Sunday Sermon 12-6-2020

I was prepared to share my Disney stories with you today, but yesterday we suffered yet another loss, and I’m just not ready to let go of my grief…

My daughter grew up singing. She was eight when she sang her first solo on Father’s Day 1982, “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You”, at Old North UMC, where she was encouraged by the entire congregation, becoming a member of their adult choir at 14. In the meantime, I was working as a church musician at Concordia LCMS. We occasionally worked together, but for all of those years I rarely got to hear her sing in church. Our friends at Old North were her mentors and still her fans and I’ve always appreciated their influence on her. She went on to study Vocal Music Performance, specifically classical, at IU; you can bet I was there to hear her sing, and was happy to support her move to NYC in 1997.

Anyone who dreams of living and thriving in NYC knows you have to have a day-job, but Melissa was successful at supplementing that with church gigs, working at Catholic churches, Jewish synogogues, and for the last 7-8? years she’s been part of the Music at a church that defied denomination: Middle Collegiate Church. Casey and I have attended Christmas services at Middle, and over the years I was present for Easter, Mother’s Day — whenever I happened to be in town on a Sunday. I’ve spent many a Sunday morning tuning in to their live-stream (long before lockdown), listening to some Super Sermons, crying as I listen to the Inspired music, soaking up the Spirit from the congregation even though we’re miles apart.

Now this…

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Devastating New York City fire ‘crushes’ historic progressive church built in 1800s


DECEMBER 5, 2020 / 3:00 PM / CBS NEWS

A six-alarm fire broke out early Saturday morning in New York City, destroying several buildings, including a women’s shelter and one of New York City’s oldest, most historic and most progressive churches. 

Middle Collegiate Church, located in the East Village, is home to New York’s Liberty Bell, which was rung in 1776 to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and rings to commemorate the inauguration and death of every U.S. president. 

Over the past year, the church has donated to Black Lives Matter programming and funded grants to help people with rent or mortgage payments, according to its website. The church also claims to be “one of the leading multicultural, multiracial congregations” in the U.S. and that it stands “firmly” for LGBTQ+ equality, is anti-racist and believes “firmly in the power of women to heal our world.” 

The New York City Fire Department said when they arrived at the scene, they knew it “was going to be a big operation.” Four firefighters received minor injuries while containing the spread, according to FDNY assistant chief John Hodgens. No deaths have been reported. 

The FDNY told CBS News on Saturday evening that the cause of the fire is still under investigation, but that there is “extensive damage.” There was a three-alarm electrical fire at the same location in February caused by building wiring, but the FDNY said Saturday’s fire is “unrelated.” 

Reverend Jacqui Lewis said that the church is “devastated and crushed that our beloved physical sanctuary” was burned, but that “no fire can stop revolutionary love.” 

“We know that God does not cause these kinds of tragedies but is present with us and to us as we grieve, present in the hugs and prayers of loved ones,” Lewis said. 

The church has been conducting services digitally since March, and Lewis said it will continue to do so. 

“We pray for the first responders. We pray for our neighbors who are also affected by this fire. And we covet your prayers as we grieve,” she said.” 

Photos of the aftermath show the Tiffany stained glass that has long decorated the building completely shattered. The inside of the building appears to be gutted, and the roof has disappeared.

Benjamin Perry, a minister at the church, said he is “too devastated” and “heartbroken” to convey how he feels about the building the church was housed in, but said the congregation’s “love is too fierce, too bold, too brilliant to be consumed by any flame.”

“It feels like someone I love has died,” he said. 

Workers at Middle Collegiate tweeted that “church is not a building, but buildings matter. This is home.”

“To our incredible congregation: Cry. Mourn. Howl. And know: God is weeping with us. But like a phoenix, we will rise from these ashes,” Middle Collegiate tweeted. “Resurrection will always have the final word.”

Many followers of the church quickly tweeted the toll of the loss, many pointing to the church’s role in providing addiction recovery services. 

“It was a refuge to countless people trying to find peace in their lives,” one person tweeted. “To say that it was a pillar in the community is an understatement.”

The fire also devastated a women’s shelter next door that has stood side-by-side with Middle Collegiate Church since it was built in the 1800s. 

The Women’s Prison Association’s Hopper Home, which was built in 1874 after a fire destroyed its first location, had to evacuate its 15 residents when the fire broke out. The home is a single-women shelter for those who have a history of, or at risk of, involvement with the criminal legal system. The association provides the women with shelter, workforce development, employment services and housing services. 

Olga Rodriguez, who works at the shelter, told CBS New York that the fire took over the shelter “in minutes.” 

“It was very scary, and the ladies were running in their slippers, in their bathrobes, in their pajamas. They were sleeping,” she said, adding that she’s not sure what will happen if the building is deemed unsafe.

“These ladies have gone through a lot,” she said. “They don’t need to go through this, too.”

Diana McHugh, director of communications for the association, told CBS News that everyone is OK, but women had to leave behind personal belongings, including phones and clothes. 

“It’s a huge historical loss, but people matter more,” she said.

The association tweeted earlier that it is awaiting news about the structural integrity of the building and the extent of the smoke damage, but McHugh said on Saturday afternoon that “given the extent of the damage, it’s not likely” they will be allowed back into the building tonight. At the time of the call with the association on Saturday, McHugh said it seems as though the third and fourth floors of the building have the most damage, but they have not been able to enter the building to determine the full extent. 

The women, who were soaking wet from standing in the rain this morning after being evacuated, have been temporarily relocated to a nearby family shelter in Alphabet City. Residents at the family shelter provided the women with food, blankets and dryers for their clothes. 

After a fire broke out Saturday morning, more than a dozen shelter residents at the Women’s Prison Association’s Hopper Home were forced to evacuate. The community quickly donated dozens of bags of clothing to help. WOMEN’S PRISON ASSOCIATION

McHugh said, however, that the association is expecting high costs because of the fire. 

“We’ll be OK, but it will certainly have an impact on us, especially mid-pandemic. This has already been a very difficult time for our residents, just from a safety perspective and a mental health perspective.”

By Saturday night, McHugh said “safe and appropriate sleeping arrangements” had been made for the residents. Despite their own loss today, she said Middle Collegiate church members took the residents shopping for personal care items, and the community has donated so much clothing that the organization cannot currently accept anymore. Both the church and WPA are accepting donations to rebuild. ……..

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Shutterstock (11201892y) Historic East Village Middle Collegiate Church and adjacent building destroyed by fire on 2nd Avenue in Manhattan. Fire started in a vacant adjacent building and then spread to the 128-year-old Middle Collegiate Church. Six-alarm fire completely destroyed the building and church. According to firefighters, the building will be demolished and the church will undergo structured evaluation. All Tiffany windows and Tiffany skylight dome were destroyed as well. NY: Aftermath of huge fire at Middle Collegiate Church, New York, United States – 05 Dec 2020

… …

If you had Ever stepped foot in this Building called Middle, you would have felt that you had truly come Home to a Family where you are accepted and Loved as You Are. I will pray for and contribute to their rebuilding efforts.

But in the meantime, the Family and Spirit of Middle Church is unscathed, still Living the Message of Revolutionary Love. “To our incredible congregation: Cry. Mourn. Howl. And know: God is weeping with us. But like a phoenix, we will rise from these ashes,” Middle Collegiate tweeted. “Resurrection will always have the final word.”

So much Loss this year… Still thankful that Change is on the horizon. Still Hopeful that Everybody can get together and try to Love One Another.

Love is All You Need…


It was 56 years years ago today…

On this day in 1964, the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time, as teenage girls screamed hysterically in the audience and 73 million people watched from home — a record for American television at the time.

I know where I was:  about a foot away from our black-and-white console TV in the basement of our quintessentially 60s finished basement with whole family present.  The first song they did, “I want to hold your hand” is linked above and I didn’t think their harmonies were very impressive, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them.  When they came back out, they did “I saw her standing there” and I did a bit of a scream, if I remember.

Of course, I watched the next three weeks as well and was as obsessed as any other.  I think my friend Karen and I watched at least one of them together.  In 1964 the Beatles released Seven albums, the first two in January before the Big Arrival to be in Ed Sullivan.  I was given “Meet the Beatles” for my birthday that year.  “The Beatles Second Album” was released 10 April 1964; it was their third release, but who was counting?  In June their movie, “Hard Day’s Night” was released to more screaming fans (including me).  In July came “Something New”.  The November release was “The Story of the Beatles” with interviews and discussions of Beatlemania”.  In December “Beatles 65” was released– perfect Christmas present!

Beatlemania was followed by the British Invasion and Ed Sullivan was bringing them all in, though he did censure Mick Jagger, of course.  It was a grand time to be memorizing song lyrics.

“Rubber Soul” came out in December 1965, another Christmas present, but it wasn’t shake-your-hair and scream music.  The Beatles were growing up, too. .

By 1966, the Beatles had grown tired of live performance.  George Harrison was the first to burn out on Beatlemania, though Paul Thrived on the Adulation.  McCartney finally gave in to his band mates’ insistence that the group stop touring toward the end of their August tour of the United States.  Afterward, George informed manager Brian Epstein that he was leaving the band.  However, he was persuaded to stay on provided there were no more tours

Shortly after the USA tour in 1966 ,the album “Revolver” was released and by that time you could see that The Beatles were definitely moving in a different direction that was more cerebral.  They’d been to India and their music showed their journey.

In 1967, June, The Beatles changed the world of music again with the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.   That same year they made another movie, “Magical Mystery Tour” and I missed the whole thing as we were moving around from here to California.  I did get Sgt. Pepper for my birthday in 1968, though.

During the second half of the Beatles’ career, the members began to assert individual artistic agendas. Their disunity became most evident on The White Album. Ringo briefly quit the group while it was being made.  They were divided over who would be their manager after the death of Brian Epstein and never came to an agreement.

They launched into a multi-media project called “Get Back” that later became “Let it Be” and it was a disaster.  The dysfunction of the group, the arrogance and ego of John and Paul are on full display and it’s tough to watch.  Yoko is like hiding under the seats, warbling.  George briefly left the band during this time.  The situation was so bad that the project was not released for several years after the band had already broken up.

Abbey Road, the album that is my favorite, was released in October 1969.  They weren’t actually working together, but their producer had a way of making us think they had.

The final time that the four members recorded together collectively was the session for Abbey Roads closing track “The End” on 18 August 1969. Lennon privately informed his band mates that he was leaving the Beatles on 20 September, although it was unclear to the other members whether his departure was permanent. On 10 April 1970, McCartney issued a press release that stated he was no longer working with the group, which sparked a widespread media reaction and worsened the tensions between him and his band mates. Legal disputes continued long after, and the dissolution was not formalized until 1974.

The Fab Four who performed on Ed Sullivan lo those many years ago were not the same group who sang me to sleep with the dark “Golden Slumbers”  or who surprised me with “Her Majesty”.  John’s heroin addiction and Paul’s controlling personality were Bound to Explode.  George was always my favorite, anyway, and the Beatles demise freed him to create his own music, many of which have become part of my soundtrack.  Ringo?  Ya gotta Love Ringo…and he really is a good drummer.



I’m still doing the Dental Dance with frequent appointments, still making the best of it.

Listening to Abbey Road…it’s good medicine.