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!

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