Judson Revealed or Exposed

August 30, 2015

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister



The scaffolding is down! We can now see the entire exterior of our beautiful building again and I say we have some clapping and some enthusiasm. The construction workers are gone and they took their stuff with them. Like the report of the writer of the Second Chronicles, we are once again slightly repaired and slightly restored. While the work is not over, it is more than begun. (2 Chronicles 24: 11 – 13). It is a great day to think about our envelope and our walls. It is a great day for reflection, even reminiscence, and of course redirection.

First let me review John D. Rockefeller’s initial gift of $40,000 to get this building going. He also funded our first crowd source, for the grand sum of $1000. He then gave another $40,000. But the real movement that kept this place going was a country wide, mostly Baptist letter campaign. A unique coalition of rich people and ordinary people helped us make our way onto the map. Small contributions started us and they will do the same to keep us going. You might argue that the leveraged gift of John D. and the original Rev. Judsons gave us the opportunity to repair and restore what inevitably had to wear out and wear down. Note that early on we were part of that movement in Protestantism that valued community ministry. It was called “institutional ministry.” We didn’t dislike parochial ministry so much as prefer work in the community. “Outside the walls” is our motto. But if you read Howard’s remembrance carefully, you will see that he is arguing for an outside the walls ministry that is based in a nourished soul. “From a nourished soul great things can be wrought in the world.” In other words, the distortion of institutional or community ministry – in which it only cares for others and less for itself – is not really there in the Moody era.

Finally, let us never forget how much property we used to have on this block. Now that NYU is gobbling up territory, we were part of the gobble. I tried to find the article I put in the Villager when all this started to happen big time six years ago, called “Too Big Not to Fail”. It appears to be missing. But I recall vividly working with Peter Laarman, pastor here during the decade of the nineties, during which time NYU did its initial gobble on us, on it. He was wise beyond his years in talking about what community ministry means when your community changes around you and even assaults you.

Of course we believe in ministry outside our walls. Of course we believe in ministry inside our walls, “to nourish souls.” We believe in the both/and of self-directed, strong intimate communities that link to self-directed, strong public communities. While much of the early institutional church movement, during which time we were founded, had a paternalism to it, we have lost most of that. Maybe it was even stolen from us and from our many partners in the faith based movement across the country that is known as liberal Protestantism.

Let me define that paternalism. It can be sensed whenever we talk about the community as a them instead of an us. “Those” outside our walls. Watch out. It can be sensed when we work with immigrants as if we were the hosts and they were the guests. It can be sensed when we talk about “those people” in “Black Lives Matter.” We are on guard here against that kind of paternalism and value what is inside our walls and outside our walls equally. We want the doors to be open and to swing wide. We want the air to circulate here. Listen to Mahatma Gandhi tell how: “I do not want my house walled in all sides and my windows stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible.” Or that new slogan that takes on the tiredness of the sixties distortion of “community ministry.” It says, “Be the Change you Want to See.” In other words you are not the helper of them so much as you are the person who needs help and who goes on mission trips to El Salvador only to discover that your poverty and their so-called poverty have different dimensions. Don’t worry: I know the difference between rich and poor, in material terms. I don’t think any of us fully understand that dichotomy in spiritual terms. The women’s movement put it as “The personal is the political.” What is inside us is connected to what is outside us and vice versa. Nourished souls don’t allow people’s bellies to be empty.

So John D. Rockefeller, Howard Moody and Peter Laarman link arms and ideas when it comes to community ministry. Community ministry is community within the community. There is a horrifying parochialism in much of religion, as though God were here to protect us and ours. God is here to protect us and us. Not us versus them.

So here we are, standing in a constantly repaired and restored building which has an equally long constantly repaired and restored soul searching. What we are most confused about in this year of our great content, 2015, is about who our community is now and next. We know that the walls circulate air, that outside and inside are features of each other. We are still open in so many ways. And we have some growing edges. Let me name a few.

NYU is our community. We are increasingly connected to them as an institution and they remain a threat on our borders. When we argue for more freedom in border crossing for immigrants, maybe we can listen in to what we mean. Calling NYU an enemy is probably just plain stupid, if not a direct contradiction to the kind of religion we profess, morally and practically. As Lynn Brown, NYU executive vice-president for community affairs, constantly reminds me, NYU brings the world to our doorstep. She never misses a chance to note how “White” Judson is.

The biggest thing that has happened on Thompson Street in this decade was neither the putting up nor taking down of our scaffolding but the building of the Spiritual Life Center, directly across our street. This building gathers 79 NYU Chaplains, of which I am one, and makes us talk to each other. The great majority of them are very conservative and Asian. Second largest group is an extraordinary group of 11 Imams, followed by 8 Rabbis. The two liberal Protestants are me and the Episcopal Chaplain. She is on maternity leave. This group and its consittuents will be our community, ongoing. It would be really great if we could look down our nose less at them or at NYU.

Ministry Matters

When your church no longer reflects the community
by Ron Edmondson

When the community around a church changes, three things can happen. A congregation gets to choose. You can become more like the community. You can leave the community. You can slowly die in the community.

I hope we can get over our hatred for NYU, the gobbling conglomerate, and frankly I hope we can get over all our hates, and learn to be a partner with those who would love to know we are here. “The common yellow throat maybe the most beautiful bird no one knows.”

What if they knew we were the very reflective restores and repairers of the breaches we know exist in our own heart as well as our beautiful building? What if they knew we wanted nourished souls? What if they knew we were in a constant R and D, experimentation about what it means to be in today’s version of the institutional church movement? Or that we are viscerally anti-censorship because of our Baptist belief in Soul Freedom.

I hope they don’t find out that we have a bit of a David complex regarding Goliaths – and not just the gobbling part of NYU. YES , there is ore than one NYU. There may be thousands of versions of that giant institution in our community.

What do I mean by the David complex? We are conflicted about growth. We love our message of love and peace and hope so much that we would like it to infect all of religion, all of politics and all of Greenwich Village. Ok, we’ll go slower. How about just Judson Church? We are grandiose and exceptionalist and a little conceited in the phrasing of our message. In a certain way we resemble NYU’s interest in taking over the world. We too need to learn how to be exceptional without being exceptionalist.

Why do we have to do this or want to do this? Why do we want to grow in a way that is sustainable and inclusive and takes a little of the white out of us? Because we genuinely believe in the circulation of the air, of nourished souls being useful to the elimination of hunger pains, and not just the hunger. Note: we often hand out tracts to NYU students. We “try” to be interesting to them. These events have lost momentum in recent years. But the interest in connecting has not!

When Grace and I started talking about this day, we figured we would be a little more introspective than usual. Now that the scaffolding is down, we figured we could really look at ourselves. I guess I changed my mind. If we really are an honored and important site for community ministry, and we are, it could be that it is time for us to take a good long look at our community. To worry less about our exposure to ourselves and more about our exposure to others. To be both exposed and revealed to our community and to ourselves, in a kind of spiral? I have to say I think that is what God wants. God wants to be revealed as love. As justice. As peace. As joy. God wants to circulate the air between us and them.

Do you mind if I give you two theological frames and show how they work here? It will take just a minute extra. READ FROM TWO THEOLOGICAL FRAMES HERE

What else is at stake here, besides Judson and its community and how it deals with revelation and exposure? We had another shooting this week. In the last fifty years, there have been 90 mass shootings in America. Though we have just five percent of the world’s population, almost one-third of the world’s mass shootings occurred in the United States during that time period.

Those are some of the harrowing takeaways of a new study by Adam Lankford, a criminal justice professor at the University of Alabama. The study, “Mass Shooters, Firearms, and Social Strains: A Global Analysis of an Exceptionally American Problem,” offers the first qualitative analysis of all public mass shootings worldwide between 1966 and 2012. Lankford used data from the New York City Police Department’s 2012 active shooter report, the FBI’s 2014 active shooter report, and international sources. It omitted gang-related or drive-by shootings, as well as hostage-taking incidents, robberies, and shootings in domestic settings. A public mass shooting can be defined as a shooting that killed at least four victims, according to the FBI’s definition of mass murder.

Note we have not had a mass shooting in our neighborhood yet. I guess that means somebody is doing something right, which of course it does not. SO: what is at stake is the violence in the undernourished American soul. What is at stake is how people get educated at large important institutions, both of a religious and a college nature. What is at stake is also our capital campaign and how we take good care of the treasure we have here. What is also true is that temples remain undone – and every time they take a look around, they look both inside and outside. They don’t David their Goliath or the Goliath outside the door so much as reveal it as fresh, circulating air, scaffolds down, light back in the windows, opening, opening, opening.

If you prefer a more personal take away, go here. If you are spending too much time outside, obligated or mission oriented, come inside. If you are spending too much time inside, go outside.


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