Posts Tagged ‘Manhattan church’

Decriminalization of Prostitution in New York State

Friday, July 26th, 2019

This post is from the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser and me:

Earlier this week on Tuesday, July 23, Incarnation hosted an educational forum on Bill A.8230/S.6419, which was introduced last month by Assembly Member Richard Gottfried and Senator Julia Salazar. The bill seeks to fully decriminalize prostitution in New York State.

We had a panel of experts who spoke in favor of the bill’s provision to decriminalize people who are in prostitution and against the bill’s other provisions to decriminalize sex buyers, facilitators of the sale of sex (i.e., pimps), and brothel keepers.

We anticipated and welcomed a large crowd made up of people with varying viewpoints on the issue. Handouts included a detailed legal analysis of the bill.  Audience Q&A included reading aloud written questions from both supporters and opponents of the bill.

Prior to the event, we were alerted to a planned protest by DecrimNY outside our forum. We shared this information with the 17th Precinct, and they arranged for two plain clothes officers to be present in the sanctuary.  From what we understand, a peaceful protest gathered outside during the event, and the 17th Precinct responded in a calm manner and in a way they deemed fit, including calling in additional officers.

When some of the protesters came inside near the end of the event, a panelist and survivor leader was speaking. The protesters were asked to comply with our written policy given to attendees that no protests or disruptive behavior would be permitted inside the church. Those who did not comply were escorted out.

While those who responded to the protest inside the church acted responsibly, we are deeply saddened that it came to this.  The issue of decriminalizing prostitution is an emotional one that involves people who have suffered greatly in many ways. We understand that conversation ensued outside, and that members of the Episcopal Diocese of New York Task Force Against Human Trafficking — the event sponsor — ministered to some of the protesters.

The Episcopal Church respects the dignity of every human being, is LGBTQ affirming, and seeks to serve the most vulnerable in accordance with the command of Jesus. We are grateful that there is common ground between activists both for and against the bill — decriminalizing those in prostitution — and pray for a way forward that reduces victimization in the sex trade and holds those that do harm accountable. —J. Douglas Ousley

Maximum Security

Monday, May 6th, 2019

Despite the title, this post is not about the Kentucky Derby result–a matter I leave to the equestrian experts.

We on the Vestry have had several discussions about security during our worship services. Yesterday, we reiterated our current procedures and discussed other options. The local police precinct knows our church and sends officers quickly if we call them.

Our main threat is not an active shooter but someone with mental problems who wishes to disrupt the service by yelling or walking around. This is a genuine concern in our city with increasing numbers of homeless persons–though the matter is also tricky, since we almost always have homeless or recently homeless persons worshiping with us peacefully and happily.

The challenge is to provide a place of prayer that is both welcoming and safe. That said, we live in a fallen world and we are unlikely to find maximum security this side of heaven. —J. Douglas Ousley


Monday, October 22nd, 2018

At the funeral of our Treasurer, last Saturday, I described Michael Linburn as “a good churchman.”

The term, “churchman” used to be common in Episcopal Church parlance; it referred to the way a person lived out his faith in the church community. So, for example, one would speak of an Episcopalian’s “churchmanship” in saying whether he preferred “high” or “low” ritual worship.

It’s too bad the word has gone out of fashion; it might have been made more acceptable by adding the variant, “churchwomanship.”

In any case, whatever word we use, we should be grateful for the churchmen and churchwomen who support the Body of Christ by their presence and their gifts. Especially those who support the Church through difficult times–who don’t give up when things don’t go their way, who prove to be the Church’s men and women. —J. Douglas Ousley

An Historic Place

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Today, I joined a group of New York historians and history buffs to witness the dedication of a plaque which will mark the first home shared by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt after their marriage. The brownstone is at 125 East 36th Street; Murray Hill residents were active in the effort to obtain the plaque from a city historic preservation group.

The speakers at the ceremony extolled the achievements of both Roosevelts. They particularly highlighted Eleanor and Franklin’s leadership in the areas of justice and human rights.

I was glad to be publicly thanked for attending, since I represented the church where Eleanor was confirmed. Of all the illustrious former members of Incarnation, we can be most proud of the Roosevelts–as one speaker noted, perhaps the two most important Americans of the twentieth century. —J. Douglas Ousley.

High Times in Murray Hill

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

Many of us residents of Murray Hill were startled to learn the other day about the imminent arrival of a new store on Fifth Avenue and 38th Street, across from Lord & Taylor: a medical marijuana dispensary.

There are of course other dispensaries in place around town; I happen to know a pharmacist who was hired to run one of them. Pursuant to New York State law, only non-smokable forms of marijuana will be sold–and only to purchasers bearing a prescription.

That said, this is definitely an event in the “who would have imagined?” category.

As far as I know, the Episcopal Church doesn’t have guidelines about the consumption of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. We do have rules about alcohol; our parish, for example, doesn’t advertise serving drinks, and we always have non-alcoholic alternatives prominently displayed when we do. (As it happens, as part of our outreach, Incarnation hosts one AA group and four Narcotics Anonymous groups each week.)

I don’t have particularly strong feelings about the subject. I know people with chronic pain who are helped by the drug; yet I am leery of providing the temptation to drive under the influence.

In any case, it’s a new world! —J. Douglas Ousley

Happening Now

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

A member of our parish recently arranged for my associate and me to be trained in the use of Instagram.

The wildly popular social media app features photos that provide a visual entry into one’s personal “story”–or, in the case of Incarnation, into our parish life. Ideally we should not only post photos of past events but should report on events that are about to happen or are happening.

Our tutor, a social media expert at a top PR boutique firm, remarked that she often checked her Instagram account in the evening to see if there was anything interesting happening. If some post caught her eye, she would drop everything and follow the Instagram lead.

This is clearly a different culture from that of the Church, whose life is carefully planned and whose year of holy days is set for centuries in advance. All the more reason we need to maintain a sense of how we are being led by God in what theologians call, “the Eternal Now.” —J. Douglas Ousley

The End of “Churchmanship?”

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Past generations of Episcopalians were familiar with the term, “Churchmanship.” It referred to the liturgical style and other customs of a given parish.

Thus, a “high church” parish had incense and elaborate vestments, while a “low church” parish preferred Morning Prayer to Holy Communion. The rector of the former was addressed as “Father;” the rector of the latter was known as “Mr.” (or “Dr.” or “Canon,” if he was lucky.) Moreover, in those days, “churchmen” referred to all Episcopalians. It wasn’t regarded as sexist, as all persons were included under the word, “men.”

Since those olden times, there have been so many changes to the styles of worship in the Episcopal parish that the high/low church distinction barely registers any more. Rectors of parishes with very relaxed liturgies go by “Father”–or “Mother;” “Mr.” is hardly ever heard, these days.

Perhaps the most important change with the years has been a general coming together of both Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical styles. Most churches wear vestments and favor the Eucharist on Sundays. Most clergy also attempt to preach engaging sermons; they don’t see preaching as “low church.” While in Manhattan, individual parishes are still distinguished by their historic practices–St. Mary the Virgin being the paradigmatic High Church and Grace the example of Low Church–still, the majority of churches wouldn’t see themselves under either banner.

For what it’s worth, I classify the Church of the Incarnation as “Broad Church!”–J. Douglas Ousley

Religion is Local

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

“I am not a believer, but I still go to services at the church around the corner from my apartment, the Church of the Incarnation, not far from where I’m walking now. A free show. A museum, practically, with work by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Something to do, and some people who know me. My son, Johnny, learned to play the stately and formidable Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ there.”

This quotation comes from a lovely new novel by Kathleen Rooney entitled, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. The novel was recommended to me by the Rev. Amanda Kucik, a former Associate Rector of Incarnation. (As an aside, I would mention that Amanda is now expecting her first child in Charlotte, North Carolina.)

Ms. Rooney’s character is not entirely positive in her comment on Incarnation, but the remark does give an indication of how people sometimes see our church: great art and music, formal liturgy–lots to see and hear. On the other hand, the idea that we are a “museum” isn’t entirely complimentary! We may hope that we aren’t just preserving relics of the past, and we will want to look forward to the future and to whatever ministry God is calling us to.

But still, Lillian Boxfish reminds us that we have a local presence to numerous people who are not on our membership rolls. We have a duty to preserve our building, to present the finest worship we can, and to be open to those who are walking by. —J. Douglas Ousley

A Day in the Life

Monday, June 26th, 2017

The life of the parish priest is never dull.

In one 24-hour period last week, I joined in the conferring of the Eagle Scout rank to a parishioner, had coffee with the editor of a national church magazine, officiated at the funeral of a retired police officer from the 17th Precinct (which I serve as clergy liaison), and visited a rousing Family Friday party. These activities were in addition to the usual weekday service, meetings, etc.

No wonder that we clergy are so grateful for our vocations–we can’t believe we get paid for what we do! —J. Douglas Ousley

Homeless in Murray Hill–I

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

I have been thinking a lot about the increasing numbers of beggars and homeless persons on the streets of our neighborhood, especially in the area between Murray Hill and Penn Station. I saw someone the other day on 37th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenue who was actually sleeping on a foldout bed!

There are so many issues here. I recognize that many of the beggars travel in from other areas because there are so many tourists here who will help them; I’m skeptical about the neediness of some of them and the veracity of their signs, since they appear young and in good health. I have noticed how many of the people sleeping on the street are also in their twenties or thirties and appear able-bodied.

Even so, there are many older people who are mentally troubled or obviously disoriented. And it’s hard to say that anyone who is sitting on the sidewalk begging to spending the night there is to be envied.

The problem is getting much worse in our neighborhood. I plan to preach on this topic on June 11 and reflect further on this troubling issue. —J. Douglas Ousley