News Articles

New church to provide ministry over long term at Ground Zero

NEW YORK (BP)–Gregg Farah is realistic about the challenges of starting a church in lower Manhattan, despite the kinder, gentler attitudes widely rumored to have taken root since Sept. 11. But he is also optimistic about the opportunities for introducing many in the community to a saving faith in Jesus Christ — and the responsibility of Southern Baptists to continue to minister beyond the immediate crisis.

Farah is a North American Mission Board missionary serving as pastor of Mosaic Manhattan, a congregation being started in the Battery Park neighborhood adjacent to Ground Zero — the 16-acre former site of the World Trade Center.

“There are times when I feel people are still open, and there are times when I feel that cracked window that we saw after Sept. 11 has slammed shut and people are more hardhearted than ever. But I’d say it’s a minority,” Farah said. “I think the vast majority of the people realize that climbing the corporate ladder isn’t exclusively the goal of life — and they wonder if God isn’t a part of that.”

The congregation is just one small part of a long-term disaster relief plan that has come to be known as “Enduring Hope,” an effort to spend more than $4 million in contributions that flooded Southern Baptist entities in the months after the attack in an expression of love and concern. With traditional Southern Baptist disaster relief efforts relying more on volunteers than dollars, leaders — in consultation with key donors — determined that a long-term, holistic approach would be most effective.

The bulk of the money under the plan went toward victim benevolence and counseling, including direct payments to affected families, immediate disaster relief and ministry projects, and chaplaincy efforts. About 41 percent went to long-term initiatives, including purchase of a building in Brooklyn to house future volunteer ministry teams in the city and partial funding for the Mosaic Manhattan congregation. Other key sponsors of the church include Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, and Gateway Baptist Church in Irmo, S.C.

Through the Enduring Hope benevolence effort, about $1.9 million has been given to more than 1,000 families impacted by the disaster. Most are service-industry and hospitality workers who lost their jobs, a category many officials are now admitting has fallen through the cracks of other relief efforts. Through follow-up efforts, many have also become involved in local churches and renewed or begun relationships with Christ.

Initially developed by the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association, the Baptist Convention of New York and NAMB, elements of Enduring Hope also have been funded by other state conventions that received similar donations.

Mosaic Manhattan has been in development since Farah — who grew up in Manhattan’s Upper West Side — moved with his family to an apartment in the area in late April. Since then, several mission groups have conducted servant evangelism efforts, and a core group meeting weekly for Bible study has grown to about 20. Because of faster-than-expected growth, they currently are planning for a public launch by the end of the year.

The church also is benefiting from the relationships developed by Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers who cleaned more than 600 apartments in the area. The large Gateway Apartments complex adjacent to Ground Zero recently agreed to allow the church to use space for additional small-group meetings, Farah said.

While the new church is intended for those impacted by Sept. 11, Farah said there is also a strong dynamic of rebirth. New residents have moved in to replace those who chose not to endure the emotional strain of their surroundings.

“Those who did return are warriors,” he said. “These are folks who are digging their heels in and saying there’s no one or no thing that’s going to move me out of my area. On one side that’s good, but that mentality might be hard to move from a spiritual view.”

But people have responded more quickly than he originally anticipated, and ongoing efforts are geared toward continued growth. Through an agreement with a local movie theater, they have secured a limited number of free tickets for a biweekly “movie night” followed by fellowship at a coffee shop or restaurant. This fall they are planning a parenting conference as well as participation in a community block party being sponsored by Battery Park City.

The church is taking some of its cues from Mosaic, a dynamic congregation in Los Angeles with a similar urban context. Part of that is an emphasis on “celebrating beauty,” from music to visual arts and everything in between.

“It’s really about the beauty of God’s creation, the body of Christ and all the different elements of that creation,” he said. “We will use the differing ways people are gifted to tell God’s story.”

There’s no denying the physical presence of the disaster, Farah said — from the “pit” itself to the steady influx of tourists and the memorials that have cropped up throughout the area. But the residents themselves have largely found it necessary to move on.

“When we first moved down here we’d walk past certain areas and look at the pictures of those whose lives were lost, but you kind of have to stop doing that because it’s hard,” he said.

The memories also come back with every approach of a low-flying plane, or when buildings shudder from a particularly loud clap of thunder. But ultimately, Farah is confident Mosaic Manhattan will be there for those who do need spiritual support.

“Fortunately, God is in this place and we’re expecting great things,” he said. “Without question there are huge obstacles and challenges, but I can’t imagine being anywhere else. And I am grateful to the North American Mission Board and the thousands of volunteers who have served and the people who have given funding. This is exciting, and I’m confident there are going to be some amazing things happening.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: GREGG FARAH and A NEW START.

    About the Author

  • James Dotson