Posts Tagged ‘neighborhood’

A Beautiful Church

Monday, October 7th, 2019

Before and after the meeting of the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association meeting at Incarnation last Thursday, many people came up and said to me what a beautiful church we have. Similar comments were offered as we blessed pets in front of the church yesterday.

Incarnation members have heard this comment so frequently that we tend not to think much about them. Yet they are certainly true: we do have an spectacular collection of stained glass windows, sculptures, and wood carvings–all displayed in a neo-Gothic architectural gem.

We all appreciate our church, of course, and it is an amazing place to worship. Yet we should also remind ourselves how much the community around us also values one of the few landmark buildings in an increasingly developed area of the city.

It is perhaps not too much to say that Incarnation is a beacon of light and hope. Thanks be to God. —J. Douglas Ousley

 


A Hot Summer Ahead

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

A year or so ago, the former Altman’s Department Store across from the church began an extensive exterior restoration. As part of the work, the bottom floor of the building is covered in netting. Homeless people now climb into a space behind the netting to bed down and in many cases to live. Others take advantage of the sidewalk covering and sleep on the sidewalk. A little town has sprung up.

The obvious question to ask is, why doesn’t the city do something to help these people so they aren’t forced into what the English call, “sleeping rough?” And the answer to that question is that the city isn’t very good at helping the poor.

Last night, a local television station did an investigative segment on seven of the city’s “cooling centers,” where poor people including the homeless can go for relief during hot weather. It turned out that four of the centers have no air conditioning. Moreover, they haven’t had air conditioning for weeks and they have similar problems every summer. Yet the whole purpose of these institutions is to present a comfortable environment in hot weather.

I recognize that the tolerance we have toward the homeless is in some ways admirable. They are allowed the freedom of the streets. We can be proud of our tolerance and our social freedom. But less proud of the consequences. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Best Kind of Publicity

Monday, July 1st, 2019

When it comes to religion, it’s hard to think of anything new. Christianity has been around for two thousand years; almost every form of ministry has been tried at one time or another.

But Incarnation’s Associate Rector has beaten the odds. She has invented a new form of ministry that just became the subject of a post on the Religious News Service. Once a week for half an hour, the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser stands on the church steps and offers blessings to passers-by. She always has people coming up to her for advice and prayer.

Besides being innovative, this takes guts! I have subbed for Adrian a few times when she was on vacation and I can attest that you are vulnerable to all kinds of stares and comments.

But Adrian has done this for four years, and she deserves all the credit she gets. What a great way to show the love of God to the world. —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


Homeless in Murray Hill–II

Monday, June 5th, 2017

I’m preaching an old sermon this Sunday; it’s entitled, “Street People.” The sermon is about the Good Samaritan parable and how it might be applied to daily life. This message got a fair amount of feedback at the time, and a version was eventually published in the Christian Century magazine.

I rarely repeat sermons, as the context of sermons changes so rapidly that God’s message to a given moment may not apply to a different moment, even a few years later.

But I am curious to see how my early-90’s thoughts stand the test of time today, when we in Manhattan are facing a new flood of street people. Pope Francis recently had some noble words about always engaging in some way with beggars on the street. Many of us (who spend a lot more time navigating popular thoroughfares than the Pope does) may find his advice inadequate.

That said, I am still thinking about the proper Christian response to people on the street. —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


Symbols of Hope

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

One of my colleagues addressed a clergy group this week on the subject of church buildings.

He pointed out that in very depressed communities, churches may be the only buildings still maintained with care. Because they are visible centers of vitality, they become symbols of hope to their surrounding areas.

Church buildings may also have an impact in affluent areas, like our own Murray Hill. They are the rare public spaces where you can enter without being under an obligation to buy something. They are quiet places where people can spend a few moments to think and collect themselves. If they are as large as Incarnation, this can happen in the back of the church even while services are being conducted in the front.

We who need to maintain these costly buildings don’t take them for granted. But we can be glad that others who don’t in any sense identify with the Episcopal Church as an institution still enjoy the peace of Christ that our churches offer. —J. Douglas Ousley


The View from Madison Avenue

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

Since Incarnation has been located on the legendary street of advertisers since 1852, we naturally think in terms of how we as a church are perceived by potential “customers.”

What does the Episcopal Church brand say to people who pass by our churches? In the eyes of the average American, what do we stand for? How does our organization differ in values and purpose from, say, the Girl Scouts or the YMCA? And what can we as individuals do to promote our brand?

I have no easy answers to these questions. But I do think that promoting the brand has to begin at the top. In the Church of England, there are many new initiatives intended to promote the growth of parishes: Fresh Expressions, Messy Church, and leadership training, for example.

Granted, the C of E is much more centrally governed than the Episcopal Church. Still, it would be nice to see some new programs from the Presiding Bishop and Executive Council that put our name out to the public and make people want to come through our doors. —J. Douglas Ousley


Ripple Effect

Monday, April 25th, 2016

A very active member of our parish, Ann Churchill, died on April 11; her funeral was last Saturday.

I was amazed at the response to her relatively sudden death–all the people Ann helped in one way or another over the years. Not just family and friends, but parishioners and old people and neighbors and community group members. The range of response was extraordinary for a seemingly modest 77-year-old former nurse.

Ann’s example shows among other things the powerful effect of a generous and creative Christian soul. May Ann rest in peace–and may we follow her fine example! —J. Douglas Ousley


The Homeless We Have With Us

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

A recent meeting of local clergy organized by Community Board 6 discussed homelessness in our area. I am sorry to report that there were no new ideas–only a general agreement that the problem is getting worse.

The manager of the community board did say that Mayor DiBlasio has assembled an task force of officials from different city agencies to try to come up with new solutions to the problem. The issue is complicated on the avenues in Midtown by the presence of young tourist “homeless” with varying degrees of credibility. Many of the saddest cases have mental illness or chemically-addled brains, and they aren’t able to find prime spots to beg or write clever signs.

Meanwhile, the cold weather is coming. —J. Douglas Ousley