It Takes A Church

Late spring is filled with transitions and milestones in family life. Two things are true at the same time: the graduations, concerts, recitals, championship games, report cards and other moments will bring much pleasure, pride, and sense of accomplishment. During this season also, inevitably, parents notice other emotions: anxiety, loss, sadness, and regret as goals are missed, milestones are unreached, and different paths are taken. Grieving that which never existed feels real. When our staff team attended the Sticky Faith Summits in Pasadena in 2016, the trainers addressed the room packed with eager youth pastors and offered this wise insight: “all those parents you work with? They all feel guilty most of the time.” Parents feel guilty that they’ve failed their children, haven’t done enough, have misread situations. I certainly have felt that. During seasons that bring enormous institutionalized milestones like graduations and report cards, refraining from mulling over what-ifs when there have been disappointments is about as easy as not wiggling a tooth.

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You’ve heard of elevator speeches? They are the nimble, concise answers to any number of questions one may encounter. Almost every industry requires its employees to have ready answers of varying lengths. Motivational speakers urge us to develop our own. They aren’t the entirely modern invention that the name suggests. In 1 Peter 3:15 we are told to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Parenting is no different. And in that industry? We mostly need to give these speeches to ourselves.

Each Winter, the 4th-5th-6th grades go on a retreat. We practice listening to God and developing some chops to discern truth from lies. I hear myself telling the kids on retreat elevator speeches I’ve told my own children so often they’re practically trademarked:

  • Our brains are wired to believe the things they hear, so care about the things you listen to;
  • Your brain believes the things you tell yourself even if they are lies;
  • If you hear lies from others or even tell yourself lies, you risk your brain starting to believe them …because… brains believe the things they hear.

And on and on. Again, not new words. In Philippians we read: “…whatever is true, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

The All Angels’ Blog launched this last January; it is quickly becoming a place where stories, experiences, and events are shared. I suggest it may also be a place where truth is shared—the kind of truth that combats lies. I have a particular interest in truth related to raising up and discipling (no, that was not disciplining as my spell check always suggests) the next generation and look forward to sharing stories, experiences and insights that I hope will encourage our community.

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My elevator speech to parents deep in the season of milestones and transitions, some achieved and some missed?

  • These are very full days. Notice all of your experiences and reactions. We read in Luke 2: “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
  • Hillary was right… but maybe didn’t go far enough. It takes a lot more than a village, it takes a church to raise a child. We must be part of a community.
  • You are not the worst parent in the world, and even if you are, which is doubtful, your child has another parent on the job: God, the Father. And He is a much better parent than any of us. Perfect even.

In fact—and today’s post is not the place for it, but I do intend to come back to this topic in a future post—it is some of those missed achievements and unreached milestones that can provide some of the most profound lessons for us and our families in our parenting journeys. So here’s one more elevator speech, for anyone reading this who is having one of those parental moments or days or even seasons of “what’s the point?”: Moses got the Israelites to the Promised Land—but only after 40 years of wandering, whining, complaining, idol worship, bacchanals and worse.  Let’s take our next steps, raising children, together.

— Mary Ellen Lehmann

Mary Ellen is the Director of Children and Youth Ministries at All Angels’ Church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Generosity

Many miracles and wonders were being done through the apostles, and everyone was filled with awe. All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. They would sell their property and possessions and distribute the money among all, according to what each needed. (Acts 2: 43-45)

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When Jordan and I first started talking about the work of the stewardship committee, these verses were a big part of forming our ideas about the vision that we were praying over for All Angels’. We were inspired by the way that the early believers did life together and how they lived out of generosity towards God and each other. They held their possessions lightly, holding them on outstretched hands for the inclusion, care and health of each other. Jordan and I started to envision what it would look like for All Angels’ to more fully embody that kind of spirit (both in our church and in the larger community) and we got psyched! Yes, we are stewardship nerds.

To help us explore these ideas, we did an exercise with our committee early on where we all shared personal experiences with generosity that helped shape what it means in our own lives. I wanted to briefly share my story and why it showed me the power of generosity.

I was 23 years old and had been traveling for a spell in South America after I completed graduate school. This particular day, I found myself on a small bus from Quito, Ecuador going to a town called Banos. This was a common bus route and the buses were often quite full. I suspect the same “capacity” regulations that I was used to in the U.S. did not quite apply in Ecuador.

Though I am an introvert, the children in the two seats in front of me and on my left eventually got the best of me with their charm and curiosity. In my broken Spanish I chatted with them, showed them my Walkman (yes, I am showing my age!) and let them take turns listening to my music. A couple of the children were brave enough to try my Altoids and I will never forget their wide eyed surprise and dismay at the spiciness of those “candies.”

A common practice in Latin America is for food vendors to hop on a bus at the first stop in a city, sell their wares and then hop off at the next stop. A couple of hours into the bus ride, the family purchased two bags of snacks from a food vendor, one for their family of 7 and one for me. This simple act of generosity worked to include me in their circle of affection that day — a stranger from a different country and origin, but accepted and cared for. It was a powerful experience.

Human beings are not born generous, we are birthed needing and taking and consuming to survive. We have to grow into our generosity, and that learning does not happen in a vacuum. Many experiences, such as this one, have shaped my understanding of what it looks like to live a generous life. Yes, theoretical and theological ideas about stewardship and abundance are important, but I have found that it is the consistent doing of practical acts on a regular basis that actually sets the foundation for what my life’s generosity looks like.

Over the course of my life, I am constantly learning and relearning that I am not bound by the things I have, but that I am free to give because God’s provision has always been abundantly and freely given to me. I need consistent reminders to trust that sense of abundance because my human nature, my fear, and my anxiety about my own security are always at odds with my heart’s desire to live life openhanded. 18 years later, I am still so grateful for that family. For me, they have been one of those consistent reminders of the power of living in and pouring out generosity – of what happens when we offer and share what we have with others, whatever that might be.

— Martha Lee

Martha Lee is a parishioner and co-chair of the Stewardship Committee at All Angels’ Church.

Reports from Tribeca 2018, Part 4

Brian Cress reflects on VR short film “The Hidden” in part 4 of the series.

This is Part 4 in a series of posts from members of the All Angels’ community who participated in this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Check out Part 1 for the series overview and Bryan Brown’s opening reflection on the film Blowin’ Up.


Brian Cress & The Hidden

Have you ever seen a VR film?

The better question may be, What is a VR film? Well, “VR” stands for Virtual Reality. Maybe you’ve seen commercials with people wearing what look like a huge set of goggles with a smartphone attached to the front. These devices allow you to watch a film, spin around, look up and down, and find yourself in the very middle of the action. It’s immersive and interactive, like real life. Hence the term “Virtual Reality”. VR has come a long way in the last several years, from gimmicky novelty flicks to the serious storytelling we’d expect to find at world-class film festivals like Tribeca and others.

Seth Little and I headed down to the Tribeca Virtual Arcade, donned our VR headsets and sat ourselves down in comfortable swivel chairs, allowing us to spin around 360-degrees to maximize the VR experience. We saw three short films presented as a group in Cinema360: VR FOR GOOD, but for this review I’ll only focus on one for both personal and professional reasons.

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Brian wearing the VR headset in the Tribeca Virtual Arcade

The Hidden follows Indian government officials, supported by International Justice Mission (IJM), as they carry out a daring raid to free a family living in slavery. We learn that there are currently more people living in slavery than at any other time in human history. This family has been enslaved in a rock quarry in southern India for 10 years—over a paltry debt of $70 USD. We see the family’s tiny home and listen in as one of their children is asked about schooling. The little girl responds that the quarry owner would not allow her to go to school and instead put her to work in the quarry. Their captor, the quarry owner, is confronted and arrested, and the family is evacuated to safety and freedom.

The story alone was compelling and the 360 filmography was very well done. It really felt like we were in on this daring raid with IJM and the Indian government officials. The film came across as real because it was real. The VR format lent a heightened sense of connection to the experience, but the subjects of the film really, truly experienced slavery…and rescue.

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The Cinema 360 theater at the Tribeca Festival Hub on Varick Street

And now for some disclosure. I work for IJM and remember when the film crew was in India. We prayed daily as a staff for the filming and celebrated when we heard the raid was successful and that the film crew was able to capture it. More personally, I have traveled to India and visited rock quarries and met rescued slaves just like the family rescued in the film. I remember one rescued slave sharing with me how they had cried out to God to be rescued. It was the God of IJM who heard their cries and whom they want to follow now. This is Isaiah 1:17 being lived out: “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

It is great to see God’s passion for justice presented in a new, exciting, compelling way through VR storytelling, opening a door for those who may never set foot in a church to experience God’s desire for freedom for the oppressed and to envisage their own role in the global work for justice.

Brian Cress
For more information about IJM go to www.IJM.org.

Brian Cress is Director of Denomination and Youth Mobilization for International Justice Mission and a member of the All Angels’ community along with his wife Lori. He bears the distinction of being our only participant to have a direct connection to a film in this year’s festival.

Reports from Tribeca 2018, Part 3

This is Part 3 in a series of posts from members of the All Angels’ community who participated in this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Check out Part 1 for the series overview and Bryan Brown’s opening reflection on the film Blowin’ Up.


Trevor St. John-Gilbert & “Tanzania Transit”

Trevor St. John-Gilbert is a professional actor and part-time staff youth leader here at All Angels’. He attended a screening of “Tanzania Transit” on Monday, April 23.

What was the movie about?

Tanzania Transit is a documentary by Jeroen Van Velzen that depicts life aboard a train in Tanzania. Specifically, we follow three story lines throughout the hour-long documentary. The first depicts a Masaai grandfather and grandson who are traveling back to their village. The second, a woman who is hoping to start a new life. The third, a preacher who is planting churches across Tanzania.

How did you like it?

I really enjoyed the movie. I don’t typically watch documentaries, so this wasn’t a movie I’d have gone out of my way to see. That said, I’m very glad I did. It was fascinating to see the cultural differences between us. Their culture is very religious, and they are much more open to spiritual topics and conversation than Americans. It was surprising for instance to see how the preacher was able to open up conversations with relative ease. The other thing that surprised me was the moment the train runs over a cow. Everyone hops off the train and is celebrating because food has been provided for them. They make a fire and cook it up right there! In America there’s no way a train runs over anything and we’re happy to eat it.

What do you think the filmmakers are saying with this film?

To be honest, I’m not so sure they were trying to say anything with this film. The director was there for a Q and A afterwards and it really seemed that his desire was to tell these people’s stories. It was very much up to you to interpret the stories how you wanted to interpret them. There really seemed to be no bias in the film itself. For instance, the director thought the preacher was very manipulative, but that wasn’t what I thought at all from watching the movie. It was interesting to see that the director’s opinions of people weren’t seeping through. He honestly just shot footage and put it together for us to see, then to draw our own conclusions.

As far as how the movie connects to the world, I think specifically Americans will be appalled at the treatment of women. I think it shows that even though we’ve made progress in equal treatment here in America that there is still so far to go. Hearing a woman’s story of being married off at 14 to a man who she doesn’t know and then essentially being raped just makes you furious.

It’s also a reminder of the gap in wealth. It’s clear and easy to see it when you’re on the outside, for instance when you watch this movie. But it reminded me that it’s harder for me to see when I’m on the subway. How do I treat those with less? Am I caring for the poor and needy and the oppressed?

How should Christians respond to this film?

For me there were a couple things that really hit home. One was the stories of broken people. On the train you saw racism between tribes, you heard stories of sexual harassment and abuse, you witnessed people treating one another in sub-human ways. You also saw pockets of beauty and courage and hope. It’s a reminder that we’re all human, we all have stories, dreams, and desires. We also all struggle with sin and need help, need a Savior. Specifically, it was a reminder to me and a challenge to remain open to what God is asking of me. Seeing people’s humanity, seeing everyone as a person is really tough sometimes but so worth it when you do.

The other was watching this preacher. It was interesting to watch him because basically he would walk up and down the cars praying for people and selling his book. The things he was saying seemed mostly to line up with scripture and Jesus, but you did question his motives at times. He didn’t seem that humble, but I wondered how much of that is a cultural difference.  Watching him made me ask myself what are the things that I do that make people wonder if my faith is genuine. It also made me pause and wonder how much time I spend worrying about other people’s faith versus just following Jesus myself.

How was the experience overall?

Overall it was an amazing experience! I so enjoyed going down to Chelsea to see the move at such a nice theatre. It was also and premiere with the director, so it was really cool to hear him talk about the film. It made the whole experience way more real. This was my first time at the Tribeca Film Festival and it definitely left me feeling more connected to New York and to film scene here!

Reports from Tribeca 2018, Part 2

This is Part 2 in a series of posts from members of the All Angels’ community who participated in this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Check out Part 1 for the series overview and Bryan Brown’s opening reflection on the film Blowin’ Up.


Ariana Miller & Blowin’ Up

Blowin’ Up is a documentary that embodies the verse “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)  It introduces the viewer to a Queens-based trial-diversion program which offers women charged with prostitution and human-trafficking-related crimes the opportunity to avoid trial and have their charges dismissed if they participate in a program designed to help women reflect on their experiences and create an alternative life for themselves.
Being arrested, charged, and brought before a judge is rightly an intimidating and anxiety-invoking prospect.  But rather than fear of judgment, the documentary represents the redemptive potential of the law in drawing a line defining what society will not tolerate, the purpose not being to condemn, but to present individuals with the option to choose a better path and providing a guide along that path.
The absence of the men profiting from and taking advantage of the exploitation of these women forms a palpable void in the film and the courtroom it observes.  Yet women who found themselves in complicated personal situations marked by desperation which were also exacerbated by their exploitation often seemed resistant to characterizing themselves as victims.   One who turned to prostitution to help a jailed boyfriend confessed, “I don’t believe I was human trafficked.  I chose to do that.”  Another who had paid a large sum to immigrate from China to escape oppressive debt asked herself, “I had been in bad situations before and I never did that.  Why do it now?”
Their advocates, rather than manipulating such admissions to induce guilt or shame, probe that emotional awareness to help the women find their deeper, more life-affirming desires.  And not far beneath the surface, lie yearnings so simple and sweet that the viewer cannot help but see girlish innocence.  Asked where she wanted to be a year from now, one young woman shyly admitted, “I want to be a housewife and have a kid.  Isn’t that what everyone wants?”
The trouble, though, was that, regardless of the situations that led to prostitution, once they had entered into it, they found themselves trapped, threatened, and subjected to violence.  What seemed like a means to an end quickly became a prison.
Despite the unfairness of women being targeted by law enforcement while their exploiters often remained free, most of the women, had they not been arrested, would have remained vulnerable to those exploiting them.   Some had recently arrived to the country, spoke little English and so could easily be kept on the margins of society, unknown, unseen and uncared for.  For those who know their cities well, a web of entanglements make it difficult to extricate oneself.  Providing the title of the film, one woman emphasized how hard it is to “blow up,” meaning to cut ties on one’s own and leave “the life” behind.
And so, the ability to summon these women before the law provides the opportunity for society to bring them out of the shadows, from the dark alleyways and dim parlors to the sometimes harsh light of an open courtroom where they are seen and heard, supported and even celebrated for choosing goodness.  In Blowin’ Up, we are presented with a picture of how law and grace work not in contradiction to one another, but rather in coordination with one another.  We see that compassion can come through accountability.  And at a time when stories abound of law enforcement and the judicial system being used to undermine lives, this film provides a look at what we might aspire to.

Ariana Miller is a parishioner and vestry member at All Angels’ and an attorney by vocation. She attended a screening of Blowin’ Up with fellow parishioners Bryan Brown and Elam Lantz on Saturday, April 21, the first screening in our lineup.

Reports from Tribeca 2018, Part 1

About the Series

Tribeca Film Festival 2018 is now on the books and All Angels’ was there! We sent 15 people to 7 films over 6 days. They saw 3 narrative features, 3 documentary features and 1 compilation of VR (virtual reality) documentary shorts. Several of these movies were premiers with filmmakers, cast, and crew members present in the theater for Q&A.

I asked each participant to reflect on their experience and to share their observations with the rest of us. I offered the following questions to guide their reflection and give some consistency to the various responses:

  • What was the movie about? Identify the film and describe it briefly for those who haven’t seen it.
  • How did you like it? Have you seen movies like this before? Is it a genre you like or dislike? Were there any moments in the film that you found interesting or important?
  • What does it mean? What do you think the filmmakers are saying with this film? Do you think this is something worth being said? Why or why not? How does the movie connect with the world, this city, your community, these times?
  • How should Christians respond? Does it say anything about God or the Bible? Does it challenge a particular practice or belief? Does it highlight a value that Christians should champion or reflect upon? What does it teach us? Does it mean anything in particular for All Angels’ Church?
  • What was your experience of participating in the festival itself? Did you see a premiere? Were the filmmakers, cast, or crew present at your screening? Did it mean anything special to see the movie as part of Tribeca Film Festival?

This blog series is a showcase for our participants’ reflections. Please read and respond in the comments or “like” or share on Facebook if you find these valuable. And stay tuned for new posts over the next few weeks.


Bryan Brown & Blowin’ Up

All Angels’ parishioner and film buff Bryan Brown may be best known for his guitar chops which can be enjoyed in worship on Sunday evenings, but he moonlights as a writer (well, daylights, actually), producing social studies content for a national magazine for elementary-aged readers. Bryan saw Blowin’ Up with two others from AAC on Saturday, 4/21, our first screening of the festival.

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My movie report
Bryan Brown, 5th grade
Mr. Little’s class 

Blowin’ Up

Being a documentary of a year in the life of a unique chamber of Queens Criminal Court. In this courtroom there operates a kind of catch-and-release program—GEMS, by acronym—in which women arrested in prostitution sweeps are given a chance to go through a series of counseling sessions instead of proceeding straight to jail. If the sessions are completed and the women are not arrested again within six months, their records are wiped clean. We follow a couple of specific cases, most prominently Kandie (I think; the film doesn’t identify people and it is possible to get lost in the swimming by of faces), who successfully completes the program and lands a job in Pennsylvania; a chance to start over. But our main focus is on three women of the court; Judge Toko Serita; Eliza Hook, an attorney with GEMS who works in the courtroom; and a counselor whose sessions we attend. (The film’s title, as Kandie explains, is slang for breaking with one’s pimp; but that’s not really part of the story.)

So many impressions and emotions attended the watching of this film. One was how kind everybody was to these young women. Judge Serita begins each encounter with a smile and an inquiry after their disposition. There is not a moment on camera when she is short with anyone, despite going through (it would seem) as many as 100 cases or more a day. Eliza says to Kandie (I believe) that she has no judgment of her—that is, even if she were to return to the life, Eliza would not judge her. The counselor is very gentle with her young charges, Chinese immigrants, whose faces—worried, silently weeping—are obscured.

Hey—even the prosecutor was kind. She was there to uphold the law, and you could tell she didn’t completely buy into the easy forgiveness, but she was willingly a part of the process.

Second: How little it is we see. The film punctuates its scenes with shots of Chinatowns, a sea of signs offering massages, within them photos of ordinary Anglo women and men getting rubdowns. The faces of young women on the street, in doorways. It’s not like the rooms above the saloon in Dodge City where we know what’s happening. We see these things all the time and don’t register them.

Third: How easy it is to slip, to fall. Kandie (who is African-American, and seems sharp and funny) tells us it was her choice to enter the life. It was easy; now it’s hard to get out. The majority of young women we see are immigrants who paid extortion to some kind of coyote to get them into the country and were promised jobs only to find themselves at massage parlors—then were forced into or found themselves servicing men. Much more vulnerable than Kandie, they can be deported at the drop of a hat. So after they complete their sessions, what are they going to do?

How many people in the world are like this? Most of the people in our ordered orbit, whatever our troubles, have some kind of safety net. These women have none.

I found myself thinking of the encounters Jesus had with women. People who were powerless in their culture. (This could be an interesting book.) Especially the woman taken in adultery. Those remarkable moments after Jesus invites those without sin to cast the first stone, when he’s letting her accusers slip away. Did no one condemn you? Neither do I. Go and sin no more.

Well, how likely is that? (A film fanatic’s favorite moment: When Burt Lancaster says “Go and sin no more” in Sweet Smell of Success to a young woman he’s warned off an affair with a powerful married man.) I thought also of forgiveness. How many times will Kandie slip up, blow off her job, take some easy money? Seventy times seven? How constantly do I forgive those who, in my account, violate my social/political/existential space? How easily does my righteous anger become pride?

It’s easy to extrapolate from these women to our home-challenged men and women at All Angels. They are a main reason I go there. How often do they slip and fall? What happens then?

This is also interesting: The film gives no opinion about the institution of prostitution. It doesn’t attempt to fix blame on men who keep the business going. The oldest profession. It’s part of life—like poverty. The poor will be with you always. So what can you do?

I found myself unexpectedly moved at the end of the film when so many of the participants were there. Particularly, the judge, the lawyer, and the counselor. Even some of the men you saw in the court (bailiffs?), who said nothing in the film and whose attitudes were obscure; a beefy, Queens-looking guy and a tall, taciturn fellow. They were there and embracing all around. These were people who were doing something real.

Sacramental Mattresses

Just over a year ago, a few members of the staff and vestry began to reach out to what we call the All Angels’ Diaspora—a group of former All Angels’ members who, though they have moved away or found churches closer to home, are still deeply committed to our family and the mission God has called us to. In particular, we have highlighted Community Ministries as a way to stay connected. This Christmas, we put out a call to the AAC Diaspora to help us purchase new “sacramental mattresses,” as we knew the ones we had would only last through one more rough NYC winter!

Now that the weather has warmed, we are ready to do some Spring cleaning and toss out those old, duct taped mattresses we sleep on each week. We wrote a short update to the Diaspora to let them know of the role they are playing in our much needed shelter cleanup.

Read the update below and rejoice with us in God’s goodness as he continues to meet the needs of our community.


Dear All Angels’ Family,

You made it happen! This winter we put out an ask to our All Angels’ Diaspora to help us raise $5,000 to cover the cost of new mattresses for our Sunday night emergency shelter. I am pleased to report that we reached our goal with your help!

For those of you following the news about the state of homelessness in New York City, it will be no surprise that this past winter was one of the busiest seasons we have seen at our All Angels’ shelter in years. Homelessness is increasing around the nation and is overwhelming in New York City. The number of men, women, and children living in shelters and on the streets has increased by 25% in the last two years to at least 81,000 people. Mayor Bill de Blasio has declared a “homelessness crisis” yet the city continues to lack in affordable housing. As one of the few churches in Manhattan actively committed to serving those struggling with homelessness, our privately run shelter continues to be a place where the street homeless come to find respite.

With the increasing need for shelter in our city, All Angels’ is in the process of discerning the long-term goals of our shelter program, including our capacity of care. In the meantime, we will be replacing our old cots and mattresses for the 13 women and 25 men who stay overnight on a regular basis.

Mattresses may seem mundane but they are nonetheless sacramental, “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” To provide a mattress is a concrete, tangible sign of that grace. 

Once we purchase our new mattresses this Spring, we will anoint and pray over them, that God will provide rest to the weary each Sunday night and the nights in between. We cherish the prayers you pray along with us.

Thank you for your love and generosity. May God’s grace abound to you so that you may abound in every good work.

—Chelsea Horvath, Director of Community Ministries