The Gotham Fellowship is a community of peers, from diverse backgrounds and vocations, who are committed to each others’ spiritual growth and calling to serve the common good of the city. Below are a few personal reflections from Gotham alumni and current fellows.
"Gotham excels in rapidly forging natural, tight-knit communities."
For Geoffrey Allen, a creative strategist, “New York has been a great place to work. The plurality of industries and nearby cities provide ample opportunities for interesting and meaningful work.” Originally from the East Coast and the South-Central U.S., Geoffrey moved into the city in 2008 and was soon introduced to Redeemer’s Center for Faith & Work and Gospel & Culture conferences. This sparked an interest that led him to co-lead a vocational group for marketing professionals called Creative Communications Group (formerly A.D. Agency), join a 7-week and a 3-month Vocational Intensive, and eventually apply to the Gotham Fellowship.
Although he was familiar with some of the readings in the Gotham curriculum, Geoffrey was drawn to the idea of discussing the texts within community. He admits that the financial commitment for the program made him think twice about applying. However, he decided to apply and made a final decision to commit after being accepted.
Looking back on his Gotham experience, Geoffrey was impressed by how quickly his cohort developed into a close community. “Gotham excels in rapidly forging natural, tight-knit communities, which is sometimes rare in New York. The friendships and content have a profound impact on you.” Throughout the 9 months, Geoffrey and his cohort explored how individual heart change can lead to renewal in our broader culture and society.
A few years out from his Gotham experience, Geoffrey brings that worldview into his work today. “If we, individually, are what is wrong with the world, then I have to start by examining myself. Am I contributing to a healthy work environment where employees, clients, and vendors are excited about projects, job security is reinforced; and everyone is compensated fairly? Does my industry promote or undermine human dignity, a healthy society, and innovation or cultural development?”
"Before Gotham, my identity was in my work, and work was a way to prove my worth. . . I now see work as an expression of loving God and God's love and grace working in me to bring renewal."
I was born and raised in New Jersey and moved to Seoul, Korea when I was ten years old. I moved back to the United States for college and started a job in the financial district in NYC right after graduation. Currently, I am a doctoral candidate in the Adult Learning and Leadership program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Prior to my studies, I taught leadership to undergraduate students in Seoul, where I discovered a passion for teaching and leadership development. Before teaching in Korea, I was living in NYC and working in the non-profit sector in the area of international criminal justice reform, which was also incredibly meaningful.
I heard about Gotham through friends who were alumni or current fellows. I would run into friends in the city, and they would ask if I had heard about Gotham. They would tell me about their formative experiences in the program and suggest that I consider applying. Friends who were fellows would also invite me to gatherings with other fellows, or I would see fellows participate in CFW events together. Whether through people sharing about their experience with me or what I observed, I could sense there was something special shared, by way of experience and relationships, among the fellows in community.
Before Gotham, my identity was in my work, and work was a way to prove my worth. This drove me to focus on my performance as a way to earn approval or acceptance, which frequently caused stress and anxiety and drew me away from community outside of work. Through Gotham and after Gotham, I now see work as an expression of loving God and God's love and grace working in me to bring renewal. This has allowed me to approach work and community from a place of love, deeper rest in my heart, with greater purpose and freedom, as well as with a clearer sense of calling and vocation. I am also now more intentional about infusing prayer and seeking community support and accountability in all that I do for work, for that is where I feel faith will be sustained and ongoing transformation can happen.
Thinking back on my Gotham class, the experience of exploring idols of the heart and going deeper in community at the retreat in January stands out for me. In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer discusses the practices of confession and communion as a way to "final breakthrough" to community. I felt the retreat provided a space for the beginning of such a breakthrough for me and other fellows. Here, we were able to let our walls, masks, and guards down and move past our idealized expectations of community and of ourselves to share more honestly and listen to each other with care and compassion and without judgement. Bonhoeffer in Life Together states that “Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them” (1954, p. 97). And in this space, I felt we were able to listen, embrace, and "see" one another more authentically, not only from the place of our strengths, affinities, and met expectations, but also from, or perhaps even more through, our brokenness, fears, struggles, insecurities, and disappointed expectations. As a community, we were learning how to bear each other’s burdens, love unconditionally, and help each other grow, and this was transformative as it was precious and beautiful to witness and encounter.
In allowing myself to be more vulnerable, honest, and open during Gotham, I experienced greater freedom and trust in God and an expanded capacity to love and be loved in relationships and community. If you have that desire to integrate faith with work and grow spiritually and personally in community, I would say that Gotham is a commitment worth making.
Photograph by Anthony Artis
"I went in expecting theological training, which I received, but I was surprised by the deep impact of my brothers and sisters."
I love cities and objectively speaking, New York City is the greatest city in the world. I currently work as a data scientist and get to work with 3 things I love: data (bonus: mostly related to cities!), science, and people who love data and science. I was born in Los Angeles, raised in Colorado, and moved to the city after college. It felt like home right away and has remained that way since. NYC is an amazing laboratory of weirdness and innovation and creativity. While it frustrates me in the ways it frustrates everyone, I'm at home here.
I didn't really know much about Redeemer’s Center for Faith & Work at the time I applied and even less about Gotham. I was referred to Gotham by a friend, who later went through it herself. My first impression was that it was an intriguing way to learn more applied theology. I was interested in deepening my understanding of theology in a "meaty" way not available outside seminary, while applying it to my career at a formative and transitional time for me.
When I applied to Gotham, I was unemployed and feeling like a failure coming from a recent career venture. It didn’t seem like I was the right audience for this program seeking "leaders" hitting their strides in their careers. More practically, I was hesitant to apply because of the time commitment. I needed to find a j-o-b first. Thankfully, I had people in my life -- my parents, grandparents and friends -- who saw through my perception of failure and recognized this as a great opportunity to strengthen my understanding of what I believe.
The amazing fellowship with my cohort is one of the things that stands out the most about my experience. I went in expecting theological training, which I received, but I was surprised by the deep impact of my brothers and sisters. Gotham also profoundly shaped how I see myself and my work. It strengthened my framework for dealing with success and failure and how God uses both to help us engage with our community. I also now find myself approaching my work with more humility and more hope.
"I’ve learned that brokenness is to be expected, and it’s okay to grieve it."
I grew up in Texas and loved NYC as a kid. I had been living on the East Coast for 8 years before moving to New York. I was attracted to the energy of the city and moved here for a two-year fellowship organized by Carnegie Hall, Juilliard, and the NYC Department of Education. I intended to stay for a few years and then move somewhere "real" to live and start a family.
I am currently a full-time mom and a part-time freelance musician, writer, and arts administrator. Very few of my colleagues in the music world are believers and equally few who are my age have kids. Their careers come first. When I applied to Gotham, I was looking to grow in my faith, be challenged, and think about God in my work in and outside of my home in a deeper way. My husband really encouraged me to do it and was incredibly supportive. I was new at getting babysitters for things other than work, and my husband encouraged me that this was "important enough."
I loved how intentional every single aspect of the program was, the depth of perspectives offered, and the intellect that drove the program. Gotham profoundly shaped my worldview and shifted it 180-degrees from how I had previously thought about work, brokenness, and the hope that we have. Gotham was my first introduction to the idea of the "already but not yet" worldview, that we are living in a broken world that will someday be redeemed.
Having gone through Gotham, I’ve learned that brokenness is to be expected, and it’s okay to grieve it. Just as God honors and values all work, I also now strive to do the same -- to treat the mailmen and trash collectors with as much respect as I do our pediatrician, for for example. I also have to shift how I view my own work that feels mundane or menial -- like changing diapers or cleaning dishes -- and see it as valuable, respectable, godly work. My job is to be faithful with the work that I've been given, and I tell that to my kids all the time. One of my kids has been given an intense but wonderful school, and sometimes he complains about the workload or the discipline necessary. I tell him, “this is the gift - and the work - that God has given you.” I have to remind myself of that in my daily life, especially when I'm in a season that feels like my own intellectual and vocational desires are a bit dormant while I serve my family.
"I’ve reflected on my life and discovered just how involved God was in shaping my career."
At first, I had a very narrow-minded view of Gotham. I believed it was only for those who wished to further their knowledge of theology. In our church, it was very clear that there was a special community amongst Gotham fellows and alumni, however it felt incredibly exclusive. Even though I felt Gotham wasn’t right for me, I still wanted to be involved in our church community. One of my close friends at Redeemer mentioned that he was applying. For a driven person like him, Gotham made a lot of sense, but not for me. Then I spoke with two Gotham alumni who highly recommended me to apply. Rather than promoting Gotham’s in-depth theology teachings, they both mentioned that Gotham really shifts your perspective on everyday life. I realized that the two of them had a thankful perspective in their life and viewed the world in a different lens. Furthermore, they also mentioned how Gotham’s real intention is to apply the Gospel and teachings into our vocations, something that attracted me to the program. I still had some hesitations about the program -- I anticipated most of the teachings would again cater to those in more common New York vocations, like finance and law. Yet, their perception on everyday life attracted me to the program despite these doubts.
When I was accepted into Gotham, I really struggled deciding whether to commit to the 9 month program. At the time, I was ushering, leading CG, attending a men’s group, and organizing an annual ski trip for Redeemer congregants. I knew I would have to drop several of my commitments in order to fully experience Gotham, but in my heart, I feared I was letting people down. I prayed and discussed with my friends about whether Gotham was right for me. In the end, I decided to go forward with Gotham and trust that God would provide in areas where I would be stepping down. God surprised me in many ways. I moved into an apartment with one of my close friends. He and another friend were willing to lead my old CG. When planning for the ski trip, many of my friends helped organize and take partial ownership of the logistics which lightened my load. Looking back, I knew I made the right choice and God was guiding me all along.
Gotham has truly surprised me over the last 7 months. I have grown with an incredible community and I continue to learn new parts of our faith that I have never considered. The encouragement and sharing of burdens within our cohort gives me courage and motivation to seek God for handling my career and life. I’ve reflected on my life and discovered just how involved God was in shaping my career. I’ve became more thankful for simple blessings God had bestowed upon me. I feel more blessed to be surrounded by Christian and non-Christian colleagues who continue to mentor me and grow me professionally. My cohort taught my aspects of our faith that increased my sense of beauty and wonder of God. Finally, Gotham revealed the Gospel in a new light where I feel proud to identify with Christ.
Some people see Gotham and are intimidated by the commitment and intensity of the program. My advice for anyone who is still on the fence about the program is to answer the application questions. They are a great way to reflect on your spiritual journey and to analyze the brokenness within your vocation. From there, pray to God about the questions you answered to see if you need to dig deeper. If you choose to do Gotham and God blesses you with this opportunity, I believe it will be one of the most life-giving, encouraging, and growth you can experience as a Christian living in New York City.
"Gotham has helped me understand that the work I am doing is a part of bringing God’s kingdom to earth as it is in heaven."
As I reflect on my life, I recognize that I am sum of people and experiences that have poured into me, and my work and Gotham are two very strong influences in that. I am privileged in that as I entered the workforce from college, I happened to be surrounded by people who talked about the importance of the integration of faith and work. I was molded with the idea that work was and is important to the flourishing of a community. So, in 2015 when I moved to New York and heard about Redeemer and the Center for Faith & Work for the first time, I was absolutely floored that there was something like the Gotham Fellowship and knew I had to apply.
As excited as I was about something like this, I was nervous when I began the program because I had never studied some of the things in the curriculum before and felt like I would be totally intimidated by the people I’d be in class with. However, it took about 10 minutes into the first retreat to see how amazing this community was that I would to get to live life with for the next 9 months. The best way to describe it is that the Gotham community is as safe space. It’s safe to learn, process, pray, seek, and to throw theoretical grenades of questions about doubt or application of the gospel. It’s a group of people committed to your knowing God’s love for you. A group of people praying with and for you. A group of people loving you.
The other apprehension I had in applying was that “this wouldn’t be a good year to do this” because of how busy I am with work – classic New Yorker, right? I am a general manager for an education fundraising startup and it is very quickly growing. I feared this would negatively impact my work because I wouldn’t have time for both. Applying to Gotham was an act of faith for me. “God, if you want me to do this fellowship this year, I pray you would have them accept me and I’ll trust you and do it” is what I prayed. I’ve seen the Lord do things in my understanding of my impact on the people I work with. I’ve seen him teach me how to let go of this death-grip of control I have on the things I care about, and in my understanding of how I am an agent of reconciliation for God’s Kingdom through my work. It has helped me not just think in the morning or evening about my faith, but to really have a functional belief about God that I am living in and out of. It’s helped me understand how richly loved and secure I am. And that the work I am doing is a part of bringing God’s kingdom to earth as it is in Heaven.
Doing hard things is scary. Applying to Gotham might take some faith. But I encourage you to do it. In the process, you might just learn a little more about yourself and about God.