New Day for Methodism in the Bronx
By Elliott Wright
New York, NY, March 24, 2009--A new inter-ethnic, multicultural United Methodist congregation is off to a strong start in the Bronx, the northern-most borough of the City of New York, offering "solid ground for shaky times."
New Day United Methodist Church had its formal opening on March 15 with a worship attendance of some 150 persons, meeting in a space at the Bronx High School of Science. It was not, however, the first gathering of New Day. Five monthly "preview services" were in the background, indications of the viability of a new church start in a low-income neighborhood in northwest Bronx.
At New Day, worship is visual and sacramental, and uses both ancient and emerging expressions through music and word. New Day reaches out to all kinds of people, including those who may have no faith—at least for now.
An Answer to Prayer
New Day, however, did not come about overnight. The 52-year-old pastor worked for more than two years with officials of the New York Annual Conference to realize the new congregation. They explored many potential sites. The Bronx is not a place that comes quickly to mind in anticipating a new United Methodist congregation, but it seemed the best choice, lacking a Methodist church in the immediate area chosen.
Northwest Bronx is heavily Roman Catholic and dotted with struggling older mainline churches, Pentecostal storefronts, and Hispanic congregations. The neighborhood has a highly diverse population, speaks many languages, and still has pockets of earlier Irish and German communities. It is low-income without being abjectly poor.
"We decided in the planning that New Day would have a three-fold mission," Pastor Cunningham explained in a telephone interview. These are:
Making a Stir
Identification with God and with one another as children of God is an important component at New Day. Ministries being developed, including those for children and youth, are intended to deepen connections with God and to equip people to cross any barriers that may divide and separate them.
The openness to the community and the emphasis on crossing boundaries have resulted in an embrace of New Day by community groups in the vicinity. Pastor Cunningham received strong encouragement, and an office, from the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition.
New Day has also received funding for promotion from the Igniting Ministries initiative of United Methodist Communications and from the General Board of Church and Society for its emphasis on justice. The General Board of Global Ministries is considering a grant through a program that encourages the launch of multi-ethnic congregations.
"The United Methodist connection has been wonderfully supportive," Cunningham said. "Staff at Global Ministries' unit on Evangelization and Church Growth has been available and helpful."
Multiple links exist between New Day and Global Ministries. Jorge Lockward, who heads the Global Praise Program at the agency, is the volunteer minister of worship, having been "sent" to New Day by his congregation, Grace Hispanic United Methodist Church in Manhattan. Pastor Cunningham's wife, Rebecca Asedillo, is the area executive for Asia at the mission board.
"God is in this Matter"
Mr. Lockward also senses that God put the ministry team together, not only Pastor Cunningham and himself, but two other members: Lisa Cunningham, the pastor's daughter, who is volunteer youth minister, and Sheila Beckford, an African American candidate for ordination, who is volunteer minister of administration.
Worship at New Day uses a broad range of forms, brought together in ways that engage the congregation. The sermon is translated into Spanish. "Since this is an urban congregation, we use urban gifts in our worship," Mr. Lockward explained. "We use many forms of expression and have introduced readings done by our young people at the start of worship."
New Day has drawn its participants through pastoral contacts and advertising. A large mailing of postcards, made possible by the Igniting Ministries grant, bore fruit, bringing in 15 or 20 regular worshippers.
Early monthly services were held in a funeral home that quickly became too small. New Day's space arrangement with Bronx High School of Science runs into June 2009. The church pays $160 a week. Pastor Cunningham noted that logistics can be difficult, since everything for worship must be carried in, but "New Day is an incredibly wonderful experience," he said.
Date posted: Mar 24, 2009