A Wild Anchor for the Soul

October 27, 2015

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister


Today is Reformation Sunday and it is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Thank God that’s over. It may continue to spook and ghost us for a while, the way a beloved partner often appears after death, as though she is sitting across the table from us. And surely many vintage congregations will live within its narrative until they just can’t any more. There is no need to make fun of congregations who live in hospice.

Just about everything has a life cycle. Why not the Protestant Reformation? Or the One Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church? The circumstances of the Reformation’s birth have disappeared. We no longer are awed at the printing press, or early industrialization, or an urgency to read our own bible or that mad at the Catholics. We are astonished at dead factories and repurposing them in lofty ways. We read our own bible, in a lonely way, so successful was the individualization released by the Reformation. We don’t even know where a printing press is but will look Google it as soon as we get a chance. Most of us here believe we are at the beginning of a major transformation in world religions.

It is such a holy moment. It is also a terrifying moment. It is a wild time to be a light anchor in Greenwich Village. Category 7 storms are brewing in the West and people who make less than 100,000 per year have been evicted from the Village. For most of them, this was a soft eviction, not a hard one.

We are more part of the spiritual and spirited but not religion crowd than not. Because of our location, we are an anchor to Greenwich Village, whether Greenwich Village likes it or not. Or whether there is any such thing as Greenwich Village, or anything with the word village with a university growing out of its stump.
Nor is there much reason to brag about who we are, except on Stewardship Sunday which is today. What’s Stewardship Sunday, you might ask? It is the day on which we ask you for money to support our work. We tell you why you should support Judson.

You should support Judson because we are a light anchor in a heavy time. You can find ground here on which to stand. You can also be supported to fly.
You also can find your way to unlearn. You can be with people who are so convinced that something new is emerging that we like to fail. We think failure is an art and don’t want to be successful in getting a nice apartment in the new Greenwich Village. We think of success as unknowing what the cultural economy is teaching us on behalf of something new and different.

Geoffrey Hollander, founder of Seventh Generation, remembers trying to sell “expensive toilet paper and detergent that doesn’t get your clothes clean” in the early years of his successful business in paper products. “It was a hard sell, to convince people to spend more money on a product that was less toxic and less efficient.” Efficiency matters so much that we are willing to sacrifice the breakers of the sea.

Like the ubiquitous water bottle, and its offspring, the personal water bottle, efficiency and portability are the altars at which our cultural and political economy worships. The personal bottle is only “less bad” than the disposable one: it still worships portability, as though we couldn’t find the time to eat or drink at home or use a public fountain. We are people on the move, so much so that the oceans are being industrialized and humans are being dehydrated.

Still, we imagine a mighty God, one who doesn’t want just to accommodate and make things less bad but who offers us the power, like that of Creation, in which we can break to open, like a wave.

What is transformation? It is not going from vanilla to chocolate or disposable to portable. Transformation is going from vanilla to music or disposable and portable to waves. Transformation is a big, not a small, turning.

A woman said to me, “I don’t drink much but that other person, not I, when she drinks, drinks a lot.” We aren’t really people who worship at the altars of portability and efficiency. We are people who want to surf the waves with the Almighty.
I’d love to tell you that we are an anchor in Greenwich Village and that we pyt the word village back into the village So do the basketball courts on Wes Third and

Sixth Avenue and so does the dog park across the street.

Peter Barbey just bought the Village VOICE, which in its heyday channeled the eisty, countercultural spirit of Greenwich Village.

He is buying an apartment - 9 million. 26.5 million pent house in the West Village.
It is so very odd that Judson Memorial Church is stuck being an anchor in Greenwich Village. We remind the village of its past. And we are also a wild anchor. We insist on light anchors. Category 7 storm in a world where the largest category you can be is a category 5.

Yanomami tribe we decorate this old building with the new, like the way they did their tree. My kids played on the Yanomami Frisbee team. At the end of each game the team poured a lot of rum into a Frisbee and passed it around.

We are like that wolf that doesn’t now whether it is wild or tame and thus can be caught off balance. But we like off balance more than on balance. We know the next Pope will be white and male and Catholic. We don’t disrespect tradition so much as come with awareness that unknowing is the main thing we need to do at the beginning of the great transformation. Vogue renegade queer clear in debris.

Our creed is not to have one.

Our worship is emotion recollected in tranquility, the language Wordsworth used to describe a poem.

We like to queer religious authority.

We believe in times like this that failure is as interesting as success. We are not sure we like the word progressive because it may mean progressing on the same course…and we want off that course into a more wild and well decorated world.

We experiment with new worlding.

We like heteroglossia and not heterosexualism.

Eco crisis of human exceptionalism.

We love uncertainty.

Epistemological humility.

Sacred and fragile.

We are a light anchor in a heavy world.

We do what we can, not what we can’t.

A word about the budget. It is in terrible shape for this year and for next year. This kind of failure is typical of wild anchor in tame places. It keeps us strong.

We know you will want to help.

Break us with a force equal to the breakers, O God, and lead us to the balance that rides the waves.



55 Washington Square South New York, NY 10012 | phone: 212-477-0351 | fax: 212-995-0844