Sharp About Your Prayers

the challenges, absurdities, and joys of an urban faith

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You Can’t Go It Alone in New York

October 14th, 2011 · No Comments · Faith and the City

This week I have been running into church members all around our fair city.

I am still surprised when this happens.  It’s a numbers thing.  Hop around the corner to grab lunch in Gotham and you’ll pass a thousand other souls in two minutes flat.  Flashing along with all the other sardines, it is easy to feel anonymous.  Right?  Some would say this is one of the best features of NYC.  Nobody recognizes you.  Nobody gets in your business.

Of course, anonymity has a price.

In the midst of the crowds, it is very easy to feel alone.  Does anybody here know me?  Care about me?  Mark Twain once called New York “a splendid desert—a domed and steepled solitude, where the stranger is lonely in the midst of a million of his race.”

Twain nails it.  This city can be a cruel place—an arid desert in which parched people struggle in painful seclusion.  Realizing this, my predecessor, Dr. Bryant Kirkland, used to remind this congregation with great regularity that, “You can’t go it alone in New York.”

Kirkland’s remark captured the attention of many folk who are still FAPC members today.  Everybody, regardless of creed, could hear the basic truth in his comment.  We need each other.  We need a supportive community to survive in this metropolis.  Kirkland’s comment was good sociology.  It was also good theology.

What does that mean?  Well, let me put it this way…

Two times this week I have run into FAPC members on the street.  I love it.  It makes New York feel like such a small town.  Both times we began with casual pleasantries.  “How you doing?”  “OK.  You?”  Then things went deeper.

We acknowledged that everybody—literally everybody—we know seems to be anxious.  Gallup Polls report that the percentage of Americans who say they are struggling is now at the highest point that it has been since the Great Depression.  My conversations this past week confirmed this statistic in concrete ways, and yet these street-side chats also included offers of assistance, promises of prayer, plans to meet and talk further.

Each time I walked away uplifted.  I felt not alone.

I have no doubt that these conversations were life-giving because it is simply a good thing when people express care for each other in tough times.  But I also think wise Dr. Kirkland was up to something else when he said, “You can’t go it alone in New York.”  I think he was intentionally reminding us of how and where we encounter God.  I think he had Christ’s promise to the disciples in the Gospel of Matthew hanging before his mind’s eye.

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  (Matthew 18:20)

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