I was walking up Park Avenue today and, as I usually do when I'm close to St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, crossed over to the east side of the street to be in its shadows. Situated just north of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, it is a sumptuous church, so also the site of many society weddings. I don't know but I assume that it is on the "correct" side of the theological dispute that is splitting the Anglican communion apart. The correct side being latitudinarian. Laissez-faire, one might say. More liberal on sexual matters and rather left-wing on economic and foreign policy matters. But the irony is that the "right"--that is, the conservative side of the matter that has torn the assembly of bishops asunder--has taken shelter in either the black African church or the Latin America church, each of which is much more theologically traditional than he white clerisy in Mother England and in its daughter, the United States.
There are three huge posters on the steps of St. Bart's these days, one of a woman, the second of a black man and the next of a white man, all of them laboring in executive positions on Wall Street or maybe just fired from such positions. In any case, they looked worried. After all, these folk brought home big bonuses last year and, and whether "redundant"--that cruel British word for being laid off--or not they will bring home none this year. I am afraid I can't quote exactly how the posters' message actually read. But its essence was this: come to a church relevant to these disturbing times.
It's not clear to me what Jesus can do for these once successful men and women who now have deeply furrowed brows. After all, the come-on is explicit. But its content isn't.
All around midtown and just half a block up from the church I encountered a trio of young people (actually two males and one female, a little strange this mixing of the sexes) right out of the Jewish sect of Lubavitcher Hassidim. You could tell that easily enough. Some of the literature their makeshift table sported had the familiar photograph of the dead "rebbe," Menachem Mendel Schneerson on it. The only mystery was whether these particular Lubavitcher thought that Schneerson was really dead or whether he was the messiah who hadn't quite come back.
I do not mean to ridicule. I asked about the "rebbe," and no one answered. They had in their hands an esrog (a lemon) and a lulav (which
is three fronds, one each from a myrtle, palm and willow tree). We are
in the middle of Succoth, the feast
of tabernacles when we Jews (or some of us) celebrate the harvest
season. I suppose this is quite primitive. Which is a not-nice way of
saying "essential." Anyway, the three with whom I spoke asked me if I
were Jewish. (They asked everybody they thought "looked" Jewish, and
most of them waved the young people away.) I said "yes,' and engaged
them in a conversation on their Park Avenue experience. The young lady
said it was daunting. I told them I was going to eat in a sukkah, (a
tabernacle covered with loose greens, fruit and flowers but otherwise
open to the skies) tonight. They didn't need to convert me. Nothing
was said about the market crash under the tent.