Dear Middle Family,
I joined the staff of Middle Church as Associate Collegiate Minister on January 3, 2004, with the intention that I would become the Senior Minister when Gordon Dragt retired June 30, 2005.
I first came to Middle to study this amazing community as an example of a thriving, justice-focused, artistic, multiethnic church. One Martin Luther King Sunday, I was asked to preach. Looking out from the pulpit (remember the white marble pulpit with the green velvet pillow?) I saw the church of my dreams. In my sermon I said, “If there is a heaven, this is what it looks like—a many gendered, all sexualities, multiethnic circle of love.” Then Chair Danita Branam teased me once and said, “We weren’t quite multiethnic, but you spoke it into existence.”
Fifteen years later, the big dream I shared with so many— that Middle Church would be a multiethnic, antiracist, intersectional movement for revolutionary love and justice; that we would teach others how to heal souls and the world; that we would be in interfaith relationships, and art would be, as Natalie Runyon wrote in our vision statement, “an active prayer” connecting us with Spirit—has come true. A beautiful rainbow of Consistory chairs—Danita, Tom Smucker, Cheryl Cochran, Ellen Matlach, Shanta Thake, and Darren Johnston—built scaffolding for our shared calling, directing our resources toward staff and structures that could make the God’s dream come true in our corner of creation.
On the Sunday after Trayvon Martin was killed, we all put on our hoodies, and pointed ourselves toward a society in which Black Lives Matter. From Jonathan Dudley and the Middle Church Choir to our little people (Lake Salvatore was a little boy then, wearing his hoodie and holding a sign that read “I’m not dangerous”), we began our antiracist work. We marched in the streets for the value of Black lives; we “died-in” on the streets of Harlem, in the halls of power in D.C. and Manhattan, and in our sanctuary. We convened 14 national conferences to train leaders how to build a more just society. We gave birth to The Middle Project—our strategic partner in the work of movement building and leadership development.
Because we understand our work to be intersectional, we’ve been a congregational pioneer in the work of LGBTQIA+ justice. We fought for marriage equality in New York State and for the nation; we’ve protested at the U.S. Supreme Court and celebrated at the Stonewall Inn when we won. We’ve marched for Pride every June for more than 25 years and we won Best Float Performance in 2016. We live out gender justice in our hiring practices—have you ever seen this many female leaders on a church staff? And we stood against Kavanaugh and for the truth in women’s stories, and have had #MeToo leaders in our pulpit teaching us. I have been on the advisory board of the Women’s March, and we work closely with allies in a women’s right to choose.
We built an ark and marched to highlight climate change, and our justice committee has a climate change team. We went as green as possible as we upgraded our building and challenged ourselves to let go of plastic. We are in ongoing work for a living wage and bail reform. We’ve rebuilt communities after the devastation of tsunamis and storms like Katrina, Sandy, and most recently, Maria. We’ve been to the border. We’ve been to Puerto Rico to work, to the border to bear witness and accompany migrants, and to actions right here in our city to protect the rights of immigrants and disrupt the unjust treatment of those seeking asylum. We continue to build interfaith partnerships because we know God speaks more than one language and needs all of us to partner with Her to heal our world.
Because we understand our theology to be important in the public square, you’ve celebrated many cultures and welcomed strangers from all over the globe. More and more people find their way to our sanctuary, and, on average, 500 join us online every week. You put A Bold New Love in front of a million TV viewers on Christmas Eve, and shared public theology in the streets, in El Paso and Puerto Rico, at conferences, in concerts in the park, down Fifth Avenue, in classrooms, and in digital spaces around the world. Last program year, you fed more than 3,300 people on Mondays, and another 2,700 with Butterfly sandwiches in the parks. Almost 10,000 people walked in and out of our building for Twelve step programs, yoga and meditation, acting and writing, and concerts and our annual conference. You grew your stewardship muscle by 32%, raising more than $865,000 to make ministry happen! Woot!
We hope this Fiscal Year-End Report helps each of us understand our calling more fully, and live into it, together.
I love you,