I was looking for an outlet for my interviewing skills and joined the A Journey team over a year ago. The interviews have often been deeply meaningful and thought-provoking, and I want to share some of the richness of those experiences with you. Most of our work results in objective reports, but my reflection will give a better glimpse into the personal aspects of this project.
Year 2010 brought me tears of joy and sadness. A Journey through NYC religions brought me great joy through my interviews with religious leaders. Many of you encouraged me with your commitment and work in caring for people. I was deeply touched by how you described your histories and ministries.
Some of you overcame tremendous obstacles while transforming lives. I remember two churches in the Cypress Hills/East New York area of Brooklyn.
Pastor Jose Luis Bianchi arrived at Segunda Iglesia Cristiana Primitiva (339 Linwood Street, 718-647-9737) after many people had left the church. This is a small church, and the pastor says that it has been hard rebuilding. It is also a dangerous area. Even now, some programs are just starting up again. Pastor Bianchi has a persevering spirit to minister to his people. He is not going to let the split crush the spirit of the folks that remain. What inspires me is that the pastor and his wife are trying to start up programs again. As a result, the church has built back up to 42 attenders.
I can relate to Pastor Bianchi because I experienced the same thing at another small church. Before I arrived, there was a split in the church. I know that feeling when there is a struggle to keep programs going as the number of people are decreasing. This challenged me personally. From Pastor Bianchi, I learned again that when something negative happens, one may initially feel down. But then you should get up, dust yourself off, and get motivated to serve people.
Four years ago, Iglesia Pentecostal Cristo te Ama moved from Fulton Street to further out in Brooklyn at 2356 Pitkin Avenue (718-235-8627). Their kids have grown up, and there are hardly any kids now. Pastor Jose Rojas says, “I do what the occasion calls for.” This is also a small church, so he has to be flexible to shift gears to address the needs of the congregation. His members do likewise. One is studying to get his license to do counseling.
I am inspired by Pastor Rojas because he is not afraid to extend himself to minister to his church. Many pastors focus on a particular area of expertise. For example, some pastors are known for rhetoric that rings like music, others for a hip ability to connect to youth, some are widely sought as wise counselors on life’s problems, and others give intellectually satisfying sermons. From talking with Pastor Rojas I can tell he has a flexibility that communicates his attentiveness to his parishioners. I am also inspired by the member who is studying counseling. He also saw a need in his church and is doing something to help.
I remember when a friend saw that his church’s music ministry was lacking, so he learned how to play the piano! It's also like my niece. She also learned how to play piano to fill in at her church when the music minister is not around. I learned to adopt a similar approach at home. When something needs to be fixed, I learn how to do it myself. If some service is not in place at my church, I research it and try to and organize something. Someone's willingness to serve is an encouragement that can spark all kinds of ideas and inspiration to do likewise.
The skills and wisdom I learned during our interviews also helped me through a very difficult time in my life. Thanks to all the church leaders for wise counsel, exemplifying love, and reminding me that my life has purpose too. I thought I was calling to interview you, which I did, but I gained something “extra” in the process! Probably, you didn’t realize how you were helping me at the time.
What most of you did not know was I was going through spiritual conflict and spiritual restoration myself during the year. From my point of view, I felt spiritually battered. One lesson I learned was it is okay to leave a toxic situation and seek a healthier environment. Of course, it is important to use wisdom and have a graceful spirit while addressing serious matters.
Facing struggles and conflicts often results in eye-opening personal growth and maturity. I was weepy and fearful before. Thank you for giving me counsel, care and wisdom! I am no longer afraid.
Along with my work for A Journey, I decided it would be interesting to do a survey of the 10 or so churches around my home. I dragged my family to visit them. On the way home, we had interesting discussions about the churches’ theology and doctrines, pastoral personalities and styles, programs, member interactions, and ministry mission. There were two churches that we visited that seemed to have all the bells and whistles. The pastors were gifted speakers, and the churches had dozens of programs. There were a lot of good things about these churches. Unfortunately, not a single person greeted us or offered information about their churches. Not very good “customer service” skills!
Not that I approach religious organizations as businesses, but isn’t there a saying that you will know them by their love? Personally, I would think that greeting someone is at least the beginning of showing that you care. What do you think?
We did run into some really loving churches. At one church there were a number of greeters waiting to meet you and direct you to the room you need to get to. The pastors were interested in talking to you.
At one church you could tell that they respected and loved people who came through the door. It didn’t try to manipulate attendance or commitment. They provided an atmosphere of commitment and healing.
I love hearing about churches like this. Write me when you come across one!
Let me tell you, growing up in faith is not always easy but definitely worthwhile. I have learned something from you and from my personal experiences this last year. I am encouraged that you live your faith “out loud.” I sure benefitted from your sharing during our interviews! Best of all, I learned how God replaces our tears of sadness with tears of joy! Thanks!