I fell in love with New York City. I felt as though I belonged there. It was my place. I was in love immediately. It was a full sensory experience. My expectations were immediately altered. I went in thinking one thing and was nearly catapulted to another way of thinking. The people were not mean. They were gracious, friendly and engaging. The Christians in NY were more gracious than any Christian people I had ever met. They were different. They did not have the luxury to created standards, rules, preferences and ascetic practices. They lived in another place. They were not in the bastion of fundamentalism where you can create lists and rules to live by. They were in survival mode. I had never been in such a culture. It was not safe. My practices and ways were being attacked at the level of my heart. I felt like a lot of my religious practices were mainly peripheral and artificial.
They prayed for parking places when they were coming to a place where they needed to park. They began praying 5 minutes beforehand. I had never prayed in my life for a parking place. I’m a Christian of privilege. They mixed with nearly every imaginable kind of cultural background and ethnicity. If I witnessed to a black person in Greenville, South Carolina and he wanted to begin attending church meetings then I would tell him about a “black” church he could attend, but he couldn’t attend my church. In NY all colors attended the same church. It was incredible. It was refreshing.
My first Sunday in Queens at All Nations Bible Baptist Church I went in the front door and saw all the diversity. It was amazing. I met a man named Hector Henriquez. I told him about something and asked him to pray about it. He listened and then said, “Let’s pray right now.” At that moment right inside the auditorium door we were praying, right in front of everyone. There were people milling around in front and all around us. It was a bit uncomfortable and a bit releasing. I had moved off the epi-center of religion and out onto the periphery where folks did things different. I called this a “frontier religion”. They were out from under the all-seeing eye of “everyman” that seemingly tracked everything from the length of your hem, the type of clothes you wore, the places you went and the people you hung out with. There was none of this in NY. They had other things to deal with. They were surviving. They were living an authentic Christian life. I wanted to be there. The cloud of legalism was breaking up in my mind and I could begin talking with anyone, making friends with everyone, engaging all people and inviting them to “my” church, which was located at the American Legion Hall. They also didn’t have the luxury of having their own building. They could not afford it. It was cost prohibitive.