I moved on September 4, 2009 to join in the work that God was already doing in the city, especially with and through Trinity Grace Church. I was a member of the Orlando congregation that had sent some of the leaders here to plant the church in NYC and I hoped to get my own hands-on experience with church planting so that I could eventually use that experience to plant a new church in Chicago.
In the weeks leading up to the move, I finished a year of volunteering with AmeriCorps, released my debut album - Life Is A Bike Wreck (Better Wear Your Helmet) - traveled the country on my first DIY tour, and realized that the one and only job prospect that I had seriously considered to support myself in NYC was just not for me. Still reeling from the album release and tour, I buckled down for a life of hardship in the city as a "starving artist." I had already learned (only 1.5 years earlier) the importance of wearing one's existential helmet and I was ready to persevere, come what may.
During the tour I also secured a place to live in community - a two-bedroom apartment where I would live with (at least) three other Christian brothers for the following two years. We occasionally prayed, ate, and served together, but never in any regular or intentional way. We were all already committed to our own church congregations around the city. Still, these brothers were a great support to me even as I struggled financially, came into my own as an artist/activist, embraced freeganism, began hosting shows in our apartment, and otherwise sought God's call for me in the city. It wasn't long before I became indebted to one of them and as the debt grew, so did a chasm in our friendship. Nevertheless, for months and months (longer than a year) he graciously allowed me to stay as I pursued God's provision in my own strange and seemingly backwards ways. Finally I decided in February that I would seriously attempt to make my living busking and devote real time and energy to writing and producing original music. Within about six months I managed to make enough money busking to pay my bills and even pay my roommate back.
But the news really only lit a fire under my butt. You see, I've been wanting to move out myself for several months now, as there are a few aspects of community living that I've felt especially deprived of these past two years.
Intentional Living - While my roommates' support and encouragement has been invaluable to me, I've found it difficult to have them largely absent from my spiritual life. I've been too much invested (emotionally, spiritually, existentially) in my community at TGC and my life at home has been almost entirely separate. I've longed for more intentional Christian community at home.
When TGC launched its Heights Missional Community in Oct 2009, just weeks after my move, I was there. With bells on. Organized by geography, The Heights MC is made up of folks who live in or near the Washington Heights neighborhood. Living in Hamilton Heights myself, I was barely on the edge. But as I got more involved, I found myself in the neighborhood for small group on Wednesdays, then prayer on Mondays, dinner with friends on Tuesdays. I found a great credit union in the GWB bus terminal and used the free clinic at Columbia University on 168 street. I was volunteering music instruction at Operation Exodus, teaching English at Holy Rood Church, or holding it down at Word Up Books, the new radical bookstore on Broadway and 176.
The most significant aspects of my life were converging on the Heights.
Then - after about a year and a half of pursuing community together in the neighborhood - it was revealed that we would be planting a new parish in the Heights. I knew that I needed to be a part of this!
Hospitality - I'm a huge fan and proponent of CouchSurfing. As an avid traveler, I've taken much advantage of this fantastic resource. I've found beds and couches to sleep on for free, meals, rides, hosts for DIY shows in remote cities, local artists for support, company for surfing the west coast and climbing at the gym in Brooklyn, and team mates for a kickball game in Dallas. I love meeting these fascinating new people and sharing time, meals, experiences with them. But I've also felt incredibly stifled as I've not really been allowed to embrace and practice at my apartment the underlying ethic of the whole program - paying it forward. I've also wanted to host shows, events, movie nights, prayer gatherings. And these open to the public - the friend and stranger alike. Sufficed to say, these events also didn't fly (though I was able to sneak a few in there).
So the fire's been lit under my butt and I'm beginning to take steps towards living in Christian community that is intentional; committed to Washington Heights and the TGC church plant; ready and willing to serve neighbors, travelers, family, friends, strangers, and the broader TGC community with hospitality, a couch to sleep on, a meal, and anything else we can afford to share with our fellow men and women.
A friend and brother, Clinton Washington, shares this vision with me and is helping me to determine what this community can and will look like (we currently seek more roommates!). We'll both be writing much more about this as it approaches. You can follow this project at this new blog site. CLICK HERE.
Thanks to everyone reading this for all of your love and support.. I thank God for the miracle that I am still in the city, but I know that it is also due to the love and care that my friends and communities have shown me these past two years. Looking forward to many more years still!