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!

Share

The Face of Jesus

I grew up going to church three times a week, but I was in college before I heard anyone say that Christians have a responsibility to feed the hungry.  What could be more obvious?  If someone you love was starving, you would do everything you could to save his or her life.  The gospel Jesus taught makes it clear that someone God loves is starving.

What do we look like from God’s perspective?  Imagine that you have two children.  One child is trapped in a country where hard-working people are starving.  The second is in a wealthy country and has more than enough.  What would you think if the second child did not try to save his or her sibling?  Would you wonder if the child who does not give is a real Christian?  How is this different from how God views us?

At the close of worship this Sunday we will give an offering to feed the hungry in Cameroon through the Mission School of Hope.  (Click here to see how our gifts will be shared.)  In general, our responses will fall into three categories.

  1. “If only I had read The Plymouth Blog I would have known this was a Sunday to stay home in bed. I don’t come to church to hear ‘If you are a Christian, you will care about these people.’  I refuse to feel guilty because I have more than other people.”
  2. “I can’t think about starving children without breaking down and crying. I feel awful about it, but the problem is so overwhelming.  My heart breaks every time I think about it, but what can I do?”
  3. “I wish I could come up with a good enough excuse not to help, but if I listen to Jesus at all, then I have to admit that the face of each starving child is also the face of Christ. As hard as it is to give, it is even harder to imagine looking Jesus in the face and explaining why I didn’t give.”

The statistics on hunger are overwhelming.  800 million people around the world are hungry.  Every 4 seconds someone dies from hunger.  About 24,000 people die every day from hunger-related causes.  Most of the victims are children.

The statistics are so overwhelming that it is possible to forget that our offering will make a real difference for real children in Cameroon.

The Talmud says:  Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.  Do justly, now.  Love mercy, now.  Walk humbly, now.  You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

On Sunday, you and I have the opportunity to do the right thing.   Here are the details on how you can make a difference.

BrettYounger_SignatureTransparent

Share

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

Share

Take a Number

img_5217My earliest recollection of hearing “take a number” was growing up in Mineola on Long Island.  It was at dad’s favorite Italian deli – Ardito’s.  Those who did not appreciate the finer aroma of Italian cheeses referred to this palace of pasta as the smelly deli.  The “take a number” machine was too high for me to reach, so dad pulled the number, gave me the ticket and quizzed me on how to read the number.  He engaged me in counting down as we walked among delicacies and an occasional creeping snail that escaped the basket.  “How many to go before us, John?”  When our number was called I grabbed the gold ring, which in this case was a slice of Genoa salami to be savored as dad was rattling off his wish list to the clerk.  We were rewarded for waiting our turn, knowing when our number was called our wishes would be granted.

Caterina Scibilia was #100186130413 and assigned to Line #19 on Ellis Island at the turn of the 20th century.  (Imagine having that number called?!)  It was a long wait.  At the end she grabbed her gold ring – entry into the USA.  More than 22 million people took a number at Ellis Island through 1954.  Many left their homes due to war, drought, famine, persecution and genocide.  Coming to America was rarely a situation of going from good to better.  These refugees saw the Lady’s torch and were aching to take their number and get in line.  The Statue their eyes embraced, originally erected to recognize America’s friendship with France, celebrate democracy and to honor the end of slavery, became known as the “mother of exiles” thanks to a poem written by Emma Lazarus in hopes of welcoming persecuted Russian Jews.

It’s as if Emma Lazarus heard God’s word to the Israelites, “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19)  Perhaps she was channeling Jesus’ words in Matthew when he says when you feed, visit and welcome the “least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40b)  How many will we prohibit from taking a number because of how they pray?  Whose numbers will be taken away because of our fear?  Are we willing to forget the Egypt of our past and the numbers and lines of our heritage?  Will we welcome the stranger and live the words with the silent lips of the Lady,

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.

Will we lift a lamp beside our door?  Will all be welcome (really)?

Share

Antonio’s Biscuits and Spoons

We closed the shelter at the end of October.  It moved to Grace Church for November. I paused to chat with Antonio as we were putting things away. He told me he was born at Long Island Jewish Hospital and lived all his life in New York. Most of his life he worked as a school security guard.  He rattled off the names of schools spanning several boroughs and several decades where he worked. I watched in fascination as he pulled out his overstuffed wallet. It was shaped more like a rounded fist than a wallet. It was jammed with ID cards and business cards. He kept the ID cards from every place he worked, schools and other employers, making his wallet a portable scrapbook of his working years. He shuffled through the stack and pulled out one from the Andrew Jackson School, with a photo showing him in younger days. Antonio told me he never married and never had children, but he loved being around children. Security guard jobs were perfect for him. He is retired now, and spends most of his time helping his ageing father and looking for a place to live he can afford.

I don’t remember how we got on to the topic of music.  He told me about his uncle who had been the musical heart of his family. His uncle was a natural musician. He played and built guitars. There was music in the room and in the family when he was around. Among other things, this uncle had coached a local baseball team. One night at a celebratory party for the team, he intervened in a fight between two people and was shot and killed. Antonio said there was still music in the family, but it hadn’t been the same since.

I cooked chicken stew with biscuits on top for the shelter dinner the night before.  Slaw, zucchini bread and brownies made the dinner complete. It was a popular meal.  They liked the stew very much.  They REALLY liked the biscuits. Unfortunately, demand for the biscuits exceeded the supply. The slaw was less popular. The zucchini bread was regarded with some skepticism. The brownies vanished quickly. Next morning our guests packed the left over stew and slaw in takeout containers for their lunch. Antonio fixed himself some takeout.  He noticed there was food left in the pans after the other guests packed their lunches. He asked if it would be OK for him to pack a second lunch to take to other people who are hungry. He also asked if he could have a few of the plastic spoons we have at Plymouth. He said they were easier for his father to handle than the spoons he usually uses.  He meticulously wrapped four of them in a napkin for his dad.

We talked a bit longer, until he realized all the other guests left. He headed to the door toting his bag of food. There was a hand shake and a thank you.  Then he paused to look up with what I presumed to be a kind of hat tip to God.

I made a note to myself – the next time I cook for the shelter, whatever else I cook, make a ton of biscuits.

Jacque Jones

Share

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

 

Share

Its a Cause, not a Career…

Serving as a volunteer at our Underground Thrift Store isn’t a career – it’s a CAUSE.
Here are some inspiriting reasons why our current volunteers got involved…. And why you could too.

CAROLINE KOSTER: “ I enjoy being an Underground Thrift “shop girl”…I love seeing people’s faces when they find a great bargain, and how it brightens even more when you remind them what a good cause they are shopping for. It’s fun to work in the shop and represent the Church to the neighborhood in a direct and different way. And, when you have an office job, it’s a good reminder of what hard work it is to work in a store or any retail position…it makes me more sympathetic when I do my own shopping now. And, I love that the Thrift store truly represents an example of Plymouth putting its money and its energy where its mouth is by fighting a real world problem with a real world solution. I think Reverend Beecher and his congregation would be proud of us and I am so thrilled that we can continue to fight for social justice like so many brave Plymouth pilgrims did before us…”

LAUREN CHAPIN: “As a new member at Plymouth three years ago, I was looking for a way to connect with the congregation. Friendly faces at coffee hour were nice but I knew that I needed something more personal. When considering all the options to volunteer at Plymouth, getting involved with music or study groups and with my background in fashion design and costumes, helping at the thrift store was a clear fit. I made good friends the first year of sorting clothes on Fridays and those friendships grew over the years. The few hours a week always flew by and it was with real satisfaction that I knew I was, in the smallest way, helping move Plymouth’s legacy of fighting against slavery, forward into this century also supporting the church itself. For anyone considering it, please do volunteer. It’s easy to get up to speed on the sales floor and our work together is always done with a light heart.”

LEE SCOTT: “I like spending an afternoon with another Plymouth member, sometimes one I don’t know too well, chatting, meeting customers, helping them find what they want, and whether or not they buy, having a chance to tell them how the Underground Thrift benefits our anti-human trafficking program. You also get to see a lot of really cute kids, babies, and sometimes even a dog or two, not to mention sometimes finding your mathematical abilities in question! Fortunately, two heads are better than one, and it always works out in the end!”

JACQUE JONES: “I enjoy greeting the customers who are regulars, those who come in just about every week. I like being able to say that a portion of the proceeds goes to an anti-human trafficking organization – and watching customer’s interest “perk up” when I say that. Clearly it touches a chord with many customers. I enjoy spending quality time with one member of Plymouth Church. So often we gather in groups and it is hard to have an in-depth conversation. During the down time at the Thrift, you can get to know your co-volunteer pretty well. I enjoy having the time to shop for myself. I almost always find something I cannot live without. “

Inspired to work with these amazing Thrift Store volunteers yet?! Get involved today with our Sunday afternoon sales team or our Friday morning sorting crew. It’s super easy, just CLICK HERE!

Share

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

Share

Hope Tomorrow is Better – A Post Shelter Reflection

Late in the evening after some church meeting or work when I get on the subway, I often look around and inspect my fellow passengers. Where are they coming from? What goes through their minds as they stare into the middle distance tiredly? They’re all people in the middle of struggling with living life as hard as life can be.

The guests at our homeless shelter are similar in their way. They live in a constant state of anxiety and will hardly remember us or any real detail about Plymouth, except vaguely. I have no idea what being homeless is like but from the behavior of the men, you can discern a little: they guard their things, ask permission for nearly every act, retire to the bunks immediately after dinner. Their days are one long, I hope this isn’t too awful and Just let me get through this and Today was bad, hope tomorrow is better. They have their own business and we are merely caretakers of them. CAMBA, the professionals, knows what it’s doing and most of them will get back on their feet soon.

Every so often I’ll wonder why the world simply doesn’t call a halt to everything and solve every problem it has. What is more important than securing safety and comfort for suffering humans, or than providing care for the ill, needy, or lonely? Why do we hold elections, Super Bowls, and 4ths of July when these problems exist?  What will the world lose if we take time to pause and bolster the weakest among us?  Nothing, that’s what. I think of Wordsworth’s sonnet, “The world is too much with us.” There is such a thing as a National Day of Service but it is sadly underpromoted, and it doesn’t go far enough in my opinion. It should be, International Stop Day.

However, slogans will not solve homelessness nor the shocking poverty that is easy to see here in this city if you’ll only look. Life is complex and social problems require wise adults and effort, neither of which are as glamorous as slogans. Human evil won’t be solved until we enter the next world; until then Jesus has granted us forgiveness for our sinful, wicked natures.

 

Share

Reflection on “Not Just Talk” – Taking Action on Human Trafficking in NYC

Saturday morning was a beautiful day — Not only was the weather perfect, but we launched this year’s initiatives for Plymouth’s Anti-Trafficking Ministry. We’ll be partnering with three well-know organizations: ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking), who we already have a relationship with through Christian Help and the Underground Thrift. Sanctuary For Families, leaders in the field for over 20 years, working with domestic violence and trafficking victims right here in New York City. Restore, a smaller, new agency that gives counseling services and runs a safe house for trafficking victims, again right here in New York.

Monday morning I found in my in-box an email from Dorchen Leidholdt, a lawyer who is the director of the Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services for Sanctuary for Families. Dorchen has literally written the book that judges read to learn more about trafficking, and how to treat its victims when they enter our legal system.

“It was so great to meet with you, your fellow congregants, and the other anti-trafficking activists in that extraordinarily inspiring space. We need to be as bold, strategic, and effective as Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe in order to abolish contemporary forms of slavery. I’m so excited to think about how we can leverage their legacy in the service of 21st Century victims and survivors.”

That hits the sweet spot. It took me a year to find the right partners for Plymouth as we begin this new work. ECPAT, Sanctuary For Families and Restore are a great fit for us, as we will work hands-on in our own city to help those who have been so grievously hurt.

There’s a phrase that sticks in my head from a Sunday School song that we sang when I was a kid: “Whatsoever you do, to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.” This morning I may search for the gender-neutral translation of that bible passage, but I think you get the idea: when we work with our hands to reach out to women and children so badly treated by our own neighbors, in our own community we reach out and touch the divine.

Beth Fleisher

Share