charity and acts of kindness are met with bad attitudes and ungrateful hearts? This question was answered best by one of our youth leaders who said, “We’re not in this to feel good about ourselves. Jesus calls us to love as he loved. Besides, we have no idea what people are going through. They might just be having a bad day.”

I’d like to think that my own generosity doesn’t hinge upon recognition or reward, but if I am honest, I really want people to view me as a charitable person. I enjoy receiving “thank-yous” and “good jobs.”  But Jesus didn’t love others for his own reward. He loved others because he wanted people to know about God’s love. When Jesus fed, healed and welcomed others, he did so without expectation to receive anything in return. Jesus’ ministry was not for his own sake, but for Love’s sake.

Sometimes our acts of service are met with rejection. Sometimes we don’t receive a thank-you note. And sometimes our well-intended gifts are not the most helpful in meeting someone else’s needs in the first place. I am glad that I have teenagers and youth leaders in my life to remind me that our attempts to love our neighbors isn’t about earning heavenly brownie points or boosting our self-esteem. It’s about offering another human a small glimpse of the Holy God, however dim a reflection it might be.

Erica

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The Sunday Morning Hustle

Getting your young child to church on Sunday is no easy task. I’ve commiserated with many friends who dread the Sunday morning routine. Do these stories sound familiar?

On Sunday morning, my three-year-old son wakes up at 6:00 a.m. and demands breakfast. But he doesn’t want any breakfast, he wants “special breakfast,” which means homemade banana pancakes, center-cut bacon (crispy, but not too crunchy), fresh strawberries cut into equally thick slices, and orange juice – no not from the Captain America cup that is clean, the dirty Spiderman cup that’s been sitting in the dishwasher for three days and growing a fungus forest. After breakfast is on the table, he decides “special breakfast” isn’t that special anymore, and would rather have a Pop-Tart. By the time the family is fed, we already know we are going to be late for 11:00 a.m. worship.

Last Sunday morning my five-year-old daughter and I fought over what she should wear to church. I prefer she wears a dress and nice shoes. She prefers her Paw Patrol bathing suit and flip-flops. After thirty minutes of negotiating, we finally reach a compromise: Cinderella dress and cowboy boots. At least she’s not naked.

We are always coming to church stressed out. Sunday mornings at home are chaotic. There is always some tantrum to handle, mess to clean up or missing shoe to find. When we finally arrive at church we can’t wait for our children to go to Sunday School just so we can get forty-five minutes of peace.

If you relate to any of these events, welcome to the club! Our Parenting in the Pew class last Sunday talked about ways to make the Sunday morning routine easier. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Stop the Comparing Game. That family sitting two pews in front of you who look like they just walked out of a Ralph Lauren ad? Yeah, I guarantee you that mom just lost it on the way to church because her kids had a booger war in the minivan. Perfect families don’t exist, so stop feeling inferior because your kid has a stain on his shirt.
  2. Prepare the Night Before. On Saturday night go ahead and pack up the diaper bag with all Sunday morning essentials: diapers, snacks, change of clean clothes (yes, even one for your potty-trained 3-year-old), and wipes, oh so many wipes. Also on Saturday night, invite your child to pick out Sunday clothes with you. Set your own guidelines, but let them make the final choice. Most kids just want to wear what is comfortable and gives them joy. That is what God wants as well.
  3. Simplify Sunday. Sundays should be a day of rest. When we turn Sundays into days of early-morning workouts, big breakfasts, fancy dresses, and afternoon outings, we neglect God’s command to keep the Sabbath holy. Sunday morning meals should be easy like muffins or bagels. Making Sunday afternoon plans to go to birthday parties or BBQs sounds fun, but the stress of planning those events usually creeps into the morning routine. Make your Sundays about two things: worship and rest.
  4. Teach Worship at Home. Talk to your children about worship. Ask them what they like best about being in church. Ask them what makes worship difficult. Bring home a bulletin and talk about the different parts of the service. Sing your favorite hymn together. Pray together as a family. Remember: children learn to worship by watching their parents worship.

Parenting on Sunday morning is hard. The good news is that you are not alone. Plymouth Church loves and welcomes children. We are here to help you keep Sabbath even in the midst of kids and chaos.

Erica Cooper, Assistant Minister

 

 

 

 

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Our First Week Together

Chris, Rosie and I have lived in Brooklyn Heights for a week. In a way, this week has flashed by in the form of whirling suitcases, teetering moving boxes, and multiple trips to the market for yet another household item. In another way, this week has felt as though God has stretched out the days and filled them with moments of grace. From experiencing the hospitality of Plymouth’s finest cooks and gracious hosts, to hearing the testimonies of God’s faithfulness from parishioners and coworkers, to watching my daughter joyfully recount her experience seeing Aladdin on Broadway, I can confidently say that our family has been profoundly blessed these past seven days.

Chris and I feel like we are in a good dream. We keep looking at each other, and saying “I can’t believe we get to live here!” Every night we walk the Promenade as a family. We look out at the amazing view of Manhattan and breathe in God’s overwhelming gifts. We have been praying for so long to feel a sense of “home” in our lives, and so far (at least in the past seven days), I celebrate that I feel a sense of belonging. Plymouth is an amazing community, in an amazing neighborhood, in an amazing borough, in an amazing city. Your generous call inviting me to serve as your Assistant Minister allows me and my family to experience this Holy place.

In Life Together, Deitrich Bonhoeffer writes:

“The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing vital between us.”

Diversity is important in a church, as it leads to learning new wonders of God’s grace. I am glad that Plymouth has a strong tradition of welcoming new people. There are many who have been a part of Plymouth Church for decades, those who have followed the call of God to lay a beautiful foundation of ministry and mission. For those church mothers and fathers, I am grateful for your dedication and work in this community. And there are those who are newcomers, those who didn’t grow up in Brooklyn, but felt God’s presence here and decided to join in the worship and work of the church. For those new pilgrims, I am grateful for your courage to take the risk of sharing life together and trusting that God is in this place.

Thank you, Plymouth, for calling us here and for providing excellent soil for our family to plant our roots. I look forward to living genuinely and deeply with you. May Christ be the one and only thing vital between us.

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