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Prayer on the night shift in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Part 1

Whatever else will happen religiously in the city, prayer will part of it. How much social harmony and development will we owe to prayers?

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Damaris Riveria and her husband began the Spanish-speaking church in 1999 in their own home as part of the Puerto Rico-based Pentecostal Church of God. Photo: PaulineDolle/A Journey through NYC religions

 

It is 10:51 pm. There are lots of people hurrying with purpose on the narrow Palmetto Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

A young couple in jeans and sweatshirts walk past blocks of townhouses carrying McDonald’s paper bags and cups, talking plans for a rooftop party next week. A deliveryman on a bike cruises downhill, disregards a stop sign, and speeds a block down the street into the bustling intersection of Myrtle Avenue. A man and his teenage son wheel a cart full of double-bagged groceries. Cars drive carefully, headlights bright.

People are walking home from the Myrtle Avenue train station while the sound of the departing train echo across rooftops from the elevated train tracks.

The night is getting cool. The street is brightly lit, highlighting graffiti on the light pole and cracks in the sidewalk.

A leisurely mood has also come out onto the street. Eminem raps out an open window on the second floor of a townhouse. A big, fluffy black dog ambles off a leash, sniffs a pile of garbage, and continues around the corner. His owner is nowhere to be seen. Someone sets off a lone firework, and the dog starts barking.

Turning to the left to a narrower side street called Ridgewood Place, you immediately enter a different world. It is darker and more silent. Somber iron gratings are lowered across a sportswear clothing store. Green construction barricades are thrown up against the street as they run down the face of several houses. The dark alley looks like a trap for the unwary.

There is only one open door on the block. This is Iglesia De Dios Pentecostal Movimiento Internacional. Its door has swung open like an all night beacon. The congregation’s bright interior lights beckon safety and welcome. Members are gathering for the church’s weekly prayer vigil, where they pray for the strength to get through their own lives and to impact the neighborhood around them with the glory of God’s presence.

 

Iglesia De Dios Pentecostal Movimiento Internacional on Ridgewood Place swings open its door as an all-night beacon. Photo: Pauline Dolle/A Journey through NYC religions

 

A prayer vigil is when church members gather together, usually outside of normal church hours and often overnight, for a session dedicated to prayer. This practice goes back to the early days of the Christian church. In his first letter to the believers in Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul admonished, “Let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and sober.” The time is designed to provide solitude for a focus on a holy task that can get lost in everyday commotion.

Some churches also believe that a vigil where all attendees are praying for a cause in common is like a magnifying glass on the prayers, making the pleas stronger. “Pray at all times,” instructed another letter by Paul, this time to the believers in Ephesus, “with all prayer and supplication.”

Whatever else will happen religiously in the city, prayer will part of it. Will there be new forms of prayer or new revivalist effervescence sparked by the prayers? Will future occasions of terrible weeping teach us how to pray deeply? Will they bring another pocketful of miracles? How much social harmony and development will we owe to prayers?

Many evangelical Christian leaders share an inspiration from the 1857 Layman’s Prayer Revival on Wall Street that lead to a global wave of religious effervescence. One who took this movement to heart was Mac Pier. He recalls how in the late 1980's, he and others started gathering for large group prayers. In 2004 Pier’s Concerts of Prayer of Greater New York kicked off an idea that prayer groups all over the city could do “prayerwalks” for the spiritual and material problems in their zip codes. His organization has now spawned cooperative efforts in scores of cities in the United States and elsewhere.

This local group includes people who have been intensely praying with each other for over sixteen years. Every ache, pain, folly, success, and hope have been shared and prayed over.

Arnaldo and Damaris Riveria began the Spanish-speaking church in 1999 in their own home on Putnam Place as part of the Puerto Rico-based Pentecostal Church of God. They moved to their current location in 2011. Damaris says that because she and her husband join together different backgrounds, her English-speaking education and his Spanish-speaking street savvy, they can preach to many different types of people in the neighborhood.

 

Rev. Armando and Mrs. Damaris Rivera founded the church as a marital love project. Photo: Pauline Dolle/A Journey through NYC religions

 

The church is not just about praying but also doing. In fact, they see praying as a doing that leads to well-doing in the world.

The small church has established many outreaches in addition to their weekly vigil. Damaris calls on patients who are checked into the Wycoff Heights Medical Center, ten blocks away on the other side of Myrtle Avenue, to pray, chat and invite them to the church.

On the first Sunday of every month, the congregants donate groceries to a family that they know needs the help. There is so much hunger in the neighborhood that the church has to parcel out food to a different family each Sunday. The whole church chips in. Damaris assigns a different item to each member of the church to buy and bring for the package of groceries.

Another family in the neighborhood has seven children that the mother cannot afford to equip for school. Each school year, Damaris sends over a bundle of books, paper, and pens for the kids.

A small church like this doesn’t have programs as much as people with problems. Help is up front and personal.

So, their Friday night vigilia on behalf of the needy is the cornerstone of their outreach. Damaris invites me to join the members of Igelsia De Dios Pentecostal M.I. at 11 pm the following Friday evening.

 

The church believes praying is a doing that leads to well-doing in the world. Photo: Pauline Dolle/A Journey through NYC religions

 

Next: The Vigilia on the night shift in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Part 2

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