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OpEd: Speaker Sheldon Silver: why won’t you speak to us? by Pastor Rick Del Rio

Dear Speaker Sheldon Silver, You are my assemblyman. We live blocks apart and frequent the same stores. I write on behalf of the protestors who are gathering outside your home.  We are mostly poor minorities plus other kind people who stand in solidarity with us. All we want is a place to worship — a […]

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Sheldon Silver has been Speaker of the New York State Assembly since 1994.

Dear Speaker Sheldon Silver,

You are my assemblyman. We live blocks apart and frequent the same stores.

I write on behalf of the protestors who are gathering outside your home.  We are mostly poor minorities plus other kind people who stand in solidarity with us.

Pastor Del Rio and Mayor Bloomberg were sometime allies in the mayor's first term.

All we want is a place to worship — a right to rent vacant space in school buildings under the same terms available to other groups. Mayor Bloomberg tried to kick us out. Federal Judge Loretta A. Preska intervened, thrashing the Mayor’s policy as an unconstitutional attack on religious freedom in a 51-page opinion in February. City Hall has appealed, wasting tax-dollars on needless litigation.

I write, and we protest, because for six months you have ignored our phone calls and stood us up at scheduled meetings. In the New York State Assembly you are the gatekeeper for legislation, and so, you are personally responsible for blocking justice on our behalf because you have refused to bring common sense legislation protecting the right to worship in public schools to a vote.

Four months ago, Speaker Silver, you said to the press – never directly to the 60-plus aggrieved churches – that you would wait for Judge Preska’s ruling before bringing a legislative bill protecting the churches right to worship to a vote.

Well, she ruled on February 24. More than a hundred days later, with eviction of the churches looming, you continue to stall.

Worse, you refuse to meet with us and hear our story, leaving me no choice but to explain our cause in this online magazine.

Bloomberg’s reason for trying to ban churches like mine is the preposterous notion that children cannot tell the difference between a religious group that rents empty space on weekends and academic instruction during school hours.  Four months ago, the State Senate overwhelmingly rejected that condescending rationale, voting 54-7 to ban Bloomberg’s ban.

While I live in your district, I pastor Abounding Grace Ministries on Avenue D, technically outside your district by a few blocks. Our membership includes people from around the city and tri-state, but mainly we live in your district and Alphabet City.

Some of our members are middle-income professionals, but mostly we are low-income and working class residents from the projects that still define much of the community. Our multi-ethnic congregation consists primarily, though not exclusively, of Blacks and Latinos.

Abounding Grace has ministered in Alphabet City since 1982, when the area was the city’s heroin capital and an NYPD official described its streets as, “where they kill people, sell their drugs, and sell their bodies.” Surely you remember the Lower East Side of thirty years ago, when Avenue D became Abounding Grace’s home.

Due to the recent gentrification of the neighborhood, Abounding Grace now finds itself primarily ministering to people who can no longer cover their overhead. Many of these same families provided the stability and work ethic that has made the community attractive to middle-America transplants.

Four years ago, we discovered that the most economically efficient way to convene large groups for weekend gatherings was to rent otherwise vacant public school space. The resulting partnership between Abounding Grace and PS 34 on Avenue D and 12th Street has provided much needed revenue for a school beset by budget cuts while serving predominantly low-income neighborhood children.

In the last two weeks, there have been multiple shootings and stabbings in Alphabet City. Due to the stalled economy and chronically underperforming schools, youth unemployment this summer will be over 50%.  It should come as no surprise that the resulting idleness and despair has led to a resurgence of gang activity and violence. We want to do our part to help these kids.

Many of the aggrieved churches are just like mine serving predominantly poor, working class, or minority congregations on the margins of high society.  From among 10,000 community groups who rent public school space during out-of-school hours, the mayor intends to evict only churches.

We are those whom you ignore. Since you intend to render us homeless by allowing Bloomberg’s eviction to stand, we will continue to convene outside your home. Perhaps then you will hear us and allow simple and necessary legislation protecting the right to worship to come to a vote.

- Rev. Richard Del Rio pastors Abounding Grace Ministries and has served on the steering committee of the Right to Worship movement.

  • Thanks

  • Please excuse the typos in my comment. I was very upset at the latest news. In fact, a young Asian woman came to our congregation to alert us of The Mayor's plan.

  • It is disheartening to know that a Mayor of The City of New York would speak with such disregard toward those who are for keeping the peace and instructing citizens or others to do right by the government and the law. However, I am extremely appalled at Bloomberg's decisions and actions of folly when he first took office.

    Churches will unite regardless of what Bloomberg or any government official will impose. God's word cannot be silenced - will not be silenced. In the midst of these chaotic times, we have seen a great deal of protection from God. Children in schools have undergone a detrimental impact of violence and massacres when O'Hair, an atheist, fought against bibles in schools and prayer. We have heard of some horrific incidents that are mind boggling. Meanwhile, prayer kept our teachers and children in focus and in line with what was morally right and true.

    I, for one, am embarrassed to have Bloomberg as a Mayor in this City of New York. Most government officials have expressed direct affront of those morality, respect, and order. Even police officers are allowed to desecrate the home of citizens without being penalized. We will stand tall Bloomberg...very tall even without our temples in which we worship. You can tear down our walls and churches, but you cannot yank the living word of God from our hearts and minds.

    God will always prevail and your disrespect is dishonorable even more so when you violate the human rights of peaceful believers of God. I am ashamed to be called an American. America has not stood on its ground as solid as it did in the earlier times. We inspire so many positive things in the homes of the citizens you lead each day. We pray to God for America and for their leaders everyday and you want to close our churches down.

    This portion of the Bible is very real and will come to pass - God will shake the foundations:

    Matthew 24

    New King James Version (NKJV)

    Jesus Predicts the Destruction of the Temple

    24 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

    The Signs of the Times and the End of the Age

    3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?

    4 And Jesus answered and said to them: "Take heed that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, "I am the Christ, and will deceive many. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.

    9 Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake. 10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.
    The Great Tribulation

    15 Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened.

    23 Then if anyone says to you, Look, here is the Christ! or There! do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand.

    26 Therefore if they say to you, Look, He is in the desert! do not go out; or Look, He is in the inner rooms! do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.

    The Coming of the Son of Man

    29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

    The Parable of the Fig Tree

    32 Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near at the doors! 34 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

    No One Knows the Day or Hour

    36 But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. 37 But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 38 For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.


  • Like this OpEd.

  • Thanks Tony for this important report !! Again, repeatedly great work !!!

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