August 2008


Since it began 19 years ago, Redeemer has always maintained a vision and committment to serving – in an overt and intentional way -the city of New York.  In the same way that Christ left the magnificence of his Father’s throne and came to live and dwell among us and serve us through the ultimate sacrifice of his life and death and resurrection, we too are called to join him as servants in our walks of life and not participate as mere consumers.  Last night people from 7 fellowship groups who meet in the vicinity of the Upper West Side met to share a meal together and hear about opportunities they would have to participate in one of the 36 affiliate ministries working with Hope for New York (HFNY).  This clustering of fellowship groups by neighborhood is a new iniative emerging from Congregational Life, which is being piloted with just 3 clusters but is intended to address the mezzanine level of connection that has largely been absent in a church of our size.   Apart from providing another way for folks at Redeemer to connect more consistenty with one another, from the outset, the ultimate goal has been missional.   

Here at Redeemer, in large part, 2 levels of connection have been emphasized:  the citizen layer which is characterized by attendance at one of our services, that gives one a sense of being connected to a body of believers and suggests that “I am part of something bigger than myself”, and the family level, characterized by belonging to a fellowship group, where one is  known and cared for.  The mezzanine or neighborhood level, characterized by mid-size types of gathering, where one develops a sense of being seen and valued, has been harder to achieve.  However, a glimer of it’s possiblity, through fellowship groups, is beginning to show promise in the cluster that met last night. 

In this our 3rd monthly meeting together, on the penthouse floor of a beautiful apartment building in mid-town with fantastic views of the Manhattan skyline, about 20 people spent the evening munching on burritos and exchanging summer stories.  The highlight, however, was listening to Juliet Yera, Volunteer Coordinator for HFNY, give an impassioned call to get involved in the numerous opportunities that exist for groups to volunteer and serve together.  She shared how New York City has 1.7 million people (which is 20% of the population) living below the poverty level (less than $10,000 a year – how is that even possible?), and despite how  knowing this can just feel overwhelming that change for these folks is possible and occurs one person at a time.  After watching a brief HFNY video and hearing stories of lives touched by the love shown by volunteers, we talked about possible volunteer opportunities for our group.  Because the Upper West Side is an affluent section of New York City, and beyond the reach of most urban poor to live here, few opportunities exist to serve in this neighborhood.  However, this group grasped full well the concept that Jesus did not remain in  the comfort and familiarity of his neighborhood but ventured cosmically beyond it for our sakes, and He calls us to ‘go and do likewise’.  By the end of the evening, 12 humble souls signed up to spend a Saturday morning in September serving a meal at Father’s Heart, a ministry on the Lower East Side that seeks to demonstrate God’s love through practical expressions of compassion.  A single touch from our cluster to the folks at Father’s Heart is not likely to bring about life long change but its a start.  It signals that our group is willing to step out from its neighborhood, one volunteer opportunity at a time, and the hope is, that it will become the first of many such forrays beyond the mezzanine.

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cityPSALM is a blog I’m starting as a way to keep in touch with the 20-something small group leaders I have the priviledge of serving with at Redeemer.  I am one of 6 fellowship group directors that form the core of the fellowship group department at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York city.  Each director oversees 20 – 40 groups (the number ebbs and flows as groups multiply, merge, or fold)  and one of our key responsibilities is to identify, develop, assist, and care for our small group leaders as they lead their fellowship groups.   Fellowship groups are groups of 6-10 people who meet together regularly to worship, disucss the Bible, pray, and serve, where the power and presence of Jesus Christ is experienced through authentic gospel community.  As Directors, we care for our group leaders by working closely with leader-coaches, who are women and men who lead their own group and then walk alongside 2 -4 other group leaders, providing each of them with a closer level of support and care than we are able to realistically provide.   This structure then enables us as directors to each oversee a system of a few hundred people where every person is known and cared for,  even if we are unable to personally provide that care in a direct way, given the large size of our church.  Redeemer has 5,000 people attending one of five services each Sunday and about half of these folks are plugged into small groups.  

What is cityPSALM?  This title stands for City People Serving And Leading Ministries, so PSALM is an acronym and the ministries we’re involved in are fellowship groups.  In the Bible, the Psalms are a collection of poems written at many different times.  These poems, which reflect a diverse array of human emotions, are, as CS Lewis asserts, like poetry in general, “a little incarnation[al], giving body to what had been before invisible and inaudible”.  In the same humble way, when we as leaders enter the lives of those in our groups by loving them, caring for them, and sharing with them the hope that comes from living out of a gospel perspective, we are being incarnational as well.  And since we are doing this in New York City, we are a people who have been called by God to live and work here to be a part of building this great city for all people. The vision of Redeemer is that through a movement centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ who brings about personal conversion, community formation, social justice, and cultural renewal, we are participating in the transformation of New York City.  Because New York is a global city of incredible influence, through our efforts in New York City, we are partnering with God to transform the whole world!  Exciting isn’t it?   

the gateway to this great city

the gateway to this great city