April 16 marked the official one year anniversary of the launch of Redeemer Lincoln Square, and as you might imagine, that celebration has offered us a number of opportunities to reflect on how God has worked in our neighborhood over the last 12 months. Many of those reflections begin with the simple fact that God brought us into the neighborhood to be part of the neighborhood.
In Hebrews 11, the writer reflects on the faith of Abraham, and how, although he did not know where God was calling him, he obeyed and followed. Wherever he went, he went with the knowledge that this earth was not his final resting place. Instead, “He was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10) When we first moved into the New York Society for Ethical Culture’s building on the corner of 64th Street and Central Park West, we had no way of knowing how God would use this church’s presence for the good of the Lincoln Square neighborhood. But in one short year, we’ve begun to get a glimpse.
Though New York Society for Ethical Culture and Redeemer Lincoln Square don’t share similar beliefs when it comes to faith, we have been reminded of and encouraged by how God works through relationships of all kinds. We’ve made new friends with those on staff at the building, and we’ve been extremely blessed to have their help each week as we get things ready for our Sunday services. The building has also created a venue for us as we consider what sort of events we can hold throughout the week; we got a taste of this with our first-ever Open Forum back in February, and there’s no question that New York Society for Ethical Culture provided a friendly and warm space for LSQ congregants to invite their friends to hear our discussion on the role of religion in today’s society.
And of course, as we step outside of the building, it’s hard to walk too far without being reminded of one of the most important Sunday rituals in this city: brunch! Thanks to the selflessness of so many in our congregation, each Sunday we have around 10-20 newcomers greeted and welcomed by our Brunch Bunch team, and they go out into the neighborhood to eat together and learn more about one another. Though this may seem like a small step forward, it has proven to be one of the best ways for visitors to feel immediately connected to the neighborhood and church body, often leading these people toward considering membership, joining community groups, and volunteering.
It isn’t a surprise, then, that the growth of this congregation’s love and involvement in supporting the Lincoln Square neighborhood has coincided with a literal growth of congregants within the church. When we first launched, our average attendance was in the upper 200s, growing to the 400s in late spring, and now nearing 600 every week. What that means is our church’s capacity to care and pray for Lincoln Square is only growing, and as seats continue to fill on Sunday mornings, we hope that our presence might be felt more and more, not for our own benefit or the glory of any one person, but so that all in our neighborhood might feel known and cared for by the very God in whose image they are created.
It’s only been a year, and we’ve already seen God at work not just within the walls of our sanctuary, but throughout the streets of the Lincoln Square neighborhood. In their book Stay in the City, Mark Gornik and Maria Liu Wong write about the vast number of people across NYC, and the world, who leave their homes to “sing, pray, hear the word, and share a meal ... Surprised by what God is doing in the city? You are not alone. We are continually.”
We are, too, and like Abraham, we look forward to that city with foundations built by God. Until then, we look forward to continuing to support, care for, and pray with our neighborhood.