Welcome Malin and Seren

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Naomi’s pregnancy had been healthy and trouble-free, but it was with quite a lot of drama that our babies, two beautiful daughters, were born. High blood pressure (dangerously high) and preeclampsia meant we were called in for Naomi to be checked at the hospital at 10pm and then the babies were out two hours later, just after midnight on May 6th . So we are now a family of 6 plus dog. Will our life ever be so full of family and domestic rhythms as they are now? Malin and Seren are thriving. And Asha and Kirin are deeply committed alongside – as totally supportive siblings.

So what has been happening ?

On the evening that turned into the night that our babies were born we had about thirty children and adults performing traditional Mariachi songs out on 104th Street, bringing traffic to a halt or slow respectful pace, as people crossed and re-crossed the street to taste mole poblano and hot dogs. The Cinco de Mayo fiesta is bigger here in New York than it is in most of Mexico apparently!

One of the drivers who opened his window to hear the music better asked “what sort of church is this ?” I said, “oh, it’s a church where the neighbors come first”. Not theologically profound, but accurate. The last two years have been dominated by a passion to engage. We want to be friends with our 104th street neighbors, and this spirit of reaching and interweaving our lives (church congregation) with our multiple heritage world neighborhood in which we are situated has been gathering momentum.

For 25 afternoons of July we are deploying pairs of volunteers, “17 year olds and 70 year olds”, I keep saying (we have that interesting combo of ages in mind) to ask residents of our 20 blocks “what’s your story?” In particular we are pushing people to say what their hopes are for this part of East Harlem, and what they can offer of their own talents and skills to make these hopes more likely to come true.

Every week we will wheel a piano into the middle of the neighborhood, and on some street corner or piece of public space hold an event called “The Well” which will involve music, art, food, and a re-teling of stories we have heard over the previous afternoons.

This Listening Project is going to absorb all our time and energy as a church for the whole of July and two High Schools and about 6 other church and community groups are forming a partnership with us to deliver this. What we think we are moving towards is a new form of residents’ association that will open doors and make it easier to “build capacity”. The neighborhood needs people to come forward to show the leadership in confronting problems, and the Listening Project is an up-beat and unusual way of finding some of these activists and dreamers. This is the sort of approach to church-planting which makes the neighbors “come first”. The congregation is growing, and will grow more and more. But the love is flowing, the loyalty to East Harlem is tangible, the common concerns that unite us are getting to be our passion and focus as neighbors and church. This is what communicates the Christian faith in our bit of the city more effectively than almost anything else we could be doing with our time. It’s a wonderful, colorful and increasingly musical adventure we seem to be embarked on right now, as we push the stroller round and round with two new family members safely on board.

Naomi has just recently completed another flower installation, this time for FLUX Art Fair in Harlem http://www.fluxfair.nyc.  Lotus took her 2 months to complete and she was eager to get it finished not just for the April deadline but before the likely early arrival of the babies. Sure enough 12 days after sewing the giant flower onto the fence the babies were here.

NYC Parks have granted her permission (signed contract!) to leave the piece up for a year and she is in discussion with them about having some of her older pieces put up in the unused spaces below the Metro North railway line along Park Avenue and 124th Street.

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Multiplication

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IMG_2371Yes, there are twins on the way. We are 17 weeks this week, due in May.

The kids are super excited and as they see it they get one each! Not sure what Bobby will make of it yet and somehow we will fit into our apartment, after all, its been done before here (4 kids).

We are feeling grateful, expectant at the same time as nervous and at times a little overwhelmed (Naomi). There are big changes ahead but what a gift this is and its something we have hoped and prayed about for quite some time.

Seeing our neighborhood, with the color turned-up

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“De Colores” – “In colors” is a folk song, which many of our neighbors have known from childhood. On September 19th we used that as the title of our blow-out street party at which 350 people sat down for a banquet, traditional Mexican food and Mariachi and Piñatas. The celebration came three days after Mexican Independence Day but we majored on the theme of “I am 104th” as we wanted to see if it was possible to get the residents of nearly all these apartments to come out on their street and listen to music, get stuck into to creative projects, do sports activities, or just hang out and party. Our church were there among hundreds of people who came and went through the afternoon and evening, and it was quite obvious that none of us could believe that it was the runaway success that it was.

A week later we had the Pope visit our neighborhood: Asha and Kirin’s school was on his itinerary which once again made us feel what an extraordinary few blocks we live on. How proud to welcome a Pope. To be the first elementary school that a pope has ever visited was big kudos for our neighbors.

We are on our way back from a three day Conference in Memphis that focused our attention on the “invisible” people, undocumented migrants, and reconnected us with the themes that were at the center of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and continue to be needing action today. Mass incarceration, under-resourced schools, and Black Lives Matter are there at the front of our minds and so is the strong urge to see a church, which has made this neighborhood its own. We are becoming every month closer to the thousands who live in the walkups and projects around our 104th Street home. Our growing church community is learning what it is to make their issues and challenges, their color and energy become part of our new life, as church and neighborhood face the future, together. Some adventure, as we follow Jesus out into these streets!

In colors, in colors, Yes

Black and white and red and blue and brown.

All the colors, colors

From people laughing, and shaking hands.

All the colors, colors

From people who know freedom.

 

And that is why I love

The great loves of many colors

Eating in Color

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Manhattan has 263 streets, we live on E104th. That is puts us in perspective!

But learning how to live well on E104th is a sufficiently big calling to require all our focus, determination and deliberate intent.

Since the moment our kitchen was completed earlier this year we have been welcoming people in to eat with us. We basically jump at any chance to host a meal. Anything ranging from Naomi’s Artist Working Group Reunion to our weekly Open House meal which commenced at Easter. We have our regulars and then we have those who stop by when they can. And then we have those who have moved away who will be missed but their seat will be filled by another.

Vegetarian food is prepared by Naomi, sometimes Chris and the people who come have been very content to eat whatever we offer. We hope that as time passes our guests will feel welcome to help prepare a meal but thats not our priority at this stage. Sometimes people have been known to go out within five minutes of arriving to buy soda from the corner shop, horrified that we don’t automatically have it on tap! Jacqueline always brings fudge-pops and Pedro is our refreshment guy.

“Feeding each other” has become the theme for September. On the afternoon of Saturday September 19th we are planning for 100 people to sit down together and share one meal on this street. These 100 people are our neighbors that live in apartments between 3rd and Lexington Avenue on E104th Street. All are neighbors but they don’t necessarily know one another or each others names.

“DE COLORES” is the working title of what we sincerely believe can become an annual “street feast”. Closing the road and removing all cars for 12 hours is something Manhattan offers for a $25 fee. Chris could hardly believe it was so “simple”. But to close the street and obtain the permit is not the same as filling that street with the sounds, flavors, colors and energy of East Harlem in an unforgettable Fiesta of fun. The street will be lined and bursting with color (if Naomi has anything to do with it) but she promises not to cover every tree in ‘crochet’. What started with the two of us is now a working committee of more than ten residents and friends. So please pray for us as we learn how to take our place, humbly learning what does and doesn’t work, as we imagine, plan and put together a program for the day, and as we learn what food is acceptable, and what people are prepared to do and not do in this experiment in new neighborliness.

Why so quiet…

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Neither of us can explain why but we just felt unable to post anything for what seems an eternity. It kept coming up but I think after such along journey we just needed to rest in the space and feel like we were coming down to land.

And now just last weekend the first Lawrence birthday took place in the beautiful new Lawrence home. Our preteen Asha has turned 12 and what a beautiful young woman she is becoming. She epitomizes what has got us through these past long months. Gratitude, adventure, compassion and faithfulness.

Christmas was a fun but none-stop busy time for Chris at Living Hope and he is loving any opportunity to project words, light and color onto the facade of the building. Our Easter season has begun with an ashing service in collaboration with Father Peter of St Cecilia’s Catholic Parish. We are using our RAGs tag (Random Acts of Generosity) over the lenten period to be generous to our neighbors whether thats cleaning their stoop, baking cookies or leaving coins on fences (Asha).

Naomi continues to make giant yarn flowers which is still receiving a positive welcome from the neighbors. A crafty ladies NYC plant is imminent, starting on the 1st Tuesday in March.

We feel like we are settling into our day to day routine now, the kids are settled at school and we continue to have a steady stream of visitors with the MacInnes family just weeks away now. VERY excited about that one, Kirin is already planning the agenda.

Getting to know your neighbors, I (Naomi) think that’s a big one for us now. We’re already doing it but the deepening of those relationships, building the trust, working together, providing the support and what I’ve also witnessed is that they too want to feel like they’re supporting us. Showing our vulnerability, asking for help. It works both ways.

Spring is just around the corner. We’re doing it, we’re living here full blown now. What an adventure.

Thank you for all your prayers and concerns over the difficult times. We knew you were there.

Clean and Clear

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The apartment was back in the hands of the church at 9pm on Saturday night. By 4pm today it was finally clear & clean. One of the lovely moments was finding 1970s tiles down between the skirting, possibly dating back to the Calverts time (the founding Minister & family).

Next we need to remodel the bathroom and the kitchen and give the whole place a fresh coat of bright white paint.

Not long now. Thank you for all your prayers and support over these difficult months and especially in the last few weeks.

Right now is the needed time

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Kids

By Chris.

We seem to be camping in the church, which is supposed to be our home.

That is not what we expected. We had a temporary apartment ten blocks north and then when it seemed the church apartment was becoming free we moved out of there. But then we had to start ‘camping’ in the church hall. The result has been a stressful time of waiting for the marshal (bailiff) to visit to get the sitting tenant out of the top floor apartment but then the court system let us down.

So we are in a waiting time. And we prayed at church the other day:

Right now is the needed time

Now is the needed time

Right now is the needed time   

Oh Jesus won’t you come by here

Oh Jesus won’t you come by here 

Down on my knees a prayin’

Down on my knees a prayin’

Jesus won’t you come by here

This is not a personal family affair only. The church has been used to having its Minister and family living upstairs and it really emphasizes that we at Living Hope are called to this neighborhood. 7000 people live on seven blocks immediately around us. We can walk the dog round that many people in 10 minutes. But growing a church is about making a space in our lives for neighbors, not just pacing the streets. I pray that we as the Lawrence family and the church will find the Holy Spirit scaling or sometimes even breaking through the “walls” of our hearts, enabling us to grow in compassion and solidarity with those who live here and in this way demonstrate that our Savior is alive. We have nothing to share if there isn’t a work in our hearts, performing the life-resurrecting, cross-carrying message, in everyday contexts.

May love and compassion and generosity increase among us through the weeks ahead.

By Naomi.

The summer has flown by with a steady flow of visitors, the last one just 2 weeks ago was a real special one: Poppa aka David Adeney. We are looking forward to seeing the Moreton’s this weekend and then Gene Feder, Elsie from Liverpool and then it will be Christmas! And Autumn is definitely here. The temperature has suddenly dropped and from what I hear its over and done with pretty quickly and then the winter is here for quite some time. People don’t moan about the weather here though which is refreshing. They embrace it, take it head on. Thats what we are facing with our living situation. We have had moments of despair and devastation, where you feel your chest is going to crave in because of the pain. But then we dust ourselves off and celebrate what we DO have. Thats what this picture represents. One of the devastating moments hit me and Chris particularly badly but the line ‘before my enemies you prepare a banquet feast’ seemed to bring us some peace and a fantastic idea. We decided to collect the kids from school together, jump in a cab and head to a proper all American diner for a slap up meal. We broke the news to the kids as we ate burgers and drank milkshakes and margaritas! The road is bumpy but this is New York and we love it. We feel grateful every day for the chance to live here in this wonderful city and to be here because its where He wants us to be. And anyway, houses and apartments are overrated…. We have a good church hall (our bedroom, dining room and family space), a church office (kids bedroom), the church kitchen and one of the church loos all to ourselves. We have regular visitors in the form of the Mexican Church and the N-A weekly meeting all of whom are getting to know Bobby very well. No time or experience will be wasted. This is just a bit different to the experience we thought we would be having but there’s no rush.