As some of you know, Church of the Village is vacating a building on St. Marks Place in the East Village so that a new Korean United Methodist Church, Broken Builders, can have a home. On January 27, we conducted our last Spanish-language worship service in this building for the foreseeable future. In about a month, my husband and I will move out of our first New York City apartment, which is in the same building. And in a few weeks, our friends in the basement, the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing, will be leaving their home here. It is a difficult thing to leave.
As we sat in the sanctuary at the last Spanish worship, I found myself thinking about all the significant spiritual events that have occurred in this place. One of our District Superintendents, Jim Moore, recently showed me a black and white photo of young German immigrants standing outside our St. Marks Place building. There was a young woman with dark curled hair. Rev. Moore pointed to her and said, “That’s my mom.” If you’ve ever looked closely at the stone engraving above the stained glass outside this building, you may have noticed that it reads “First German Methodist Episcopal Church”. Our little East Village church building began as a sanctuary for Methodist German immigrants in the East Village. Then the demographics changed, and at some point, it became a Spanish-speaking, mostly Puerto Rican church. Today, the neighborhood is becoming more and more East Asian American young professionals, with new and delicious Taiwanese, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese eating establishments cropping up every few months. And soon the church will meet that new trend and become a Korean and English language church.
While we have a lot of emotions about handing over the property to another church, one of those emotions is gratitude. It is amazing to think of how many Methodists looked out of these stained-glass windows, how many people had significant faith moments in this sanctuary, how many children and adults were baptized at this altar, how many couples were married within these walls, how many saints were buried from these stone steps. All were Methodists. All prayed the Lord’s Prayer. All said familiar words for communion. All sang some of the same hymns. But first we Methodists of St. Marks Place prayed in German. Then we prayed in Spanish, and soon we will pray in Korean.
Seeing that photo of Rev. Moore’s German-speaking mother helped me to put our transition in context. This building that we have grown to love and rely on once meant as much or more to another Methodist community. At some point, that community gave this building up to be used for ministry to a new population that had moved into the neighborhood. That must have been a bittersweet experience. I know because it is what we are experiencing now. Today, we and the people we remember are the folks standing in a black and white photo outside of this building offering our sacred space to the ministry that will be relevant in today’s East Village. One day, the neighborhood will change again, and the Korean church will hand it to the next relevant ministry. And it will go on and on like that, as long as we are willing to humbly allow the spirit of God to work in our denomination.
I think our mistake is that, in our churches and in our lives, we often assume that what is good for now is good forever. God’s purposes for us now are God’s purposes for us always. But the nature of nature is change. And accepting that doesn’t mean we forget the ways in which God has loved us and revealed herself to us in our past and present.
There is a Buddhist metaphor of a boat crossing a river. In this metaphor, the boat that takes you across the river is Buddhist teaching and practice. The point, though, is not the boat. The point is to get across the river. The boat is just the tool you use to get there. Once you get across, you leave the boat behind because you don’t need it anymore.
For many people, these bricks and stained glass and stone have been a beloved and precious boat. For some of us in our lives, perhaps a relationship or a job or an ambition has been a boat that has gotten us to a new place. And, with deep appreciation and gratitude and some grief, we may find that we need to leave that boat behind for the next leg of the journey. And hopefully, our hearts will come to understand that this is ok, that we can live and leave beauty and goodness behind, knowing that there is one thing in our life that will always be constant—God’s love.
I end with parts of Psalm 84, in honor of this building on St. Marks Place. It is a psalm of love for God’s temple in Jerusalem.
1How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
2My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
3Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
4Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Selah
5Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
10For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.
11For the Lord God is a sun and shield; she bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly.
12O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.
Psalm 84:1-5, 10-12
(This was originally shared as a devotion on one of Church of the Village’s Wednesday morning prayer calls. Join us any Wednesday morning at 7am for 20 minutes of devotion and prayer. Ph: (559)546-1200, Code: 533-689-191#)