Fair of The Plymouth Church

“Fair of The Plymouth Church – Tomorrow, at 10 o’clock p.m., the ladies of the Plymouth church open their fair in the rooms devoted to the meetings of the ‘Social Circle,’ over the lecture room of the new church, in Cranberry street.  We learn that the ladies of this church have had their fair in contemplation for a long time, and have wrought a great variety of useful articles which will be for sale at fair prices….”

When Whitney and I began our planning last Spring, we knew we had a big shoes to fill and big expectations to satisfy.  We kicked off with a lunch for former YF chairs hosted by Sharon Humphries, which yielded over 10 pages of notes of many wonderful ideas, sage advice and warnings, as well as hilarious YF stories and finally (and thankfully) offers to help!  One big take away from that meeting was that a Yankee Fair is really only as great as the sum of its booth chair. With that in mind, Whitney and I buckled down recruiting our leadership level volunteers.  Many coffees, emails and meetings later we were staffed.

Historically, the leadership at Yankee Fair has tended toward the female, but given all the dedicated men in our community, we wanted to expand our volunteer base, so we asked David Burrell to lead the men’s group in the service of lunch.  A daring task which he nonetheless accomplished with fierce determination.  We applaud the men who served lunch on November 4 and we pity those who did not.  David Burrell has your number and knows where you live!

Much of what happens at Yankee Fair, comes together at the last minute of activity. However some things, such as the coordination of the children’s programming, or lunch, or the creation of all the handmade items, happens for months leading up to the fair. For example, Penelope Kulko served many pots of delicious soups which warmed the stomachs of many crafters on many late nights spent cutting and glueing.

Which leads me to this most important observation: fellowship, whether it be found in the sorting of collectibles, toys, books, the serving of lunch, the hanging of buntings or in the flitting about coffee hour with a clipboard to sign up unsuspecting potential volunteers, is the true result of a Yankee Fair well planned. In fact, the best part of Yankee Fair is not the fair, but the collaborative work that makes the fair an actual fair.  What Whitney and I eventually learned on November 4, 2017, is that Yankee Fair is not so much an event to be chaired, as it is a vital part of the church which requires faithful stewardship.  You take your turn at the helm, and leave good notes for those who will follow you.

The first fair of 1849 was a benefit to furnish the rooms of the church. Since those early days it has become the tradition of Yankee Fair to find a charity recipient that the entire Church, Church School and neighborhood can all feel comfortable supporting together.  This year, while our neighborhoods undergo significant changes in the affordability in a place that everyone can call home, we thought Habitat for Humanity provided a perfect balance for these various constituents – and it helped that our Christian Help Ministry already had a long standing relationship with the organization.  Having their staff come and participate in the fair with an educational craft event for children in the gym only added to the festivities.  We are very grateful to be able to present them with a check for approximately $9,000!

So now as Whitney and I upload the last of our notes to the Yankee Fair Dropbox, we do so with knowledge that Yankee Fair 2019 will be every bit as wonderful as was the Yankee Fair of 2017 due to the strength and vibrancy of our entire community. Thank you to everyone for making it such a success!

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Underground Railroads

Have you imagined the questions the members of Plymouth Church were asking during the 1850s?  Why can’t the church stay out of politics?  Why are we involved with the Underground Railroad?  How do we know the people we are helping are not dangerous?  What is the vetting process?  Can anyone guarantee that nothing bad will happen to us?  Don’t we have enough to do just taking care of ourselves?  Should a church be breaking the law?  What could the government do to us?

Churches across the United States are now asking those same questions.  Many are part of what they are calling the New Underground Railroad.

Recent executive orders on immigration and two Department of Homeland Security memos move past earlier guidelines to focus only on criminals for deportation, and instead put undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation for something as minor as a traffic ticket.  We are being asked to ignore the fact that immigrants are statistically less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.

The present administration’s ramping up deportations raises new questions, but the immigration system has not been effective or humane for a long time.  We break families apart and penalize the kind of people we want in our country.  Since 1995 the United States has allowed 5,000 visas per year for unskilled workers (and a guest worker program of about 200,000).  But for years this country has imported most of its agricultural workers, so twelve million people work in the shadows.  Ninety percent of undocumented men are working, because our country needs their labor.

People who do not think of themselves as political, but take their faith seriously, feel compelled to speak out.  Churches are resisting the deportation of undocumented immigrants.  They believe that the Jewish tradition compels us to practice hospitality to the foreigner.  They recognize that the Gospels are clear about the Christian requirement to care for the outsider.  Jesus warns those who pretend to follow, “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.”

The Sanctuary Movement includes more than 800 courageous congregations that have committed to protecting immigrants.  They pledge to pray, educate, and give money.  Churches like Judson Memorial in Manhattan have formed study groups that are looking for thoughtful and responsible ways to follow Christ’s instructions.  Churches like Pilgrim St. Luke’s in Buffalo are preparing to use private homes as part of a modern-day underground railroad to move undocumented immigrant families to Canada.

Christians are asking good questions.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/salvadorhernandez/sanctuary-churches-v-trump-deportation-mandate?utm_term=.wh86pnX7pr#.pu66ArPqAl

http://www.sanctuarynotdeportation.org/

https://www.christiancentury.org/article/roots-and-branches-sanctuary-movement

http://justice.crcna.org/matthew-25-movement

http://www.judson.org/sanctuary

Basement

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Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, and Adam Sandler

Years ago when attendance had gotten small, Plymouth Church brought in a consultant who said, “You can either be a museum or a church.”   The consultant had been going to the wrong museums.  A good church is like a good children’s museum—a place to learn, explore, and discover.

On Monday night I met with eighteen members of our church’s history ministry.  They know how good a museum can be.  Plymouth’s tour guides are better than the ones who wander down Orange Street.

I have interrupted five tours in front of the church.  One thing those guides do well is fit the tour to whatever tourists have paid the thirty bucks.  When the tour was filled with teenagers, the guide talked about Adam Sandler making a movie here.  When the tour was an African American choir, the guide described the Fisk University Choir singing here in 1871.  When the tour was a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the guide pointed to 74 Hicks Street where Charles Taze Russell’s cousin lived.  (Who knew?)

We share an amazing history, so touch Plymouth Rock and give thanks.  Sit in pew 89 and wonder what Abraham Lincoln prayed when he sat there.  Turn off the lights in the basement and imagine what it feels like to run for your life.  Visit the Senior Minister’s office and think of Branch Rickey praying there until he decided that God wanted him to ask Jackie Robinson to integrate baseball.

Some of our heritage is complicated.  The sculptor of the statues in Beecher Garden, Gutzon Borglum, was in the Klan.  Our founding pastor was a gifted minister who fought courageously against slavery.  His adultery trial sold a lot of newspapers and ended in a hung jury.  Look at the portrait of Henry Ward Beecher in the arcade and ask yourself if he is attractive.  Mark Twain wrote:  “Mr. Beecher is a remarkably handsome man when he is in the full tide of sermonizing, and his face is lit up with animation, but he is as homely as a singed cat when he isn’t doing anything.”

The list of people who have been in our building is surprising—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Hillary Clinton, Sonia Sotomayor, Elliott Spitzer, Colin Kaepernick, Norah Jones, and Sarah Jessica Parker.

A couple of years ago our Senior Minister Search Committee was asked to fill out a form that asked for the three biggest moments in the church’s history.  They picked Henry Ward Beecher’s tenure as the first pastor, Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching an early version of his “I Have a Dream” sermon at Plymouth, and the church recommitting itself to Jesus Christ in 2004.  Plymouth’s resurgence is part of the story.

We do not have to choose between being a museum and a church.  We think about what God has done to remind us that God is still at work.

BrettYounger_SignatureTransparent

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What Good is History?

Abolitionist
[ab-uh-lish-uh-nist]
noun
1. (especially prior to the Civil War) a person who advocated or supported the abolition of slavery in the U.S.

I’m a member of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights. After “church shopping” I joined Plymouth because of its stand on social justice issues. Plymouth is proud of its history. Founded in 1854, the congregation called as its first minister Henry Ward Beecher. They gave the famed abolitionist, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, a platform – literally – to speak on.

In those turbulent years leading up to the Civil War and through the Emancipation Proclamation Plymouth would be packed on Sundays with close to 3,000 people, come to hear Beecher preach against slavery. Famous anti-slavery advocates spoke at Plymouth, including William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass. Plymouth held deep philosophical connections with the Underground Railroad — the secretive network of people who helped slaves escape to the North and Canada. Documentary evidence lends support to the belief that Plymouth was also a site of active participation, known as Brooklyn’s “Grand Central Depot.” Plymouth brought Abraham Lincoln to New York for his famous speech at Cooper Union, that launched Lincoln’s presidential campaign. Here, in Brooklyn Heights, is a place where people gathered who changed history, affecting the lives of millions.

But what benefit is this history?

Fours years ago Plymouth hosted a discussion on human trafficking. I went, hardly knowing what the term meant. Two years ago we revisited the topic. In partnership with the Brooklyn Historical Society we sponsored a round-table discussion moderated by now attorney general, Loretta Lynch. The more I educated myself on human trafficking – on modern day slavery – the more I unearthed facts, metrics, and numbers: There are more slaves in the world today than at the time of the Civil War. Slavery does not happen only overseas, but in the United States. Not just the United States, but all fifty states. In New York. In New York City. In Brooklyn. In my backyard.

The famous historian Marc Bloch, a Jew who joined the French resistance and was killed in Paris by the Gestapo, wrote that the purpose of history is to draw lines of connection from the present to the past, to better understand the impact of our actions, today. Historian George Santayana famously wrote “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So how accurate is the definition of abolitionist (above)? Is being an abolitionist, working to abolish slavery, a thing of the past? No. Too much work needs to be done. The New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition launched a campaign in 2013, New York’s New Abolitionists, to raise awareness around human trafficking and modern-day slavery. It’s a brilliant campaign, drawing lines of connection from abolitionists past to abolitionists working hard to end slavery today: doctors, lawyers, survivors, people from every walk of life. What I’ve learned is that we can all be new abolitionists. Let us not be condemned to repeat history, but to effect change, today.

I invite you to come to Plymouth this Sunday: listen to Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson, meet and speak with folks from Restore, ECPAT-USA (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) and Sanctuary for Families. See and hear the testimony of trafficking survivors given by the activist teen theater group Girl Be Heard. If you already know the story of human trafficking in New York City, come to learn what you can do to to end trafficking. And if you already volunteer, come to meet us, other like-minded folks. Join the crowd. Be an abolitionist. A new abolitionist. Because We Are the New Abolitionists. No one else. Us.

Beth Fleisher, chair
We Are the New Abolitionists
The Anti-trafficking Ministry of
Plymouth Church, Brooklyn

AHTevent_Plymouth_NEW DATE

 

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In the Kingdom God Envisions

In the Kingdom God Envisions

In the kingdom God envisions everyone is free.
People formed in God’s own image live with dignity.
All are safe and all have voices,
all have hope and all have choices.
When we pray “your kingdom come” this is the world we see.

Darkened corners harbor victims hidden from our sight,
fragile people held as objects – lives devoid of light;
robbed of freedom, robbed of voices,
robbed of hope and robbed of choices,
trust betrayed and lives exploited, in this human blight.

Holy Spirit, guide your church to action and rebirth;
help us work for those forgotten – show their lives have worth.
We have freedom, we have voices,
we have hope and we have choices.
We are called to work for justice as your hands on earth.

Scripture: Luke 4:18
Topic: Human Trafficking

Copyright © 2013, 2014, GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Click here to view the Human Trafficking Awareness 2014 Panel and Concert program

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