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.