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Living in NYC

Stories for Friends. Advice for Strangers.

Category Archives: Church in NYC

What do you need in a friend? If you’ve never answered that question before, I encourage you to think about it. Not in some misplaced egocentric way – like the world should pander to your unique and specific interests – more along the lines of expectations. Finding friends is really hard to do, and if you expect to foster lasting friendships, it is going to take extraordinary effort. Thinking about your expectations in a friendship is a good place to start.

Maybe you want someone that reminds you of your close college friends. Or, maybe you just need a few people to hang out with from time to time to limit the number of nights you sit at home alone. There’s no science to this, but some of you have asked about finding quality social interactions in a new place. In one as big as New York City, there is great danger in isolation.

First, my story. When I moved here I had a few friends – all people I knew from college in Florida. I lived with a couple of them for a while and ended up spending a lot of time in our apartment (it was cold!). But as work crept in to everyone’s life and started to take over, divergent schedules translated into gradual distance. That distance, over time, can lead to isolation. Even though I had these wonderful people around, the lack of people to spend time with then presented itself a concern. Since I just had a few months to tread water before my wedding, I didn’t really sweat it. Instead, I focused a lot of my time internally, reading more and spending time alone listening to music. In its season, it was wonderful. As a lifestyle, it would have been poisonous.

Today, I am married and living relatively far away from those friends. My wife and I spend time trying to make new friends, both together and separately, but it is extremely difficult. The question of where to look is of tremendous importance, and I want to discuss that in some detail. The original question one reader asked about finding “third places” is brilliant, because it boils the issue of friendship down to very basic principles. I have avoided giving my answer until now because, well, it’s hard.

If you expect to make friends in a place like New York, you have to identify places where the people you want to be with spend their time. This could be online – plenty of people meet their spouse online, so I am not going to question a friendship with digital roots.

If you long for something physical (as I do), start by finding people with common interests. It may sound lame, but it’s the way I have made my closest friends out of high school. Find something you are passionate about and get involved. When you share a common interest with someone and you participate in activities based around that interest together, a lot of the awkwardness associated with meeting someone goes away naturally. Say you are serving food at a homeless shelter in Manhattan. The people working there with you and the people being served are all gathered for a specific purpose. Now you have a warrant to speak with them. It won’t be awkward, it isn’t forced, and you may find that you have more things in common than compassion.

Some of the ways I share my time with people include music (both playing and listening), and church. Church is by far the most effective way for me to meet people I want to spend time with. It’s not just because we all believe in the same God, although that underlying principle influences everything that we do. It is by removing the normal barriers to community that I begin to see people for who they are, and that I begin to be seen.

For all its strengths, the social web is something to hide behind. You can be anything you want online. The community I find at church allows me to be my full self – my baggage, my sin, fears of rejection – I can bring all of it with me and be accepted despite them. If you’ve been burned by church before, try again. They’re not all like that. When you get to be who you are, you may find yourself in a group of friends pursuing who they want to become together. And that’s a really cool thing.

I know I’ve been long winded, but making friends is a skill worth improving. It is work. It takes effort, and it requires someone to become vulnerable. Once you meet someone, ask them to hang out with you. Identify places based around common interests (try if you’re stuck), find a church and start showing people who you really are. Since you are extraordinary, someone will appreciate that in you and meet you half way. And don’t forget, we’re all lonely. So in that sense, you’re never alone.


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We found a great group of people yesterday at this church in our neighborhood. It meets in a beautiful old Lutheran church on E 84th Street. The sanctuary is lined with stained glass, and there is an awesome neon cross bolted to the facade. Sorry, you can’t really see it in the picture.

People at this church literally surrounded us. We ended up going to dinner with a few couples and felt immediately welcome. The usual awkwardness never really showed up, which was a nice surprise. I think a brief moment of tension over theology between me and one the leaders had Amber on edge for a second, but besides that it felt great. We can’t wait to go back. Oh, and they preach the gospel.

Thanks to Manika for showing us this wonderful group!

I’ve always hated the idea of looking for a church the way you would a car. When people talk about church shopping, I almost always roll my eyes. It’s not because I underestimated the complexity or difficulty of finding a church (although I did), and it’s not because I resented those people (even though I do sometimes). It is simply because I believe finding a church should be different than standard consumption. When you look for a church, you are looking for a place where you can grow in Christ, and the best way to do that is through active contribution to the church.

With that said, I had no idea how difficult it was to find a church. I naively sat on a church staff and asked questions like “Why won’t they just come up and talk to someone?” The answer is because it is freaking scary and otherwise undesirable. Rob Pendley once threw a statistic my way that said finding a new church is one of the most frightening experiences an adult will encounter. My friends know I’m not timid, and I have no problem talking to people I don’t know. But when you enter that space, something changes in even the most extroverted. What is it?

Amber and I visited an Episcopal church today. I had only attended a couple of them in my life, and this one is close and had an inviting website. So we went to give it a shot. I’m not sure if we will go back, although a wonderful woman greeted us after the service and told us how happy she was to see us. When we found out she drives in from the Bronx, our hopes for this one bright spot in an otherwise dreary and theologically lacking context faded. We discussed the service over brunch. Next week, it’s back to square one. Finding a healthy church where we can both be fed and grow in active service is our top priority. We’ve moved in, found jobs and are adjusting to married life in the city. Now we must find a church. I am amazed at how difficult it is.

If you have a suggestion of a church on the Upper East Side (other than Redeemer Pres.), please do let us know. Google searches only get you so far.

Since my time in my high school youth group, I have held very dearly the privilege of involving myself in the local church. You can not truly know something without delving deep into the things that make it real. Like it or not, religion, like the the food we eat and the music we listen to, is foundational. As I grow roots in this city, they are still shallow, and I can not presume to have any of it “figured out.” Some of you have asked me about my experience with the church here. Please know that my tendency and preference is to experience things from the inside out.
In this case, I write as an observer.

The streets here are lined with churches – some small, others large, Gothic edifices with Latin inscriptions and Roman numerals dating them long before any of the surrounding buildings had even been conceived. What goes on inside them? Many are open to the public, almost acting as museums while offering worship services. St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Madison Ave is a great example. They offer somewhere around 5 masses a day; one in the afternoon is in Spanish. I like to go there on Sunday afternoons and read, reflect and pray. The cavernous spaces catch all the tourist’s noise and create an odd sense of peace. Old First Reformed Church in Park Slope offers an ongoing collection of chamber music performances geared toward children in addition to standard services and Sunday school classes, althought I have never been inside. Another church meets in a small space above a corner store down the road from us, at the corner of Dean Street and Nostrand Avenue in Crown Heights. Saturday and Sunday nights it pumps out boisterous, high intensity praise music that nearly lures me upstairs every time I pass it (and I don’t even like praise songs). Across the street on the opposing corner, the large and austeer Bedford Presbyteriam Church makes no noise. Sometimes I wonder if anyone even goes in.

I have walked in reformed Christian circles for long enough to know that a discussion of the New York church would be incomplete without Redeemer. I visited the church at its Hunter College Auditorium meeting and heard Tim Keller preach. He was every bit as impressive and unassuming as I imagined he would be. My fiancee Amber and I listened to some lectures that he and his wife gave for premarital counseling so I knew what to expect. Sitting in the back of the theater listening to him preach was almost the same as hearing him on the computer. The music is billed as traditional, although I am not sure which tradition they are aiming for. A brass quintet accompanies an organist, and a song leader sings from the lectern, apparently not through a microphone. The singing on the part of those attending was minimal and forlorn. I have decided not to return until Amber and I are looking for churches together in April.

Park Slope Presbyterian Church
My friend Sarah took me to this church when I first got here, and it has been my first choice ever since. They meet in a school, much like the church I worked at in Gainesville and attended for 6 years, but not in the auditorium like most. When you enter John Jay High School on 7th Avenue in Park Slope, you are ushered upstairs, through foam green hallways and stairwells, past the large auditorium into the cafeteria. The room is dirty and obstructed by large collumns, but it is well lit and deep.

Each morning members of the church set up chairs and the musicians bring their equipment with them. The pastoral staff wears traditional robes. They partake of communion each Sunday. They greet each other by name and pass the peace. The atmosphere is full of the joy and frustration created by large numbers of young children chattering and dancing in the makeshift aisles. For all the things that it is not – specifically everything that a large, beautiful church on 5th Avenue in Manhattan can offer – this church is truly a group of people seeking community in something greater than themselves. That is what I look for in a church, and since I found it early, I was spared the hassle of looking elsewhere. Of course when Amber arrives, we will select a church together. For now, I am content and pleased to attend it.

The music is very interesting. A female song leader backed by a band of four or five including drums, bass and a pedal steel guitar guides the congregation through hymnity young and old. It is never what you might consider contemporary, but it is fresh and exciting. Having led worship for so long, it can be very difficult for me to be led in it. I am constantly critiquing what I hear and reading in to the music, noting the demeanor of the musicians and their relationships with the leader. The process always happens the same way, and it is nauseating. At Park Slope Presbyterian I have found it easy to sing and worship, and I even find myself laughing at a particularly good riff from the pedal steel player from time to time. (I went to see him play at a club in the East Village and was pleased to see that he brings what he has to a Sunday morning worship service.)

In short, I like the church. It’s not perfect, making it the perfect place for me. As to the state of the church at large, I hope to have more to say as I continue to experience things here. I hope this helps you.var gaJsHost = ((“https:” == document.location.protocol) ? “https://ssl.” : “http://www.”);document.write(unescape(“%3Cscript src='” + gaJsHost + “’ type=’text/javascript’%3E%3C/script%3E”));
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