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Jesus the New York Networker

How Midwesterner Mac Pier turned on a power system for evangelical churches. Part 3 in series “Jesus the New Yorker”

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Mac Pier, the Networker. Photo and illustration: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

As evangelical Christian churches started to pop up in increasing number after 1978, they remained extremely isolated from each other and invisible to the general public. Networkers like Mac Pier flipped the switches on connections that started to empower the churches and turn on the lights to spotlight their existence. These evangelicals’ mastery of networking was rooted in a long learning process.

Right after Christmas in 1979 a massive whoosh of 16,000 college students rose to meet the famed evangelist Billy Graham's challenge to go on missions anywhere and do anything that God asked of them. Some of this missionary army ended up playing a role in the resurgence of evangelicals in New York City.

Rev. Billy Graham helped to move Pier down the path to NYC. In 2005 Pier's prayer network helped to make the Graham''s last crusade in NYC a success. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

As they listened to Graham, the attenders of the Urbana Student Missions Conference whistled and clapped with excitement. Students from all over the nation had come to hear Graham and other speakers. Passerbys might have thought that the basketball team of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign must be playing a major national game in Assembly Hall, a circular basketball arena resembling a giant lit up flying saucer when seen from a distance at night.

The students could barely fit in the space. Portable chairs lined up the floor space leading up to the stage. Students bumped shoulders with one another in the stadium seats. Winter coats to ward off the 35 degree temperature were squished tightly into bags in order to gain more room.

Evangelical Christianity is not a denomination but a worldwide movement that cuts across specific denominations and localities. Its unitary identity depends upon its theological commitments and nourishment of networks that connect the disparate believers. Their common beliefs include Jesus is the Son of God who died and was resurrected from the dead, salvation comes from believing on Jesus, the Bible is the primary authority for the Christian life, and the news of Jesus needs to be spread, a process called evangelism.

“Urbana,” as the missions conference is called, teaches young evangelicals the power and practices of the network of like-minded believers. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the sponsor of the conference, itself is a formalized network that started in England and now connects Christians on college campuses around the world.

Twenty-one year old McKenzie (Mac) Pier and his girl friend, Marya, drove from South Dakota to participate. They were inspired by InterVarsity author David Bryant’s In the Gap: What it means to be a World Christian, which was written to inspire young American Christian collegians to evangelize far away communities. The book also displayed the power of prayer and the evangelical network around the world.

John Stott with students at Urbana 1976

John Stott with students at Urbana 1976

For four days straight during the conference, their attention was riveted by Pastor John Stott, whom David Brooks of The New York Times has described as one of the greatest pastoral influences on evangelicals that you have never heard of. Stott was the Queen's chaplain in London and a clear, highly intelligent preacher like Rev. Tim Keller is today in New York City. His explanation of the Apostle Paul’s thinking about the early missions of the church as laid out in his letter to the church in Rome was clear, deceptively simple and authoritative, the type of preaching that was his specialty. The sermons allowed the students to rehearse over in their minds the arguments for missions so clearly strung together by the Englishman Stott. So, when the American Graham summoned the students to bring the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, the evangelist’s words set off an inner explosion. The hearts of Pier and his girl friend Marya were scorched with an inner fire where they stood in the bleachers. They would accept God's challenge to go where few succeeded or no one else dared. Although they had no sense of a specific destination, the couple felt that God would show them the way step by step. Mentally, they were joining a worldwide network of evangelical missionaries.

"It was a call of availability, and then, secondly, it was a call to be willing to go to the hardest places," says Pier reflecting on that experience during an interview at the offices of Calvary Baptist Church in Midtown, Manhattan.

Then, two days after the explosive Urbana conference, Pier went with Marya to Connecticut where she would work as a governess. On January 1, 1980 they went down for a day trip to sightsee and visit Radio City Music Hall. Pier’s visit gave him a deep sense of the immensity of the city and its diversity. He wondered what role God was playing in the city. He had heard the stories that New York City was the graveyard of missionaries. His first impressions of New York City prepared Pier to take a contrarium view. The city had so many problems that Pier thought it would have fallen apart if God wasn’t restraining the decay. Could God be giving the city another chance at life? “One thing I remember from that trip was going to the top of the Empire State Building at night and looking out over the metropolitan region thinking that either God was in control or we're in big trouble," he says. He saw many examples of the travails of the city during that period.

The city was plagued by racial tensions, homelessness, crime, riots and weak religious institutions. Hundreds of blocks of the city were no-man’s land, much like Detroit today—but much more violent. "Without God superintending, it could very easily evolve into utter chaos," Pier thought. Little did he know, that one day soon he would leave his small town life to plunge into the battles for the city’s revival.

With the building-top experience and marriage to Marya, Pier became a busy InterVarsity staff member in South Dakota managing the ministries on six campuses. However, his hunger to see the world beyond South Dakota was growing. In 1984 the couple seized an opportunity to go to the toughest mission field in America: New York City.

Pier noticed that the network of evangelical churches in the city had thinned out during the late 1960s and 1970s, and what was left was extremely fragmented. The power of the evangelical network was severely diminished. After a stint with InterVarsity in the city, Pier started on a path to network the city’s evangelicals. His timing was good because in that period of time in the city's history the founding of new evangelical churches and ministries was accelerating. In 1976 A.R. Bernard started a small storefront that would grown into the largest congregation in the city. In 1987 Pier created Concerts of Prayer of Greater New York with the collaboration of Here's Life Inner City staff Ted Gandy and Aida Force to harness the churches together by holding gatherings of prayer. In 1989 Tim Keller started Redeemer Presbyterian Church, which is now one of the more famous churches in the United States. Eventually, Pier’s organization became the largest network of evangelical churches in the city which enabled church entrepreneurs at Redeemer Presbyterian, Christian Cultural Center, Times Square Church, Brooklyn Tabernacle, Billy Graham Crusades, Luis Palau Association and others to tap the network to spread their influence, mobilize new church planters and other ministry entrepreneurs, and to gather audiences for their events. Here’s Life Inner City, a network started by another college campus-orientated ministry, Campus Crusade for Christ (now called Cru), was also weaving together poor inner city churches with wealthier suburban churches. The prayer and inner city networks acted like a lubricant and fuel to the growing movement.

Audience responds to Pier's prayer in Times Square sponsored by Times Square Church.

Audience responds to Pier's prayer in Times Square sponsored by Times Square Church. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

 

In 2008 Pier founded The New York City Leadership Center which holds a yearly meeting that is part Urbana and part Concerts of Prayer. Its specialty is to provide a forum by which church networks in New York and other cities around the world can connect with each other, trade information and ideas and plan international strategies. This last October, the third annual conference was held at the New York Marriott Marquis with over 1,400 people attending from over 300 cities in five continents, and a multitude of big named organizations, such as the American Bible Society and World Vision.

On a continuing basis, the center offers programs on leadership training, emotional intelligence, strategic planning, and church planting. Through a partnership with Concerts of Prayer of Greater New York and Redeemer City to City, the Leadership Center says that its church planting program has collaborated to establish over 100 churches since 2002.

The evangelical network at work: Pier, l; Rev A. R. Bernard, c; Rick Warren, R. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

The evangelical network at work: Pier, l; Rev A. R. Bernard, c; Rick Warren, r. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

Pier's focus on the urban landscape of New York City is more than accidental. It follows a global trend.

For the first time in human history, over half of the world's population live in cities. Those figures are growing. The World Health Organization predicts that six out of ten people will resident in a city by 2030. Rapid urbanization is the effect of growing industry as the majority of the world deviates from an agricultural-based market to one that is dominated by technology, service, and mass production. Trends dictate that to impact the current world and its future, one needs to influence cities.

New York City itself is the ultimate "global city." Columbia University sociologist Saskia Sassen first coined the term in 1991 to describe cities with command centers over the worldwide economy. NYC leads the way, with London and Tokyo following. NYC not only takes the crown in dominating markets, but consistently ranks first as a powerhouse player in the global decision-making process, according to a partnership study by Chicago-based consulting firm A.T. Kearney and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The city's leverage spans in multiple areas, including politics, the arts, educational institutions, and many more.

To contribute to the spiritual welfare of NYC means advancing the well being of the world.

Was this something that twenty-one year old Pier had in mind standing on the bleachers at Urbana's campus during Graham's crusade? Probably not. But, he made faithful on his promise to God that he would listen to where he was called, and he was called to New York City.

 

Learning faith in middle America

An examination of Pier's formative years give insights on how he developed his approach to New York City.

Pier was raised in a comfortable middle class household in rural South Dakota, close to the border of Nebraska and sixteen miles away from a Sioux Indian reservation. It is an area where your place in society is determined by how much land you farm. The Piers didn’t farm any land to speak of, but they financed the farmers through a small bank that the family had founded in 1914.

This made them a significant family in their town of Avon with its 637 people (in 1960), but still just a comfortable middle class household when Pier was born in 1959, the fourth of five children.1st Presb Church Mac PierE

His father worked six days a week as president of the family bank. "During the income tax season for farmers, it was seven days a week," Pier recalled. "So I really didn’t get to spend very much time with my dad growing up," although his Dad attended sports events with his son.  His father’s family were Presbyterians.

Pier was closer to his homemaker mother, who instilled ethics of hard work and diligence. She learned these values as a Southerner growing up in a poor farmer’s family. She worked the fields during the Great Depression. Her family were Methodists.

His father, who was once a musician in the Air Force, encouraged music lessons and a strong ambitious spirit. Pier took on piano and baritone horn as a youth, and later learned the trombone. His small high school (with graduating classes of about thirty-eight students) meant that students were encouraged to be versatile in order to fill multiple roles in music, sports and clubs. "Our high school was so small that they put me in the high school marching band in sixth grade," Pier says.

A stable home life and the close knit relationships of a small town brought Pier a sense of security. Decades later, Pier and urbanologist Ray Bakke reflected on their similar small town upbringings. Bakke commented that kind of childhood can produce a person willing to take large risks and changes. "I think that’s probably true," says Pier..

At the age of seventeen during his junior year of high school, Pier says he was transformed by the power of Christ. He believes that four factors contributed to his change of spiritual direction. First, he had a group of friends at a local church who prayed for him continually. Consequently, throughout his life, Pier has carried a deep sense of how prayer can change lives. Second, as he began reading the New Testament, he was drawn into the Biblical world and became convinced of its history and message.

Third, he remembers a demonic-like encounter in a dream that made vivid the supernatural conflict between good and evil. Pier had fallen asleep in his bedroom while studying and dreamed that he was in a basement. An ominous figure walked down the stairs into the basement, then came across the room until it was at the door of Pier’s bedroom. It entered bringing a sense of dread. The sense of good and evil was paired with a heightened sense of life and death during a traffic accident.

Pier experienced a near-death moment when coming home from his junior-senior prom. He fell asleep at the wheel and headed straight for a ditch. Suddenly, he awakened and jerked the wheel around. The car spun a complete 180 degrees and plopped into a ditch on the other side of the road. In shock that he had escaped death, the teenager was suddenly confronted with an awareness of God's protective presence. Shortly after, Pier gave not just his safety but his heart to God at a Christian camp. Out of such experiences, evangelicals develop a psychological strength to meet adversity through a sense that God will always be in their corner when trouble strikes. Often, an early character test is how to stand up to their social circles that don’t understand or accept their spiritual change.

His parents were shocked by the announcement of his conversion. His father turned "hostile" to the whole idea. In the way that love complicates matters his father felt that his son was saying that his father was deficient in character. He did not understand Pier's need to become converted into being a Christian at the Baptist church. Hadn’t the parents already provided a Christian home? "The way I was interpreting it," reflected Pier, "I had gotten something that he hadn’t given me." For the son his Christian identity had been more nominal than real before the conversion.

His mother was more concerned about financial matters. Later, as her son started working in a campus ministry, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, she believed her son was going downward on the economic ladder. Particularly, his fundraising for the ministry rather than for a business that he owned was somewhat alien to his parents’ thinking. His Mom’s feelings were deeply affected by her family’s poverty and her hard life in the fields during the Great Depression.

Within a month of his conversion, he gathered the youth groups of his high school to meet and get to know each other. The desire to amalgamate the body of Christ came intuitively to Pier. "I was converted not only to Jesus but also to the unity of his church," he wrote in his book Consequential Leadership. "This became the dominant theme of my life."

 

Learning a quiet way of thinking

Pier's involvement with InterVarsity's college campus group began during his sophomore year at the University of South Dakota, where he encountered the methods of inductive Bible study. "That was probably InterVarsity’s greatest contribution to my own faith development," Pier says.

Inductive Bible study includes three components: observation, interpretation, and application. The reader takes a Scripture passage and marks down repeated ideas and themes. Then the reader tries to understand why the author of the passage wrote this particular message and why it was written it was, attempting to form the meaning of the passage. Once the teaching of the passage becomes clearer, then the putting the lessons into practice in everyday life is the ultimate step.

Adopting inductive Bible study had a profound effect on Pier and matured his faith as a new Christian. "I think it was really powerful for me when I had that experience as a sophomore in college, seeing Scripture come to life and seeing the impact of God’s truth," Pier said. "Rather than just hearing someone else preach about it or read someone else’s commentary about it, being able to study it for myself." One New Testament Greek word for understanding is to toss ideas like balls around in your mind. It is like pondering in one’s mind rather than debating in public.

That auto-didactic, contemplative characteristic of induction played a major role in shaping Pier's own personal approach to leadership. Induction, rather than deduction, is a based on a scientific reasoning system of forming a hypothesis from gathered observations. The significant aspect of induction is observation first, then conclusions. Deductive reasoning begins with a blanket generalization first, then testing out the generalization until it is refined. In practice deductive reasoning can seem like dogmatism or, more gently, cheer leading for prepared scripts about what to think. Inductive reasoning is quieter and more introspective.

Induction became a method for Pier to comprehend the world and execute his next move. He journals almost every day. He has had as many as four hundred days in a row of dated journal entries. What he typically does when the pages run out is to quickly read through the journal. He then starts to see how God’s hand is in the bigger pattern. "I think probably the most powerful thing for me when I read through a journal, is this sense that God just keeps drawing me to that time," he stated.

Anyone who has spent time with Pier can see that he has mastered the art of quiet observation. He leans over when you are talking to him to make sure he captures every single word and sentiment. His grey-blue eyes lock into yours until he is ready to express a response. Pier's ability to absorb, then stand back and assess the situation with fresh viewpoints, allows him to ruminate and study methods. When he has examined every little nook and cranny, he makes his move by drawing up a plan of what Christian communities of the city lack. Part puzzle player and part engineer, he finds or constructs the missing piece that fits best to unlock a treasure trove of untapped potential. Lastly, he will draw out a finely crafted blueprint of his plan for those interested in joining him.

Carlos Ortiz, a board member of Concerts of Prayer in the mid-90s, used a restaurant metaphor to describe Pier: "He's not a dramatic guy. He's kind of like a guy who owns a buffet. He's not going to go from table to table only to make relationships, he's going to lay out the spread."

Pier’s experiences in India was the next step in his preparation for tackling what his colleagues called the great Secular City of the World, New York City.

 

Learning to pray in desperation

A summer mission trip with Operation Mobilization to Bihar, India threw Pier and his wife into an alien environment. There was only a tiny handful of Christians in Bihar. Instead of living in Christian Middle America, the Piers were living in the middle of Hindu and Muslim India. Further, instead of nicely painted white picket fences and clean swept sidewalks, the Piers walked everyday through one of the poorest, dirtiest neighborhoods in the world.

As the third largest state in India with a population of 103 million in an area the size of Nebraska, Bihar is landlocked and poor on the western edge of India bordering on Nepal. A rural poverty rate of 64% plagued the state in 1983, and Communist guerrillas periodically attacked government outposts. Malaria and unsanitary conditions made the area a health danger zone.

The experience particularly changed Pier’s relationship with prayer. Every Friday, the entire mission team met anywhere from three to nine hours to pray together in the Ranchi district, the capital city of what is now Jharkhand, which was carved out of southern Bihar and made into a separate state in 2000. Growing up in a mainline congregation, that type of prolonged worship was foreign to Pier. However, he learned that it was easier to participate in extended prayers with a group than by himself, highlighting the importance of speaking to God as a faith community at times of urgent needs in tough conditions.

"It just showed us the power of corporate prayer and praying in a setting where the ratio of Hindus and Muslims to Christians was a hundred thousand to one," remarked Pier about his time in Bihar. "You really got a sense of the desperate nature of people praying." God answered their prayers too.

Locals came to believe the Christians’ God. The mission team itself was exemplary of a group of young converts. Selene was the son of the president for all the Muslims in his district of Delhi. He had received a vision of Jesus that moved him to change his religious faith. Then, other Muslims tried to kill him, and he went into hiding. Subsequently, he became an bold street evangelist in an Islamic community that was prone to religious violence.

One of the team members was an older gentleman who had been a high caste Brahmin with an Oxford University education. His conversion came through a different cultural means. He converted through listening to Beethoven. Taking time off from his work for Shell Oil Company, he and his wife volunteered with the InterVarsity movement in Bihar. The mission team met with together every week to pray and read through J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. The English author’s book has played a large role in InterVarsity’s evangelism and education programs.

As the deepness of the relationships quickly developed in the hostile environment, the group prayers took upon a quality that Pier had not experienced before. He now recognized the unique power and dramatic effectiveness of group prayer. "In that part of the world where the Christian community is so small," he said, "people who come to faith...it’s a pretty dramatic experience."

Pier and his wife flew back to the Midwest, with high hopes of returning to Bihar. Instead, they soon realized that Bihar was an effective training ground for tackling the Great Secular City on the Hudson.

 

Learning to love New York City

A year after their return from India, InterVarsity asked the Piers if they would move to New York City. They leapt at the opportunity. They were radically committed to take a bold step. In the city they would have no solid income, no place to stay, or even a network of close people who could help them out. In addition, Marya was five months pregnant with their first child. Still, Pier and his wife sold most of their possessions before the relocation to the city where Pier would work as an area director for InterVarsity.

Marya did have a brother who had gone to New York City for an InterVarsity summer program. He knew the person he lived with, Bishop Roderick Caesar Jr. of Bethel Gospel Tabernacle Church in Jamaica, Queens. The brother suggested that his sister and brother-in-law get in touch with his former host.

Unknown to the Piers, the Caesar family had a long tradition of welcoming outsiders. In the early 1930s, Caesar Sr. moved to Jamaica, Queens and started cottage prayer meetings in southeast Queens which in 1941 lead to the current church site. The young church planter was determined to do church different from what he had experienced. He wanted a balance between mind and emotion and a openness to outsiders. “He prayed that the Lord would give him a diverse congregation that reflects the population. His target audience was everybody,” the son recalled in an interview at his church. A Harlem contemporary of Roderick Sr., Duke Ellington, recalled likewise how his mother told him about God, and “I am sure my mother felt that God took some rich black soil, some red clay, and some white sand, and mixed them all together to make the first man, so that forever after no man would feel he was better than another.” This large notion of God’s cross-ethnic, cross-racial love also trickled down to Caesar Jr. The young pastor turned out to be an ideal mentor for Pier.

"He was naive, but eager to learn," said Caesar Jr. during a phone interview about his first impressions of Pier. "Teach-ability and service were his greatest strengths." The Caesars extended themselves to Pier and his wife by opening up their homes to them while the couple searched for housing. Their first Christmas in the city was spent at Caesar Sr.’s house. It also happened to be the first outing for Pier's eleven-day old daughter, Anna.

Pier’s advocacy of cross-racial boundaries and care for the people furthest down in society was given an extra push from Caesar Jr. who provided some qualities that Pier didn’t find exemplified in his childhood. Pier believed that some people whom he respected in South Dakota dealt unfairly in doing business with local Native Americans. It left a sour taste in his mouth. Also some locals harbored prejudices against Blacks. "I describe my growing up as growing up with a dual prejudice," recalls Pier. Caesar Jr.’s paternal-like concern helped the young missionary to untangle the knots prejudice and Christianity. "That was really a very powerful opportunity to be loved by someone who was really different, radically different," said Pier.

Through Caesar's love, the two became like family. The effects of Pier and Caesar Jr.'s relationship has rippled down through all of Pier’s ministries. The bishop attended Pier's ordination council in the Baptist General Conference in South Dakota in 1992. Then, they toured East Africa together to observe the AIDS epidemic first hand. He was also one of the founding board members of Concerts of Prayer of Greater New York..

Pier’s fellowshipping at Caesar Jr.'s church also introduced him to a new worship experience. "He came from a Baptist church," the bishop observes. "Coming to a Pentecostal church was different!" It wasn't just any Pentecostal church, but a Caribbean-rooted historic Pentecostal church in New York City. Caesar Jr. listed four main contrasts: "the style of worship; the population density of the city around the church; the cultural differences and racial differences." He paused for emphasis adding, "He [Pier] adapted quite well."

Bishop Roderick Caesar, Jr.,, left; Pier, center

Bishop Roderick Caesar, Jr.,, left; Pier, center. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

After about a month being prepared by Caesar Jr. Pier was ready to start networking with New Yorkers. He reached out to his fellow Baptists by attending an Sunday evening service at First Baptist Church in Flushing, Queens. It was at that service that Pier says his love affair with the city started to bloom.

The choir had sung "On Jordan's Stormy Bank," an 18th century hymn about the prophet Joshua leading the Israelites after a tumultuous trip across the Jordan River into the land of Canaan. Its powerful traditional melody struck a moving timber as it passed through the lead of the Filipino choir director and Caribbean, Chinese, Hispanic, and Anglo voices. At the lyric, "I am bound for the promise land!" the young Midwesterner had an overwhelming sense that the words applied to him. He and his family’s promise land was New York, the Hudson River was their Jordan, Bihar, India was their tumultuous journey. Although everything in Pier's life was like an upset apple cart--and newborn was on its way, all was well with their future.

A baptismal service took place that night at First Baptist. Although the modest crowd numbered less than 75 people, the people receiving baptism were from a remarkable variety of religious backgrounds---Muslim, Hindu, and Jewish. Pier asked himself, "Where else in this world does this happen, that people from three major religious traditions are being baptized in the same church service? Where else in the world or even within New York, can you worship with people from 60 different language backgrounds?" Witnessing this baptism, Pier was convinced that God had brought all the nations of the world to New York City. Pier and his wife moved to Flushing shortly after.

As their appreciation for New York City grew, Pier’s desire to return to India decreased. He began to realize that one could reach the world by reaching New York City. "It was no longer necessary to travel to distant parts of the world to minister among other nationalities," wrote Pier in his book Spiritual Leadership in a Global City, "So we stayed in New York.” Billy Graham's challenge in Urbana 1979 had catapulted Pier to the vortex of world migrations.

Commissioning of Pier for leadership by NYC evangelical leaders. Photo courtesy of NYC Leadership Center.

Commissioning of Pier for leadership by NYC evangelical leaders. Photo courtesy of NYC Leadership Center.

 

Teaching the network

Concerts of Prayer held its first meeting on February 5th, 1988 at First Baptist Church of Flushing. David Bryant, who wrote the book that influenced Pier before going to Urbana in 1979, led the meeting. Pier had met Bryant while on staff at InterVarsity, and they teamed up to organize an event in NYC. "Mac providing the logistics, I provided the head and heart," said Bryant during a phone interview. "At that point, he needed someone to come in who knew the vision and how to take a diverse group." They invited sixteen churches to participate, more than seventy churches showed up.

In a two hour long prayer service, a multi-ethnic and multi-denominational crowd of 600 participants packed First Baptist's pews. Church leaders sat up by the altar. Bryant had the congregants huddle in triplets and lead them through prayer with his 6Rs: rejoice, repent, resist, request, receive, and recommit. He was teaching them qualities that are needed for the evangelical power network to function.

"Here we were inside the church. We thought, 'Let's end this prayer event outside,'" said Bryant. They went across the street to a large asphalt clearing part of a public playground. The nearly full moon glowed above them. They continued praying and singing outside. Curious neighbors opened their apartment window to see the commotion. Others from the street joined them in prayer.

"That event was a breakthrough in understanding the potential in Christians unifying in prayer," explained Bryant. "In two ways: God answers prayers and the united prayer experience created a whole new paradigm that we share more in common than what divides us."

Carlos Ortiz grew up in Far Rockaway, Queens and worked with Pier for several decades.

Carlos Ortiz grew up in Far Rockaway, Queens and worked with Pier for two decades. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

The overwhelming response of that first meeting foreshadowed the decades to come. "In all of these gatherings, Pentecostals could sit alongside Baptists and maybe even a smattering of curious Catholics," said Carlos Ortiz when A Journey asked him what the prayer meetings were like during the 1990s. To date, tens of thousands of congregants and pastors have participated in the movement.

But with any movement, it needs to shift and change to stay alive. "The reinvention within Concerts of Prayer has not been the prayer movement itself, but that Mac created the New York City Leadership Center," said Ortiz. Incorporated in 2007, the center recently held its third annual Movement Day to bring together 1400 Christian leaders from thirty cities across the nation to the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square.

A special program on prayer movements took place on the 8th floor of the hotel in a large beige conference room that can fit about 250 people. At the back of the room, tables filled with bagged sandwich lunches and cold beverages provided attendees the option to eat before the program began half past noon. Meanwhile, the who's-who of Christian ministry organizations networked and chit-chatted. Businesses cards flew right and left. Kevin and Luis Palau, son and father evangelist team of the infamous Luis Palau Association.

Pier has now passed the leadership of the prayer over to Pastor Dimas Salaberrios, who gained notoriety with his hunger strike during the right to worship in public schools controversy. Today, Salaberrios lead the meeting. He stood up, placed the microphone inches away from his face, and said, "Movement day is not just an event, but it's supposed to produce movement in finding a way to network together."

In a phone interview, Salaberrios explained the future networking strategy for Concerts of Prayer. "Every year, we're going to engage different groups," said Salaberrios. First the Koreans, then Latinos, then Africans and Chinese churches. "By 2016, we'll basically have a Christian United Nations prayer gathering."

Pastor Dimas leads movement with his hunger strike. With daughter in hand rallies the city.

Pastor Dimas leads movement with his hunger strike. With daughter in hand rallies the city.

Salaberrios is trying to raise the religious prayer network into political awareness. The day prior to the recent city mayoral election, Concerts of Prayer organized a public prayer event in front of City Hall in downtown Manhattan. They set up a sidewalk stage on the east corner of Barclay Street and Broadway. The NYPD lined up steel barricades from Barclay to Chambers Streets down Broadway. However, the crowd fluctuated from only about 50 people at the start of the event to about 150 at its height. Some passerbys stop to briefly listen and to take photos with their smart phones. In between the rapid prayer line ups, a full band with a guitarist, keyboardist, and singer performed contemporary Gospel worship music.

At about 5pm, the sky quickly turned to dusk. Salaberrios got on stage to say a prayer. “We pray for all the candidates and all elected officials," he intoned. Fifteen minutes after his dialogue with God, he quietly walked towards the crowd with his wife and two young children. He settled into the mass of people unassumingly, about 25 feet away from the stage. Instinctively, Salaberrios realizes that the small turnout for the city hall prayer rally really means that the religious folk are wary of the politicians. The city fabric is frayed by the divisions between the haves and have-nots and between races.

When asked what Pier would change in the city if he were mayor, the networker observed, "When I look at cities, I think the greatest deficit in any city is not money, space, or programs--it’s trust.” And without trust, it is hard to be compassionate. Pier built Concerts of Prayer of Greater New York and the New York City Leadership Center upon the axiom that people can only love whom they know.

You trust whom you know; you know whom you pray with. -- Mac Pier's philosophy. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

You trust whom you know; you know whom you pray with. -- Mac Pier's philosophy. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

 

With additional reporting by Tony Carnes

Re-published Jan 22, 2010 6:00am

______________________________

Also see :

Jesus the New Yorker;

Jesus the New York Jew; and

Searching for the Messiah in New York City.

18 Responses to “Jesus the New York Networker” Leave a reply ›

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  • Great piece on Mac Pier, networker impacting NYC. Missions journey with Urbana 79, @INTERVARSITYusa and @OMusa. http://t.co/mofeZqRaIB— Tom Lin (@TomLinNow) January 2, 2014

  • Mac Pier was very much a formative mentor for me through InterVarsity and Concerts of Prayer. He continues to do amazing work raising up leaders through The New York City Leadership Center.

  • He has had a huge impact on me also

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  • Excellent article, thanks! So happy Mac and Marya's story is being shared and celebrated, all gratitude to God!

  • It is wonderful to see this extensive article on my old boss and ministry mentor. I worked for COPGNY from 2001 to 2006 and Mac had a profound influence on my life. I learned some new things in this article about Mac I didn't know. I'm blessed that Mac now has a vision to impact other cities and is now working with city leaders in Dallas, my home region since 2005, on Greater Dallas Movement Day. God bless, Mac Pier!

  • Great piece!

  • Thank you for your comments! Mac shepherded and inspired many people throughout the decades. What is your fondest and oldest memory of Mac?

  • Oldest - sitting at home one night in October 2001 and the phone rings, "This is Mac Pier, do you know who I am? I have your resume in front of me. Fondest - there are many but heading to Uganda for the first time in July 2005 with Mac and some other NYC leaders ranks up there.

  • How hopeful to read your column.
    I have been involved with prayer locally for years through Mission America and Concerts of Prayer in Dallas.
    I hear real unity in what you are doing and pray we are able to bring that same spirit to our city.
    Gratefully:
    Dorothy

  • Dorothy, is is happening. God is using Mac Pier in Dallas as well. Check our http://www.GreaterDallasMovementDay.com

  • Thanks

  • Hi Brian:
    I have been involved in prayer movements and Mission America for many years.
    I am grateful to see this door opening for Dallas.
    Reconciliation Outreach will be there with a large team along with HPPC and I pray this is the
    beginning of a real reawakening.
    Dorothy

  • Like this article

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