People at Mosaic Baptist Church
Texans Visit Brooklyn to Volunteer and CLEAN nostrand
A delegation of eleven young Baptists from the Dallas/Fort Worth area came to Brooklyn for a visit. I first encountered them at Mosaic Baptist Church during the Sunday service on March 10. They are leaving on March 15 and have a busy schedule while in the city. However, Stephen Stallard, the pastor at Mosaic, arranged for them to help with litter pick up on the avenue. So on Monday, March 11 there were fifteen people doing this job, a record number. Stephen and I were there and two of my interns plus the eleven visitors. I divided the group into four teams with three or four members. I took one, Stephen took another, my intern Christopher took a third and Daniel, the leader of the Texas visitors took the fourth. In one day we cleaned up the entire length of Nostrand Avenue from Empire Boulevard to Fulton Street, a total of twenty blocks and we also cleaned the six blocks of the Lincoln Civic Block Association, and then on Wednesday we did the same thing again.
I was struck by how open and friendly the group was, how hard working, and how interested they were in everything to do with New York City. They stayed at the Best Western Motel on Atlantic Avenue in three rooms. The result was they may not have slept very well as it seems there was always someone awake. However, lack of sleep did not dampen this group's spirit. In addition to picking up litter, they passed out cards to interest people in Mosaic. They explored the local restaurants for lunch and dinner and they visited various places in New York. The Strand Bookstore was on the list, the 9/11 site and the Freedom Tower, Times Square, and two people who had worked on my team, Ian and Bree, whom I met at Colina Cuervo, expressed an interest in going to a meeting of Community Board 8, perhaps not at the top of every tourist's list. I found out another member of my team, who was the head of the girls in the group had acted as a matchmaker in her church and was willing to do the same for Ian. She also said she would love to come to New York and be a nanny. She certainly did a good job of managing the girls in the group who ranged in age from freshmen in high school to young women in their twenties.
These young people wanted to do this trip. They had to raise some of the funds for it which were matched by the church, and they had to accept the crowded living conditions at the motel. However, they seemed to be delighted by whatever it was they were doing and they did it with hard work and focus. I was delighted with their work on the avenue and it was fun to answer their questions about New York and find out about Texas. They were impressed with the diversity of Crown Heights and the extremes of poverty and wealth. My team were awed by the brownstones and trees lining Lincoln Place; we met Daniel Magariel, Celeste Stern and Mike Blue as we did our work. They were also amazed to hear that minimum wage in New York is now $15/hour against $7.25/hour in Texas. They were interested in being able to live without a car and gasped when they heard about rents in Crown Heights.
It was great fun to meet this group and all the ones I talked to hoped to return to New York next year.
– John DeWind
What is a church? First of all it is a place of worship that is different from other places. For a Protestant, church is a where one goes on Sunday to think about spiritual matters. In the case of Mosaic Baptist one first hears music – four to five songs to get one in the proper frame of mind. One might take communion; the congregation lines up to take bread and symbolic wine. One greets other members of the congregation and forms a prayer group, and then there is a sermon based on some passage in the Bible with the preacher endeavoring to make it relevant to the present, and finally more music to bring the service to an end. There is always the message that what happens on Sunday should be related to what happens on the other six days of the week, that what one thinks and feels should inform one's behavior after one leaves church.
However, a church is also the people who attend it, a community of individuals, a bit like an orchestra with everyone playing a different part. The conductor of this orchestra is Stephen, someone also raising a family, moving forward with his career, who recently had to deal with the death of his father. In the brief time I have known him, he has had a child with his wife Sonya, continued his studies for a doctorate, welcomed guests from other Baptist Churches and overseen a diverse and interesting group of people, and engaged in numerous activities. I have been struck by how much he brings day-to-day events to the pulpit – a scandal in the Texas branch of the Baptist Church, attacks on Jews in Crown Heights, a concern for the vulnerable, a movie he saw about the rescue at Entebbe, all interspersed with knowledge about the Christian practices as the church began. I found out his daughter Malia loves ballet and is taking a ballet class at Fit4Dance with her teacher Amber.
When Stephen can't be around on Sunday , his place is filled by Shawn, another person adept at tying his individual experience to the Bible. He works at Chase Bank and during my time at Mosaic I have watched his relationship with Rachel develop until they announced they intend to marry this summer. Woodley has also given some sermons which have been well received.
Music is an important part of what happens in the church. Phillip is a professional opera singer and takes a leading role, but Emily, Methinee and Salome all have beautiful voices and can be the lead or back up as needed. Emily is married to Thiessen who is the main keyboard player, and they have three children. She also runs an events business called Amethyst by Design. Methinee also plays the keyboard and sometimes tends the children of the church. She is a biologist and is married to Lorenzo, who handles the projector and church finances. He has a job with a company that makes fine lenses. Last Sunday the church said goodbye to Methinee and Lorenzo who are moving to Texas and will eventually go to Italy as missionaries, which is where Lorenzo comes from. Salome has a degree in Nutrition and I heard her give an interesting talk at P.S. 138 on eating a balanced and healthy diet.
Phillip is in the process of getting a license as a real estate agent; I helped put him in touch with Justin Dupree who works at Corcoran. Phillip's wife Megan is taking care of their two children, but is also finding time to be a photographer. She has done some amazing pictures for me – one of her family, another of her daughter River on a scooter, and yet a third of the street sculptor Mike Blue. Rachel plays guitar in the band; Jay Jay does the drums, and that pretty much covers the band.
There are other interesting people I have gotten to know. Florence came to New York to work for Urban Nation. She teaches English to immigrants in Brooklyn and the Bronx. English is the gateway to America and she teaches the language to assist immigrants with legal matters, health issues and getting a job and more. Katie works for her as a teacher and, besides her day job, she is a very good writer interested in everything around her. She did articles of me on Mike Blue, Emily's event business, Dan Magariel's new novel and speed dating at Fit4Dance. Monique is getting her degree but also found time to organize a turkey giveaway at P.S. 138 and a coat giveaway in Brower Park. Jasmin did a clothing giveaway also in Brower Park. Methinee helped me do litter pickup on Nostrand Avenue and then did visits with the elderly with Jerome Michaux's Little Brothers organization.
The church also has many visitors – delegations have come from all over – a singing group from Texas, a group from Atlanta including a social worker was helpful to a friend of mine. Another group came to find out about urban life before heading off to do missionary work. Most striking to me was Chris Ko, who has been trying to create a food truck to give high quality food to the homeless.
I have barely scratched the surface here, and I am just dealing with my personal experience, but my point is that the church is a lively community of concerned people doing all kinds of wonderful things that take the thoughts and feelings that they have on Sunday and bring them everywhere else in their lives in important and productive ways.
– John DeWind