When my stylist at Supercuts finds out that I have only lived in Brooklyn for five months, she offers to explain New York to me. She looks me in the eye and says, “If you love New York, she will love you back. If you don’t love New York, then you need to leave right now.”
I love New York and, most days, she loves me back. I am at a conference with ministers from around the country at Riverside Church in Manhattan. When asked, “Where are you from?” I answer, “Brooklyn,” and a friend from North Carolina laughs. I smile, but it hurts my feelings a little. I may not sound like I am from Brooklyn, but this is my home.
I wake up in the morning and thank God that I am here. The river, the skyline, and the people rushing around make me grateful. I am thankful for the amazing art, theater and food. Our city is vibrant, diverse and resilient.
A lady waiting in line tells me, “My neighbor moved to Oregon. How could she do that? Why would anyone leave New York to move to Oregon? I thought she was smart, but I was wrong.”
I know enough to reply, “She’s going to regret it.”
But I have also been here long enough to know that New York is complicated. I get in line at Cranberry’s for my regular iced coffee and a chocolate croissant — the breakfast of champions. The woman in front of me orders in Spanish. I think, “I can do that” — “Quiero una gran café con leche y azúcar y un croissant de chocolate.” I am a member of Cranberry’s “Buy 10 cups of coffee and get one large free!” club. This is a promotion for people whose math skills are so deficient they believe this deal warrants an exclamation point. I am, nonetheless, enough of a regular to have received one free iced coffee and be well on my way to a second. (I am clearly on a health kick.) I secretly figure I have been here enough for the cashier to give me what I always order even if I say it wrong. She compliments my Spanish. I previously considered her an honest person. She hands me a chocolate croissant and a hot coffee. Apparently I do not know the Spanish word for ice. I am still living in a foreign country.
Some things are more difficult in New York. Driving unpainted, narrow streets filled with bicycles, scooters, adventurous pedestrians and aggressive taxi drivers is frightening. Parking —alternate side unless it is a street cleaning weekday with an R in it 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. — is confusing. Paying a reasonable amount for housing is impossible. Raising a family is tough. Helping children get the best education is complicated. Lugging groceries home is problematic. Finding a quiet place or a restroom or a way to retire is tricky. Being kind is challenging. Making friends is difficult. Feeling like you matter is hard.
New York makes it clear that we need the church. We need a space in the midst of the secular to remember the holy. We need others to help us recognize God’s presence. When the city treats us poorly, and we feel confused, alone or sad, we need a family.
We need a church because we need a place where people know who we are, treat us with kindness, and let us be kind. We need a place where people listen to us, talk about things that matter, and trust us. We need a place to spend time with children and senior adults, be around those with a deep sense of spirituality, and serve those who need our help. We need a place to pray, sing, give and listen for the Spirit. We need Jesus. We need Christ’s church.
Dorothy Parker said, “London is satisfied, Paris is resigned, but New York is always hopeful. Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it.”
That is a good description of the church New Yorkers need — always hopeful, believing something good is about to happen, hurrying to meet God.