This morning I walked to the bank on 158th and Broadway to deposit a couple of checks. Since I was in the neighborhood I sent a text to my friend Shaun West. His daughter Ainsley Jane was born April 14. Charlotte and I visited Ainsley Jane and her mother Karena in the hospital, but we missed Shaun that day. So I was excited when Shaun replied that they were up and at it. You never know with the schedule of a newborn.
What a joy to see Shaun and Karena and sense even in their exhaustion an excitement of being parents! As I held Ainsley Jane before I left I was able to reflect back over the six years that I have known Shaun and Karena, dating back to my time with Barnes & Noble. I have been privileged to see God at work in their lives through some very trying circumstances.
As that sweet little girl slept in my arms I saw evidence of God’s miraculous work, not just in the birth of a healthy baby, but in the uniting of two lives through his love and the promise of an even brighter future.
Welcome to the world Ainsley Jane West! And welcome to Washington Heights!
“Devoting ourselves to Christ and His Kingdom and extending His love to all of Washington Heights.”
At the end of March our congregation celebrated its first anniversary. One of the highlights of that celebration were the baptisms of four of our brothers and sisters. There is much evidence of God at work in our community and through our young church.
As we move into this second year God is calling us to deeper levels of His love and grace. There is growing sense that we have a specific call to daily devote ourselves to Christ and His Kingdom and that a principle expression of that is to extend the love of Christ to all of Washington Heights.
What do we mean when we say “all of Washington Heights”? A simple answer is that God is calling us to all of Washington Heights. In the months leading up to our launch a year ago March we sought to define our place in the ecclesiastical landscape in Washington Heights. We believed that God was calling us to be a bridge community, one that would seek to build bridges to all demographics in our neighborhood. That meant that we would not seek to become a church identified with only one subgroup of Washington Heights, but trust God to unite our hearts and create something new and exciting that would bring together people “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9). And to add to that description people from different socioeconomic realities, cultures, educational experiences, religious backgrounds, native New Yorker and transplant, and we could go on.
I truly believe that God has raised up Trinity Grace Church Washington Heights to do exactly that. We have an opportunity not only to be a fresh expression of the body of Christ in our neighborhood, but also to reach out to the four corners of Washington Heights (as well as Inwood and Hamilton Heights - what we generically call the Heights) - east and west of Broadway, north and south of 181st Street, into the Dominican community, into “Hudson Heights,” into the Columbia University community around New York Presbyterian, into the artist community, and much more.
What we are all called to do is be the expression of Christ right where we are: in our building, in our block, in the restaurants we frequent, the parks we go to, the bodegas and coffee shops and laundromats and dry cleaners, the doctor’s offices, in our commuting, in our schools, yes, everywhere we are…to devote ourselves to Christ and His Kingdom and extend His love to all of Washington Heights.
As I write we are two days from our second worship service in Washington Heights. Last Saturday, March 31, the Washington Heights community of Trinity Grace Church celebrated our first public worship gathering with neighbors and supporters from other TGC parishes present.
What a time of celebration! Jesus was exalted, we were blessed and encouraged, and an important statement was made for the kingdom of God and the unity of the body of Christ.
We are meeting at the Broadway Temple of the United Methodist Church (4111 Broadway between 173rd and 174th Streets). The host pastor, Rev. Hector Rivera welcomed us and assured us that he feels no threat by our presence, rather he sees this as a strategic opportunity to partner as brothers and sisters in Christ to bless the neighborhood. That sounds like a direct answer to Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17.
The launch is behind us; the euphoria of that first service is fading; yet the call to join God in the renewal and transformation of our community is ever before us.
What a privilege to partner with a community of like-hearted followers of Jesus! Our prayer now and continually is “your kingdom come, your will be done in Washington Heights as it is in heaven.”
Join us this Saturday at 5:00 p.m. on Broadway!
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, NIV)
With these words from Jesus, announcing the beginning of his public ministry, a group of Jesus followers took the next important step toward the public phase of their ministry. That group met last night in a little theater on Broadway, but way off Broadway, in Washington Heights to declare their commitment to “join God in the renewal of all things” in upper Manhattan through Trinity Grace Church Washington Heights.
The forty or so who gathered together represent an equal number of stories of the mosaic that the Spirit is creating to exalt Jesus and live out the good news in one of the forgotten sections of Manhattan. Beyond the common non-inclusion of upper Manhattan on popular tourist maps, the population of the Heights daily faces challenges that are largely unknown or ignored by neighbors downtown.
Some of us came initially to Washington Heights because the rents were more affordable or because it was close to studies or near employment. Yet over time those narratives have found deeper meaning inthe narrative- Jesus’ story, a story of good news that through the gospel there is salvation, freedom, hope, sight and favor.
As we move forward to an April 1 public launch we want to share stories of those who are forming this community, as well as the vision that calls us from our ordinary lives to become passionately engaged followers of Christ.
Gio Andollo who is a member of the TGC Washington Heights community recently posted this response to the question, “What is God doing in your life?”
Tonight the men of Washington Heights will be gathering at the 181 Overlook for prayer. The women of Washington Heights will be gathering in the 160s to pray as well. These times of prayer on Monday nights are so powerful as we meet to connect corporately with God. The tone of these times is joining the prayer that Jesus taught us, that God’s will be done and that His kingdom come in Washington Heights as it is in heaven.
Last evening a group of people met in the 140s to pray for the launch of Trinity Grace Washington Heights. This was the second week of prayer with a specific focus on all that goes into a new weekend gathering in the Heights. From the start we have sensed a strong spirit of expectation and longing.
As we prayed these were some of the themes that were lifted to the throne of God:
There was also echoed gratitude for the way that Spirit has already built a community of love among us and a presence in the Heights, as well as for the response of God’s people in generosity to make the Washington Heights church plant a reality.
And so we continue to pray, and may it be said of us that we prayed without ceasing. There is no other way to join God in what he is doing in Washington Heights.
So we pray!
I clearly remember when then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton came out with her book “It takes a Village”.
What controversy!! I especially remember the outrage in my small circle of influence and Bob Dole while running for president, specifically stating that it just takes a family, not a village. That book came out exactly 10 years before I become a mother.
Fast forward 10 years to when our own little bundle of joy came into our lives. At that time in our lives, I needed to go back to work for financial reasons and only got to stay home with Sophia for the first 8 weeks of her life. After I returned to work, our then pastor’s wife watched her 2 days a week, hubby watched her 1 day a week and my parents split the other 2 days between themselves. There was already a village starting.
Over the years, we’ve had different people involved in the aspects of our family’s life and invested in our kids. The older two spent time in daycare and had outside nannies and sitters. I can say without a doubt that I’m proud to have a village of excellent people around us that encourage, support and help in the day-to-day of parenting. I honestly cannot imagine raising our children without them! I love that they have more than just two people investing in them and providing godly examples and behaviors. I love that they each have special people in their lives that just make them light up! I love that those people may or may not be blood relatives and the more the merrier (in my opinion!)
I’ve only been a mom for 5 1/2 years, but I can definitely say, without a doubt, that while yes, a larger portion of child rearing and education lies on our shoulders as parents, I welcome the village that we’ve created around our kids. Honestly, I do think that our Western Culture has totally missed the boat on this one! I love going home to Peru and having 30+ family members surround our kids, play with our kids, discipline them, educate them, love on them, etc.
And here at home…those of you who are part of our village (you know who you are) You are so very much loved and so very much appreciated! We are so incredibly thankful that we’re not alone on this journey and that we have others who love our kids so much!
Last night, our extended family, our village, (most of them are not blood relation) came around our family to love on and pray for our little Lucas and his struggle with eczema. What a sense of belonging and security, knowing that others love our kids and want the best for them. I’m so thankful for the people God has brought into our lives…some of which we’ve known for the full 5 1/2 years as parents and other we’ve just met but still feel like family.
Thank you family…we love you!
Kristina Torrejon is a wife, mother of three, and member of the developing Trinity Grace Washington Heights church community.
Charlotte and I have had the privilege of doing a considerable amount of premarital counseling. One of the things we remind couples of is that if their parents are still married and committed to marriage until death parts them, it is one of the greatest gifts they have been given by their parents.
Yesterday I had the joy of celebrating a gift given to Charlotte and me. Sixty years ago on October 30, 1951, George William Lawn and Irene Marie Pechacek were married in Texas. To their union were born 11 children, nine of whom still survive. My wife and her twin were the third and fourth children born to this couple living in Jamestown, New York.
My father-in-law, almost 91 and his 80-something bride sat at a table with some family members present and we celebrated not only longevity, but a deep commitment to weather the storms of life and stay married.
Bill, who grew up in small-town Dubois, Pennsylvania, and Irene, who grew up in Crowell, Texas, met in Manhattan. After a whirlwind romance they were engaged, planned their wedding long distance writing letters, were married and then honeymooned in Mexico.
It was my joy to spend the afternoon with my father-in-law on Saturday. He took great interest in my life and got excited as I shared some of the new opportunities and challenges in my life. But the good stuff was listening to him, hearing him share from such a wealth of experience: what it was like to move from his small-town world to service in the U.S. Navy and be part of the liberation of southern France during World War II, his exposure to inequality and racial discrimination that led him to march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Alabama, and being on the cutting edge of physical therapy techniques and inventions as America was dealing with the lingering effects of polio.
It would be impossible to recap a life in a few brief paragraphs, but one story stands out to me and brings George William Lawn’s life into perspective. My father-in-law was growing in his professional and civic influence in Jamestown. In 1969 mayoral candidate (and eventual mayor) Stanley Lundine asked him to run for city council. It was a tempting offer and one that he would no doubt have been successful at, perhaps even launching a political career. Bill asked for time to consider this. That evening he came home to his 14-year-old daughter (now my wife) going through some chapter of adolescent angst. As he sat down and heard her heart he made the decision to be there for his family and forego the opportunity for “greater influence.” I’m very thankful for the influence he leveraged for his family.
Happy anniversary Bill and Irene! And thanks!
This past week I celebrated another birthday milestone. The calendar says that I have reached 55; my heart and spirit don’t feel bound by a “speed limit.”
I have been blessed by many during this past week with their kind words. I’m so grateful for the continual and faithful ministry of the Spirit in my life. I am more committed than ever to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and share in His sufferings becoming more like Him in his death (Philippians 3:10).
Nothing moves my heart more than to see the Kingdom of God breaking out all over: four guys in a public place talking about Jesus and the signs of the Kingdom, God bringing unexpected people together to join one of our community members in an architecture project in the Bronx, a corporate sponsor agreeing to make a school mural possible to bless the vision of another community member, people responding to the needs of others through generosity, English class students asking for prayer because they know we pray and others realizing that we are there because we care and love our community. And that’s just the beginning…
In the days to come we will see more and more signs of the Kingdom:
Paul lifts a prayer for the church in Colosssae in his letter to them: “And so, from the day we heard (of you), we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:9-14).
I take great courage and comfort in the fact that right now JESUS IS KING! Not in some distant future or in some ethereal spiritual realm that cannot be touched, but RIGHT NOW in your life and in mine, in our neighborhood, in our city, in our world. Can I repeat it? JESUS IS KING!
How does that impact your life today?
Serving the King!
As I write this Monday morning I reflect back on a weekend that was all over the map.
TGC Leadership Retreat…Kirkwood Camp (outside Stroudsburg, PA) was the place that I wanted to be as 100+ people from the five neighborhood churches came together for a time of spiritual retreat and vision for the fall. One of the highlights was our time in the Westside neighborhood leadership team as Derek Worthington (Westside neighborhood pastor) shared our focus for the coming months: “Taking Root” and “Taking Ground”. Colossians 2:6-7 states this well: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (NIV). A major component of “Taking Ground” is the Washington Heights plant. There was a significant time of prayer as the Westside leaders prayed for the Heights.
Wedding Anniversary…Charlotte and I celebrated our 33rd anniversary at Kirkwood Camp. We appreciated so many best wishes from friends far and near.
Hurricane Irene…Just a week after an earthquake was felt in our city, a hurricane booked a trip to New York. The potential force of Irene became an issue while we were at Kirkwood Camp. The staff made a decision to cut short the retreat in order to allow everyone to get home before the storm hit, and before vital transportation services in the city were suspended. Following that decision we joined in a time of worship and prayer to the One who stilled the storm and trusted that once again the storm would be no match for the Creator. As we waited it out, it became increasingly obvious that Irene had encountered a greater power. The New York Times reported on this answer to prayer in one of its headlines: “Storm Damage Largely Spares New York.” I listened with interest to Anderson Cooper and a CNN weather person try to explain why Irene weakened: “North Carolina got in the way of the eye. It literally knocked the stuffing out of the eye. Irene never got its eye back, never got its mojo back.” We lift in prayer those who got the brunt of the storm, and we thank Jesus that the large population centers of Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston were largely spared of significant damage.
Interesting stat out of the weekend…Saturday night as NYC braced for Irene, the NYPD reported only 45 arrests compared to an average of 345 arrests for a Saturday night in August!
These are exciting and challenging days! I leave you with these words from Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, “The greatest work of Jesus’ friends (remember His words in John 15, ‘I no longer call you servants; I call you friends’?) is to cultivate an appetite, a hunger, in God’s people for the Lord Jesus. The world awaits those who can present such a rich gospel that it leaves people spellbound, filled with awe, and desperate to know their inimitable Lord.”