Copyright by Bob Rogers.
When I was in the seventh grade, Dad was stationed at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York, in order to attend a nine-month Army Chaplain’s School. Almost every family on the post was there because of a chaplain attending the school. That meant all of the kids were “preacher’s kids,” and all of the families were new, because we would be transferred after a year and a whole new group would come the following school year. The school year was 1970-71. We could see the twin towers of the original World Trade Center under construction across the Hudson River. I went to Public School 104, which was in an Irish-Catholic neighborhood. It was a good school, with strict discipline and excellent academics.
Soon after school started that fall, we learned that on Wednesday afternoons they had “release time.” This was when students got out of school early and could go to their house of worship for religious education, if they wished. On that first Wednesday, all of us Protestant chaplains’ kids, being brand new, simply followed our Catholic friends down the street to their church and went to catechism. Then we returned to school in time to catch the Army bus back to Fort Hamilton.
Needless to say, the phones were ringing off the hook that night when we started telling our parents what kind of notebooks the nuns wanted us to buy for catechism. It only took one week for those chaplains and spouses to organize a Protestant religious education class for us to attend.
But what really got some parents rattled was what happened to my little sister Nancy and some of her friends during their first “release time.” Nancy, who was in second grade, and a few other Protestant chaplains’ daughters, went to the Catholic class but they missed the bus ride home. Their parents had the military police frantically searching the streets of New York for them. Imagine: little girls from places like Kansas, Texas and Mississippi, all lost on the streets of Brooklyn! When the girls were found, they didn’t know they had been lost.
Jesus said that he came to seek and save people who were lost (Luke 19:10). He told parables about a lost sheep, lost coin, and lost (prodigal) son, to illustrate how God goes to great lengths to find people (see Luke 15). Many don’t even know they are lost.
Ironically, my sister Nancy now lives in Brooklyn. She lives there with her husband Alex, and she rides the subway like a native. She doesn’t get lost there anymore; it’s her home. Likewise, when people turn to faith in Christ, they too are no longer lost. Like my sister, they have found their home at last.
(This story will be part of my upcoming book about taking a humorous yet serious look at the Christian life, called, Standing by the Wrong Graveside.)
Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
Years ago when I lived in Mississippi, I visited the Empire State Building in New York City, and I heard a Southern accent from some young ladies. They asked me and my wife, “Are y’all from the South?” We said, “Yes, we’re from Mississippi,” and they said, “Well, we’re from Georgia, and it sounds so good to hear somebody from the South.”Actually, they didn’t say “Georgia,” they said “JAW-ja.” (And I didn’t say, “Mississippi,” I said “Miss-IP-y.”)
I was thinking, how would I feel if I was from New York and came to church down South? There are some great churches in New York; in fact, the Brooklyn Tabernacle is one of the greatest churches in America. But New Yorkers and Southerners have a different culture altogether. I wonder how we could make them feel at home? My sister lived in Manhattan for years, and now lives in Brooklyn. She says a “New York minute” actually lasts 19 seconds. I believe her. So read this rapidly, and maybe you’ll get some ideas for doing church “New York style.”
1. Everybody would have to line up outside the church, and when the doors opened, they would have to rush in as fast as they could and get a seat or find something to hold on to, because the ushers would shut the doors behind them in 10 seconds. Then the pastor would announce in garbled English, “The J-train is leaving the station now. Do not block the entrances!”
2. There would be different seating for Yankees and Mets fans, with armed uniformed policemen separating them.
3. Each member of the congregation would be given a headset so he or she could listen to the sermon in traditional or contemporary English, Spanish, Romanian, Korean, Vietnamese, Italian, Mandarin or Cantonese Chinese, Swahili or Yiddish. This would allow them to understand the service without having to actually talk to anybody else.
4. If somebody tried to sit in your pew, you would block his way and say, “Don’t play with me, man.”
5. The pastor would begin his sermon with, “Yo! Youse guys! I’m TALKIN’ to you!”
Our New York friends then could visit JAW-ja or Miss-IP-y or Luzy-anna and feel right at home. After all, didn’t the apostle Paul say, “I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some”? (1 Corinthians 9:22, HCSB).