Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Religious bouquet of the West Village

For "Lived Religion in New York" today I reused a little walking tour I developed seven years ago for Religious Geography of New York. To make it more interesting, I had student teams spend 15 minutes in class first becoming an "instant expert" on one of five sites we were to pass, and then letting the students talk about the places as we got there. So students told us about the Village Presbyterian Church, The Church in the Village, Integral Yoga, the Salvation Army, and, at the end, the second cemetery of Congregation Shearith Israel.

We learned that the first is no more than a landmarked façade, its congregation having to give it up after a spat over the Yom Kippur War led a Jewish congregation which had been sharing it to leave them with a budget they couldn't manage, that the second houses what had been three congregations, that the third started on the UWS, that the fourth preferred meeting on the street noisily rather than solemnly in sacred spaces, that the last - across the street from Lang - used to be much bigger, still contains the grave of someone who fought in the Revolutionary War, and shows us the contours of a grid older than The Grid - a mini-education in New York religious history. But there was more. All the places we went were alive. Okay, so Village Presbyterian is now condos called "The Portico." But Church in the Village was in the midst of their weekly food pantry service, and Integral Yoga's bookstore was closed for a lunchtime meditation. We noticed (well, I noticed and drew the class' attention) to the books in the window, beneath the Hindu statues: Rachel Carson and Rumi.

Abingdon Square, where the Salvation Army had had large open-air gatherings in the 1890s, wis now a little park whose flowers so delighted us all that I took a detour past the Jefferson Market garden, where one of the volunteers at the gate who, on learning who we were, said: If you wonder if there is a God, look here!

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