I remember the first time I went to Redeemer Presbyterian Church. I had recently moved to New York and was trying to decide what I wanted to do about the whole "church" thing. My entire life I had gone to Catholic Mass but also hung out in Protestant circles for youth groups or Bible studies, and in general, fellowship other than church. And ya know, it worked. BUT, given that the real world isn't so much like that, I realized that I needed to choose.
After much deliberation I decided the best place to start would be this Redeemer place I had heard about from, oh right, every Christian from Penn who was in NYC. They all loved this place. And I was all, "How good can a church be??" So I went with my then roommate Lindsay. This was my first time in church in nearly 3 months, as I had spent 6 weeks of my summer backpacking Europe, and much of the rest of it traveling domestically, and basically was just lazy about going to church.
And let me just tell you. That day in church was one of those pivotal moments that we all have in life where something just... changes. I knew I was home. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that this would be my church. And I had the overwhelming sense that to that point, I had never really truly been at church. At least the kind of church that Jesus was talking about. The majority of the time that first Sunday was filled with catharsis. A lot of the stress and anxiety and joy and all that had been bundled up in those three months in which I had graduated college, packed up everything I owned to move to a new city, traversed Europe, broke up with a boyfriend I cared tremendously for, and started a real job. So yeah, a lot. It all came out that day.
Now, a year and a half later, I realize even more how much that one pivotal Sunday morning has shaped who I am now. I don't know if words can express the unshakable foundation on which I can stand because of my church family. For those of you who know nothing about Redeemer, essentially it's a church of about 4,000 people, and the pastor's name is Tim Keller. This is a man I could listen to all day and be completely content. I am fairly certain he could speak about concrete and make it interesting. He is to preaching what C.S. Lewis is to writing, in my opinion. It's eloquent yet simple. Never too wordy, but always carrying deep implications. All sermons are available online, if you're ever interested in listening to one. One of my favorite sermons series that he has done since I have been here is The Trouble With Christianity, which essentially examines different questions/issue that non-Christians have with Christianity. Doubt. Injustice. Literalism. Hell. It's all in there. Tim doesn't beat around the bush. He gives it to you straight.
Most importantly, he knows his audience. Who, you might ask, is his audience? Well, I would say that 80% of our church are professionals between the ages of 23-38. Seriously. And while maybe not the most diverse church in terms of age, I think it is true to the demographic of NYC, and it is the most diverse community I have ever been a part of. All races, backgrounds, and professions. In my immediate circle of friends there are people from Colorado, Texas, Minnesota, Tennessee, Rhode Island, and Georgia. They went to school at Baylor, UVA, Auburn, Middlebury, Princeton, and UT (both of them). They are architects, bike couriers, bankers, designers, advertisers, political consultants, grad students, and everything in between. What unites them? Their belief in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and the free gift he offers us all, if we will only believe in Him and stop thinking we can do it on our own. They are imperfect and broken as individuals, yet beautiful and wonderful in His sight. Together we are a family, a community, a church. I believe, ever striving towards the Biblical idea of these fragile entities. While we certainly do all those "Christiany" things like Bible study, church, and prayer together, we also embrace the beauty of this world and that which God has created for us to enjoy. We ice skate in Bryant Park, eat steak in the Jerz, go to movies, go to bars, make dinners together, and in general do the best we can with what we've got here on earth. It's not always easy, and we certainly all fall short many more times than we do it right, but, bit by bit, we not only help pick one another up, but we constantly point one another back to our rock and our foundation.
Yesterday I once again found myself at the morning service where a year and a half ago I was at a turning point in my life, but this time with 7 of my friends. This time it was for Lessons and Carols, which I had not been to last year but am so happy I went to this year. Essentially this service, held once a year near Christmas, was a series of, as the name would imply, lessons and carols. It was 6 readings from the Bible, each followed by a song, each combination telling part of a story, the story of Jesus. Each lesson was read in a different language- English, Spanish, Korean, Afrikaans, Dutch, and Indonesian, all of course with English translations in our program. The carols were sung by a choir of 25, accompanied by an orchestra of about the same size. In a city full of professional musicians and performers, and drawing from a church of 4,000, it was truly one of the most beautiful and moving "concerts" of my life. And the entire time I couldn't help but think to myself, "This is what heaven is going to be like." All day, every day, people using their gifts to come together to praise our great God.
This is what it's all about. This, as I felt on that first Sunday but was not yet able to put into words, is true Biblical community. To my friends, my family, thank you.