Occupy Trinity Wall Street, Pt. 3: Life on the street

OTWS why does this occur

On November 17th, when this broadside was handed out at the NY Diocesan convention, there were a few people from Trinity Wall Street’s staff who handed the broadside back. One was Reverend Anne Mallonee who said “I don’t need this, I know all about it.”  I replied “And now everyone else does!”  It was a stunning response from someone who has taken the oath of the priesthood, or even made the promise of baptism.  To claim to know all about this and do nothing is an admission of dislocation. No matter what your opinion of the validity or efficacy of Occupy Trinity Wall Street, there is the reality of these people sleeping on your front steps, being harassed by Trinity Wall Street staff and the NYPD.

On December 12, The Village Voice published a piece on the general spiritual malaise infecting Trintity Wall Street (found HERE). Hard copies of The Voice were kept by those sleeping in front of the church and handed out to passers by as well as parishioners. A middle-aged blonde woman asked for copies, took them all and then threw them in the trash can. She was identified as Linda Hanick, Trinity Wall Street’s PR representative. A puerile act and comically ignorant – the world of print is in demise. Google “Reverend James Cooper” and the first choice is the article in The Village Voice. That is his legacy unless the institution has a change of heart.

Below is part 3 of the original broadside.

A core group of people have been occupying for over 5 months. These include Fathema Nusrat Sha’didi, a street medic who found refuge and rest at St. Paul’s Chapel after the traumatic recovery work in the smoking remains of the World Trade Center; Ed Mortimer, a street medic, and Jack Boyle both defendants in the D17 trespassing trial.

OTWS NYPD harassmentThey are joined by a diverse community which includes people with regular jobs sleeping when they can, traveling activists, and most notably homeless youth seek refuge there. The latter group finds a haven safer than in  shelters and get a sense of being part of a greater cause. All who pass by note the irony in Trinity’s slogan—”For a world of good”. Some are there because this church sits at the top of Wall Street, the epicenter of capitalism at its most cancerous stage. Those same passers by know this story, noting the church as complicit by its silence with the toll taken by a culture of greed.

A careless disregard for the young, sensitive population was featured on September 23 when alcohol was served to these minors. CEO/Rector Cooper said casually “I hope everyone’s of age!” Bryan Parsons, TWS staff was observed one night in August intoxicated trading alcohol for cigarettes among the youth.

Representatives from TWS, such as clergy Matt Heyd, straight-faced recites NYC code requiring hosing down of the sidewalk twice a day. However, the second hosing was not initiated until September—three months after the sleep-in began. Heyd will also tell you it is NYC code to drill holes in scaffolding to prevent standing water. Holes were drilled on October 21st, long after the summer heat when standing water would offer a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes. When it rains, instead of the steady fall of drops, the water accumulates in pockets, hitting those below in bullet-like large drops making sleep or simple rest very difficult.

At press release, Heyd was not available for further comment.

TWS staff defends the practice of maximizing profits through luxury apartment development at the expense of small business and middle and working class families through TWS’s charitable work overseas, inspiring the street chant Trinity Church you look so pretty, but you do nothing for New York City.

Throughout the heat of summer, rain and snow, beatings and harassment from the NYPD, no clergy have offered a drink of water, a bathroom to use, or sanctuary in any form. During Hurricane Sandy OTWS found safety among the greater OWS community. After the November snowfall those occupying TWS sent out word that they needed warm clothes. Meanwhile, TWS proudly Tweeted a video of one of its priests delivering clothes to those in the vicinity but not to those huddled in front of the church.

TWS will cite Charlotte’s Place as a resource. However OWS can get free internet at dozens of locations. Charlotte’s Place is limited in many ways, to include that it is only open Monday through Friday from 12 to 2PM.

Need doesn’t punch a time clock.

OTWS fellowship

OTWS sleeper 1

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Episcopal So-Called News

During General Convention 2009 everyone going in and out of the center was greeted by the usual gang of idiots. I’d say they were biker types but that would give bikers a bad name. Just big-bellied, bearded dudes in tee shirts carrying signs about hating “homos” and that anyone going into the building was going to hell.

The appearance of the Phelps Family and other hatemongers is more of a tradition at GC than the seminary cocktail parties where they try to drum up donations from alums.

So I stole an idea for an action I’d heard about. I started a Sponsor-a-Protester campaign. I asked if people wanted to pledge cash for the Protest-a-thon occurring right in front of them. With the help of Utah’s enthusiastic youth group , $120 was raised in less than 25 minutes. We had a blast. People pointed out the angriest–and by now they were angrier than hornets rousted from a nest–protesters and hand the cash over while waving to the protester. We thanked them for their work – they were raising funds for a home for LGBT teens who needed a safe haven. There were about 100 people laughing, donating, joining in.

This would have gone on for hours, but I was approached by a factotum of GC wearing collar and eye-searing shirt that really should be featured on Bad Vestments . He insisted I stop. Naively, I thought he was concerned about my personal safety.  Since I was still a Bishop’s Wife, I followed orders.Turns out I was one step ahead of the law – the protesters had called the police on me.  It’s possible the factotum with collar was trying to control the press.  A Bishop’s Wife arrested during General Convention would certainly get a squib…somewhere.  Too bad. I would have very much liked to appear before a judge in Orange County on charges of soliciting for charity.

The next day’s General Convention news had not a word about that. Outreach, mission, activism is only newsworthy if it has the corporate stamp of TEC. Individual prophetic action is not recognized.

Which brings me to an additional gift from the trial of Trinity Wall Street versus Occupy Wall Street. It confirms what most of us knew all along: That Episcopal News Service, Episcopal Cafe, and Episcopal New Yorker are simply the Pravda/Fox News of TEC. (Well, Episcopal Cafe is kind of the MSNBC wing of the church. But ye fans of MSNBC, remember it is owned by GE.)

A retired bishop and a priest recently active in the Diocese of NY are facing incarceration at Rikers at the insistence of a parish in Manhattan and there is no coverage. Two members of the clergy and there’s not a word about it. None. It’s not surprising, just affirming.

When an institution sets up a PR instrument to talk to the world, what happens is a filter of mendacity.

So what does it say about Katharine Jefferts-Schori that one of the first things she did when she moved into 815 Second Ave was have ENS on the same floor so that it sitteth at her right elbow?

Long live the Church!

The  Hopeful Episcopalian is delighted at this critical response to a blog post from  June 22, 2009:

It appears you don’t understand the history, heirarchy (sic) and governing canons of the Church. Perhaps you should go elsewhere. Deliberation will never be out-of-date. Elitism is not present when each diocese elects its own delegates. Please – a little more research before you throw out the presiding Bishop, etc., with the bathwater.

No one is throwing the baby out. People are siphoning out the bathwater so the real baby-Christian faith- doesn’t drown.

Delegates to General Convention are typically the same people elected by a tiny in crowd.  Voting is not an exercise in populism: the elite elect (and re-elect, and re-elect, and re-elect) the elite without term limits.

Local parishes can barely recognize their diocesan bishop unless there’s a mitre on his or her head on Confirmation Day. The majority have no idea what General Convention is or who attends. Most Americans  can’t recognize their congressperson. You think they know who Katharine Jefferts-Schori is?  Ask an Episcopalian to provide the surname for “Rowan” and you’ll hear silence or “Atkins”.

Of what use are governing canons if 20,000 people are leaving TEC each year? Who will be around to govern over? And have you asked the faithful church attendees if they are aware they are being governed?

The hierarchy, i.e. the leadership and the elite, is leading the institution in a direction that ensures TEC will be an oddity read about in history books.

Your post indicates that you don’t see church as a home for the faithful seeking God’s face in a spiritual community.  To you, it is a museum where delegates and governing canons are priorities. You want people like me to go elsewhere.  Not to worry – I have and we are! We want to worship, pray, and be part of a Eucharistic community.

And with a drain of 20,000 a year, who will fund General Convention?  The costs are huge: travel, copying, hotel rooms, hospitality suites, salaries of coordinators, etc.  Producing GC is an industry of its own at 815.

You and others like you can take refuge in your “rightness” when we ignorant faithful who haven’t done our research have gone elsewhere.   I’ve witnessed that many times on a parish level.  Those  entrenched in certainty about history and the right way to “do church” –and frequently it was a skewed as Glen Beck’s interpretation of US History–were left with no children, no one with the gifts of hospitality, prayer, prophecy, joy, patience, kindness, or goodness.  Ironically, even self control is absent.

But dad gummit – they sure knew how the governances worked and peppered their conversation with references to the PB! (When PB is used in conversation, most people think the person talking left out “and J”.)

The history of the presiding bishop as figurehead and self-proclaimed primate is astonishingly brief. Primate is as recent as Griswold. What was THAT about?

The presiding bishop was once a bishop with a geographical episcopacy who presided over House of Bishops meetings. Meeting over, everyone went home,  and next year the bishop with the most seniority got to bang the gavel when Roberts Rules of Order went astray.

The luxury penthouse  with terrace on 2nd Avenue and 44th Street, the international travel budget, the personal media machine of ENS were never part of that position until the latter part of the 20th century. Many of us yearn for the old days. This is an entitled baby with a silver spoon in its mouth. We’re willing  to toss her out because we understand that church is local.

Speaking of local and the importance of deliberations: is your local parish familiar with the resolutions about the the military base on Okinawa, or the one about honoring the much-anticipated first Eucharist on the moon?  The latter made it into the House of Bishops for a “yea”  vote. I was there during the deliberations for the former – educated as other significant international issues were discussed.  On returning to my parish, the biggest local deliberation was all about who was going to do coffee hour.

After the approval of Gene Robinson’s election in 2003, the September newsletters from all the local parishes in my area led with a letter from their rectors: Don’t panic! Nothing’s changing in your home parish!  Everything will be exactly the same as always.

For me, the biggest wake-up call regarding the relevance of GC resolutions sounded during a discussion with a fourth-year EFM student who could not be swayed from her entrenched belief that death penalty ought to stand.  She was educated, a big fan of the hierarchy, well-acquainted with the several resolutions about the death penalty, and still wanted state-sanctioned murder. “Forgive us our trespasses as we lethally inject those who sin against us.” – John Fugelsang

Here’s an idea: perhaps the church should be more concerned about changing hearts and nurturing faith.

There are some wonderful, hard-working delegates who have come to similar conclusions:  the church is dead. Long live the church.

Stop the spin

The Hopeful Episcopalian has a daily struggle not to believe The Episcopal Church can do nothing right because she comes up against so many who believe TEC can do no wrong.

When confronted with the cheerocracy of TEC, it requires enormous discipline to not lose heart entirely.

On December 1st, the first Tuesday of Advent, The top story of Episcopal News Service was a report from the Committee on the State of the Church.  Headline: Committee sees vitality in Episcopal Church despite challenges.

The challenges faced by TEC are cultural and economic, one having a direct effect on the other.  Since 1990, the part of the American population claiming no religious identity in has doubled from 10 per cent of the population to 20 per cent.  As the church involvement declines, so do the financial resources.

I offer the hyperlink to the article for the data on the state of religion in America:

http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79901_117454_ENG_HTM.htm

Question for those in the TEC loop:  Does the number of committees, commissions reflect a proportional downsizing?  If not, who exactly are these teams producing reports for?

Matilda Kistler, chair of the of the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church and the person who presented, first deflects responsibility by citing data that indicates all protestant mainline denominations are losing congregants. It seems other denominations matter to TEC when they’re all caught with chocolate on their faces from digging into dessert before dinner.  When it’s time for sharing resources or credit, TEC holds them at arm’s length. Witness the other ENS news release this week about online Advent calendars – not a link to anything but Anglican resources provided.

Then Matilda gets on to the optimistic part of the report:  “However, we believe that the committee’s research will confirm what most of us know instinctively — that active, vital and transformative gospel ministry is being done on all levels of the church.”

Matilda and the House of Deputies Committee are not doing their jobs. We can’t operate on instinct and happy talk in times of crises. When you’re in a life boat on open water, you need to actually have flares and rations on hand and know where they’re located.  The sharks are operating on instinctive knowledge.

TEC is in desperate need of emergency room or possibly hospice care. All we get from the top of the food chain is propaganda.  Is it coincidence that the primary generator of this hype now has offices adjacent to the Presiding Bishop?

We are a people of story and hope, not of spin and optimism. The stories of vital gospel ministry are there, happening from the ground up.  When spin becomes the official language of The Episcopal Church, it encourages an disingenuous ethos in parishes that are trying to find or have lost their way in naufragous waters.

This was a week where as I lived into my prayer of watching attentively, I heard news of three more vital Episcopalians with enormous gifts to offer who have stopped going to church. I saw a child’s relationship to learning transformed – possibly for life – through administrators and teachers employing flexibility. At a Christmas pageant rehearsal, I heard 40 children sing new songs of their faith, making promise a reality with their unique gift.

I heard from a friend who is married to a Missouri Synod pastor. After watching the street activity and community life surrounding her husband’s church in a neighborhood filled with cultural, racial, and economic diversity, she has started a community music school.  She is enormously accomplished, with a doctorate in organ and liturgical music and said “What is the point of putting on these concerts where all we do is pay ourselves? Is that what God wants us to do?”

Missouri Synod is notoriously “conservative”. I have no idea what my friend believes about openly gay bishops.  I do know that with a son in the military, who has been deployed in Iraq twice, she does not believe there is a “just” war. I know she and her husband do their best to serve the poor. Maybe political ideology isn’t what gathering on Sunday morning is supposed to be about.  Maybe if we focused on the work of the kingdom instead of producing another press release, we would all be transformed.