In the past month or two there have been many new developments on the community front. I feel terribly guilty that I have not posted here more frequently, but I assure you I've been very busy with other very important matters - I'm in DC now, #ontheroad
, and this sort of trip takes a lot of work!
As I mentioned in the last entry (posted February 1), the Heights church was to launch by around Easter time. It was already looking like we would be meeting on Saturday evenings, but that would totally depend on the venue, should we ever find one. Gary, the pastor of our fledgling body, went all around our Heights neighborhood for months, in search of a venue that would suit our needs. Finally, less than two weeks before our hopeful launch date of Saturday, April 1, he confirmed our venue - a United Methodist Church on Broadway between 173 and 174 streets. As Gary would repeatedly joke, we might be the first Trinity Grace Church to make it to Broadway (it never gets old :)
Our launch service was a time of great celebration. Many pastors and laypeople from other TGC parishes came to support us on our special day. The symbolism of the triumphal entry helped to bolster our spirits, as our launch date was the Saturday preceeding Palm Sunday. And thankfully - surprisingly - everything went off without a hitch (which is more than I can say about our second gathering, lol). The pastor of the Methodist church even gave some encouraging words toward the end of the service. He said that we were an answer to his prayers and that he was not threatened by us but was rather excited to see how God might use our partnership to further God's Kingdom.
This new church in the Heights is very exciting to me, for several reasons. First - I've found that over the course of these 2.5 years in NYC, my energy, time and focus have coalesced in Washington Heights. The new Heights plant is just the most recent and significant manifestation of that. Secondly, I've come to see that the Heights church is a testing ground for me, a chance to see and learn first-hand what church planting is all about - the joys, frustrations, celebrations, challenges, etc - so that I might be better equipped to do it again in Chicago, some time in the distant future. I can't wait to see how this new church develops and flourishes, to be a blessing to our neighbors and our community; it has already been such a great blessing to me.
Last fall I began seeking out people with whom to live intentionally in the Heights. The only opportunity that presented itself at that time was a barter living situation with a fellow volunteer at Word Up - he offered for me to stay with him rent free in exchange for 14 hours of work around his apartment per week. I don't wish to be too specific about what happened at that apartment during the few months I was there, but sufficed to say I found it to be extremely challenging. There were certainly aspects about the apartment itself that made things rather difficult, but the greater challenge by far was to share the small space with another person who was quite different from me in many ways. Perhaps our personalities simply did not jive. For whatever reason, I was asked to leave by the beginning of April.
I knew that I would leave town by April 12 so I figured it would be easy enough to store my few belongings some place and find couches to sleep for just the first week and a half of April. I started by asking my brother Mike whether he could hold onto my stuff while I was away. Before I could even finish the question, he said, "done, you got it." I could stash my things at his home in Jersey, in his virtually empty garage. He also welcomed me to stay at his place for my first night out of the old apartment and he made me a killer omelet in the morning.
To find accommodations for the rest of the nights, I reached out to the rest of my church community. A handful of people promptly replied, each willing to host me for a couple nights.
There was one night that - due to a miscommunication on my part - I didn't have a place to stay. When I talked that night to my friend Annie, she put me in touch with the pastor of her own church, Saint Mary's Episcopal in Harlem. She said they would likely put me up in the office or on a couch. I arrived at the church with a large, heavy bag rescued from a nearby Dunkin Donuts and handed it over for any community meals taking place at the church the next day (it is my understanding that they host regular meals and even a shelter for the homeless). The pastor then led me to the sanctuary, where I could sleep alone and in peace, with a sleeping bag on the carpet floor throughout the night.
Up to this point, Annie and I had tossed around the possibility of her joining me for part of the tour but we had yet to seriously discuss logistics - how we might afford to buy bus tickets for the two of us, the role(s) she might play as we bounced around the country, how she might help me get my merch together before we shoved off, and whether, finally, she would actually come.
We discussed all this over the phone, deciding to put off that final decision til the following afternoon. Once our conversation had ended, I marveled at God's always miraculous provision for me as I laid myself down to sleep in the sanctuary of this old church in Harlem - but not before taking photos!
The next day was Thursday, April 5th, the date I had planned to hold my tour kickoff show at Word Up Books. By this point I had also decided to postpone the event, since only one person had RSVP'd on Facebook and none of the local supporting acts had come through either. Shortly after I sent out the sad message to my friends at the Heights church and Word Up, I received a message from my brother Elam, "Do you want to have a private performance-celebration in my living room instead?"
I was so thankful for his willingness to host me on this date, but I was doubtful that many people would come. The date was also Maundy Thursday, in the middle of Holy Week, and I knew that many people from the Heights church would be headed down to Chelsea for the service at St Paul's. I figured this was likely the reason that none of them had RSVP'd in the first place. But Elam assured me that they would come.
Sure enough, when I arrived at Elam's apartment, there was already a nice-sized group of people, an audience that only grew as more and more people from my newly-planted church congregation, trickled into this beautiful makeshift venue. Folks munched on bread, cheese and wine as I warmed up for my set and began to play. Still more people came in, finding their seats on the floor or standing in the hallway across the room. I played for maybe an hour and a half, including a few cover requests, and everyone seemed to have a great time. This was later reflected in the donation bag, where the generosity of my church family was revealed in spades.
I would have enough to buy bus tickets for two after all!
It has been a week now since that amazing night of music, food, and fellowship. I'm typing from the lobby of Union Station in DC, still reeling from the grace and provision of God in my life over these past couple weeks - another friend allowed me to stay at her apartment for all of Easter weekend (she was out of town herself), I celebrated Sabbath on Easter Sunday by sharing brunch and dancing with my TGC Heights friends, I had a last supper of sorts with my brothers (single men) last night, where they prayed for me and sent me out with their blessing. The Kingdom of God is indeed coming to the Heights, on Earth as it is in Heaven, and it is such a great joy to be in the midst of it, to be a part of it myself. I can't wait to be back in the Heights, to partake in fellowship with my church family, to be grafted again to the body of Christ, joining God in the renewal of all things.I plan to be #ontheroad until May 22
. Please see the gandollo blog for itinerary and details, as I'll be updating there somewhat regularly. Please also pray for traveling mercies as I move about the country and I'll be back in NYC in no time!
I love Chicago.
I've felt called to that place ever since I visited on a mission trip in 1999. And when I saw Jon Tyson, along with a team of leaders from Discovery Church in Orlando, pack up and move to NYC to plant Origins Church, I knew that I would one day do the same thing in Chicago. But I was also convinced that I had much yet to learn, grow, and experience before I could attempt such a feat. So I moved to NYC in September 2009 and immediately plugged into community at Trinity Grace Church (formerly Origins). I wanted to learn and be involved with church planting and I suspected that Trinity Grace would provide the right opportunities.
In October that same year I attended the first meeting of the Heights Missional Community, a medium sized group that meets weekly and is organized geographically, by neighborhood. I stayed involved with the Heights MC ever since and have sought out ways to serve the neighborhood with particular focus on the three-fold vision God gave me for Chicago.
Now there is talk of planting a church in the Heights, from among the same community that has been living and serving with me here for well over two years. The launch is likely to take place in early April. Tonight was our first gathering to discuss and ask questions about what the church will look like come April. There are still a lot of question marks, especially in regards to when and where we'll meet, but we are moving forward in confidence that everything will work out.
As for me, I am grateful for God's faithfulness. I know that God is leading and teaching me throughout these experiences and my time in NYC to ultimately draw me to Chicago. It's already been a pretty wild ride, but I look forward to everything that is yet before me - I get the feeling that I've only seen the tip of the iceberg here in NYC.
As mentioned in the previous post, the first part of my threefold vision is a 24/7 house of prayer and worship. I learned a bit about what these are when living in Orlando. My D12 discipleship group caught wind of a powerful little book called Red Moon Rising, by Greig and Roberts, which spoke of a world-wide 24/7 prayer movement. Some members of the group read the book (I was admittedly not one of them) and were instantly inspired.
So we got involved with some churches in our city that were experimenting with the idea, including Church in the Son and a venue called The Porch. We learned a bit about what round-the-clock prayer and worship could look like: singing, playing musical instruments, flag-waving, eating or sleeping alongside the homeless, painting, dancing... and any number of other uncomfortably pentecostal expressions of worship. Some of us also visited the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Atlanta.
That was five years ago. I have not participated much in that sort of thing since. But I believe that God has laid exactly "that sort of thing" on my heart - to be implemented in Chicago and, to a certain extent, manifested during my time in NYC.
I'm not sure what that will mean ultimately; but there have been a lot of developments as of late, giving me some idea what it means for the time being.
Jon Tyson, the head pastor of Trinity Grace Church has spoken the past two weeks about prayer, particularly the Lord's Prayer as outlined by Jesus in Matt 6:9-13
. He encouraged us to pray through it for one hour each day. He also called us to pray together on Wednesdays at noon for an hour.
Seeing how this call reflected my vision for a prayer movement, I offered to make a map for the congregation to offer or find prayer locations around the city. I am hosting a prayer meeting myself at my home in Hamilton Heights.
had also resolved to pray during my lunch hour each day, but at my discipleship group meeting on Monday we all agreed to wake up together at 6am to pray. So I've had to shuffle my schedule around, but I'm really making this happen! An hour of prayer each day at 6am. And Wednesdays at noon to boot!I've also gotten involved with the TGC worship team and poetry group. I know that these group will teach me much more about prayer and worship. I will be leading with the band on tamborine and/or bass at the Upper West Side services, Sundays at 11am.
I will also be leading the poetry group and my missional community in worship periodically.It's already beginning to sound like 24/7, isn't it? Lol. Bring it on!To hear those sermons by Jon Tyson, click HERE! The sermons about prayer were Feb 20, 27.