News Articles

Church is launched amid N.Y.’s heartache

NEW YORK CITY (BP)–When Nelson Searcy looked out over the New York skyline just before stepping inside LaGuardia Airport on Tuesday, Sept. 11, he saw the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and, of course, the World Trade Center. It was a familiar site for anyone who lived in New York City. “What a beautiful city,” he thought.

God began calling him to the city more than a year ago. Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., had sent him across the country to research the people and, with a team of people, plant a church. In a few short months, Searcy had grown to love New York City and, after doing the proper research, he intended to plant a church designed to bring hope and community to a city often disjointed.

His flight was canceled Sept. 11, like every other flight in every other city in America. As he walked back outside and looked up at that familiar skyline, he noticed the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, but where the World Trade Center once stood, there was only smoke.

If ever this city needed hope and a sense of community, it was now. He needed no more research about these people and his new adopted home.

“I guess that is when the disaster hit home to me,” Searcy said. “When I saw how drastically that skyline had changed. I knew the city had changed as well.”

After the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Saddleback sent emergency funds to Searcy’s New York church immediately, which helped fund its first two worship services the week of Sept. 17. More than 90 people, many of whom knew people who died in the attack, attended those first meetings of Searcy’s innovative new church – “The Journey.”

During the National Day of Prayer on the Friday following the attacks, Saddleback raised more than $88,000 for The Journey to use in aiding the attack victims. Saddleback has helped to start more than 40 other churches, mostly in Southern California.

“In the aftermath of this horrendous mass murder, there is a deep spiritual hunger for comfort, guidance and answers in Manhattan,” said Rick Warren, Saddleback’s founding pastor. “In addition to assisting with the physical needs of the victims, we want to minister to their emotional and spiritual needs also. We feel that beginning a new congregation in the heart of the city is the best way we can do that.”

Searcy envisions a church where young Manhattan professionals can connect with each other, learn more about God and serve the community around them. Searcy will minister to young professionals in their world by emphasizing both small-group participation and new technology — asking each member to connect daily for an Internet devotional, meet weekly with a group of friends in the city, gather monthly for a citywide celebration and serve others annually on a mission trip outside of the city.

“We see people all of the time here walking up and down the streets — who are our age — young professionals with few churches that meet their needs,” Searcy said.

Searcy’s calling came more than a year before he left Southern California for New York City. While on a mission trip to the city, he was told there were no new church plants in Manhattan. Searcy couldn’t believe there were no new churches in one of the most concentrated areas of people in the country. For the next few months, Searcy pondered that bit of information. Last November, he began to feel God nudging him to start a church. But God wasn’t just working on Searcy; he soon realized his wife was beginning to sense God’s call as well.

Last Summer, Saddleback sent Searcy, who was appointed by the Southern Baptist North America Mission Board as the city coordinator for the Strategic Focus City initiative, and his vision to New York City without any idea that the city would face such a monumental crisis. Arriving in August, Searcy spent a month planning a church he expected to plant later in the fall.

When the tragic events of Sept. 11 unfolded, he tossed his research plans and began to plan for two services the following week, no easy task in a space-starved city trying to recover from a massive disaster. Quickly, he sent postcards, rented a room in a Manhattan hotel and put together two memorial services for the victims. Then used a trimmed-down version of the sermon “Where Is God in a Crisis?” that Warren had delivered at Saddleback the weekend before.

To Searcy’s surprise, more than 90 people showed up for two services at Empire Hotel. Most of those in attendance not only didn’t regularly go to church, Searcy believes, but also had never even taken Christianity seriously before the attack. The Journey held its first regular Sunday meeting on Sept. 30.

“There is a great openness now to spiritual things,” Searcy said. “People here are looking for answers for what happened. They are searching.”

Searcy said that people wanting to help with the new church plant could do three things: pray, give resources and/or take a mission trip to the city. Searcy asks that people interested in a mission trip wait until New York City returns to more of a routine before making a trip.

For more information on The Journey, e-mail Searcy at [email protected] or check out the church website at http://www.nyjourney.com.

    About the Author

  • Tobin Perry