What’s Going On: Returning Citizens Assistance Network

by Theo Brown

Several members of our congregation have become deeply involved with the Returning Citizens Assistance Network (RCAN). This network of 15 congregations in Washington, DC, works with the Public Defender Service to assist individuals who are currently or formerly incarcerated.

During the past seven months, the work of RCAN has intensified because of the strain that the Covid pandemic has put on the prison system.  RCAN has responded directly to 20 requests for assistance since March and many of those were to help people who have been directly affected by the pandemic. The network has donated clothes and gift cards, provided games, books, and puzzles to incarcerated youth, and helped others stay connected to the outside world. Here are three example:

  • The Bureau of Prisons initiated a “compassionate release” policy because of the pandemic, letting some elderly prisoners out early in order to protect them from the danger of infection in prisons. RCAN assisted six of these individuals who returned to the District of Columbia after serving long prison sentences.  Assistance included donating clothes for several men, buying gift cards to help them buy essential personal items, and identifying mentors who could assist their return to the community
  • The pandemic caused many educational programs to be cancelled at the DC facility for incarcerated youth, and RCAN members donated games, books, puzzles and other educational items to the facility so that the teenagers who are incarcerated who have things to do during the time they were more isolated than usual.
  • The Bureau of Prisons also reduced the contact its inmates could have with each other, increasing the need for reading materials and other connections to the outside world.  RCAN congregations sent books and magazines to two different prisoners and also found pen pals to write to an elderly individual who was isolated by the new rules during the pandemic.

Interested in helping with RCAN? Contact Theo Brown at dialogdays@aol.com.

From Rev. Heather Shortlidge

Dear Friends,

Join us this Sunday November 15th at 10:00am for Zoom worship. I’m preaching from Matthew 22:15-22, where the Pharisees and Herodians seek clarification about paying taxes to the Roman Empire. Music this week will include the traditional favorite “All Creatures of Our God and King” and the poignant “Seek Ye First The Kingdom of God” sung by the full Sanctuary Choir. There will be virtual coffee hour following worship.

Join us for 10:00 am Sunday Worship here
Dial-in: 1-929-436-2866 Meeting ID: 150620342

During worship, we will honor and thank the 113 households who have made a pledge to the 2021 Stewardship Campaign, Celebrating God’s Presence, Securing Our Future. Thus far, we’ve raised $618,000. Thank you to everyone who has faithfully invested in our community for the upcoming year. In order to reach our goal, we still need to raise $81,000. If you have not yet done so, we invite you to prayerfully consider a financial gift to the church (www.nyapc.org/pledge). The New York Avenue Presbyterian church is able to stand with the oppressed, lift up the broken-hearted, and make God’s love and justice visible to all because of your generosity.

Please hold Elder Laura Brouse-Long in your prayers. Sadly, Bill Long died on Thursday afternoon at home under hospice care. At this time, Laura welcomes calls and cards and will share any service information once it is available.

Finally, the Personnel Committee has heard a desire from some of you to help support staff whose employment has been affected by the pandemic. We are encouraging those wishing to provide support to contribute to the NYAPC Benevolence Fund, which can provide monetary assistance, to individuals in need, including former and furloughed church staff. Please contact Edie Snyder (edithholmes@aol.com) with any questions. More details below.

And to nourish your spirit this week—the beatitudes, rewritten for today, by Rev. Alison Paden, Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Mendham, NJ:

Blessed are those who are weary of constant change,
canceled plans, and comparison fatigue,
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who weep
for someone they have lost
and the complications of finding closure during this challenging season,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are those who are quietly holding their family and friends together—
providing comfort and consistency even if it is wearing them out,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who are marching and advocating and seeking justice
for those who cannot fight for themselves,
for they will find God’s righteousness.
Blessed are those who are providing care
even when it is a danger to themselves,
for they will receive care.
Blessed are the children
who are experiencing this moment through innocent eyes,
for they will see God.
Blessed are those who are trying to build bridges and create consensus,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who boldly speak the message of the Gospel,
in person and online—unsure where and how their message is being received,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Peace and Courage,

Heather

Former White House Press Secretary Leads Class on Election Returns

by Paul Dornan

Mike McCurry, formerly President Clinton’s Press Secretary and currently Director of the Center for Public Theology at Wesley Seminary, led the first of two virtual adult church school classes at New York Avenue on Saturday, Nov. 7.

McCurry, insightful and affable, began his class on impressions of the election returns with introductory remarks and then opened it up for questions from the 50 participants. His remarks came only hours after President-Elect Biden was announced the winner, which made his observations all the more immediate.

He stressed the institutional reinforcement of the division, with a new Democratic president, a barely Democratic House and a still-Republican Senate, which he interpreted to mean that progress might be sluggish even on subjects in which there appears to be significant consensus. He saw resentment of the apparent know-it-all elites as the source of the survival and intensity of the Trump coalition.

Second Class This Saturday. As a preview for his second class with us, on Nov. 14 at 4 pm, on the response of the faith community to the election results, he posed these questions:

• How do we counter and defuse such resentment?

• How do we convey as individuals, as communities, to those so resentful, that they have genuinely been heard?

For the Nov. 14 class (4 pm):

Go to Zoom or dial 1 301 715 8592 and enter Meeting ID 847 5246 6884

Updates on 7-2-9, the Triangle Ministry and the Radcliffe Room Ministry

By Phil Telfeyan

7-2-9:  We are not meeting in person this year and won’t until St. Elizabeth’s allows its residents to participate in community programs.  So St. E’s  calling the shots.

Instead of in-person programing, we’re planning to send gifts and cards to our members at St. E’s on Christmas, Valentine’s Day (the 7-2-9 anniversary, now in year 42), and mid-June (when our annual picnic normally occurs).

Triangle Park:  World Central Kitchen stopped giving us food at the end of September, so we no longer have any food service during the week. But the BID still serves 175 sandwiches Monday through Friday in Triangle Park.

Radcliffe Room:  On Sundays, our volunteers make sandwiches, bagels, and coffee.  We also pass out donated pastries, underwear, toiletries, shoes, and clothes (we still need men’s clothes as well as winter coats).  We serve from 11am to 1pm on Sundays (same as the BID’s weekday hours).  About 170 guests and 10 volunteers come every Sunday.

James Dandridge and Richard McCoy: Both of these regular 7-2-9 members and church congregants are well.  James comes every Sunday to volunteer with the Radcliffe Room and asks every week when 7-2-9 is coming back.  Richard comes every Sunday to get lunch from the Radcliffe Room (and some weekdays from the BID).  Richard asks about the 7-2-9 volunteers.

In my personal observation, there continues to be a close relationship between homelessness and deterioration in mental health.  I’ve seen many of our Radcliffe Room guests’ mental health worsen during the pandemic, which illustrates the urgent need for more opportunities for in-person fellowship like 7-2-9 brings.

From Rev. Heather Shortlidge

Dear Friends,

As the world remains unsettled, I hope and pray you are finding ways to tend to yourself in body, mind, and spirit. Please reach out to Pastor Rachel or me, if you would like conversation, care, or prayer. We are here to listen with you, to be a safe space for lament, and to hold space for questions and complications. Whatever you are feeling this week, please know that you are not alone.

Sunday morning is shaping up to be a joyful gathering of two congregations as we worship with Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church. We will gather at 10:00am via Zoom to remember that God is making all things new, even now, and to keep learning how to love our neighbors in new and greater ways.

Brown’s pastor, Rev. Andrew Foster Connors, and I will be preaching a dialogue sermon from the lectionary text, Matthew 25:1-13, the Gospel story of the ten bridesmaids and their oil lamps. As I’ve mentioned before, Andrew is one of the best preachers I know, so you are in for a real treat. Our combined choirs have also recorded John Rutter’s eloquent Gaelic Blessing for our anthem. And Pastor Rachel and Pastor Michele Ward (from BMPA) have written exquisite liturgy to help make sense of this week and our world. Please join us on Sunday morning and invite others to as well.

Join us for 10:00am Sunday Worship here
Dial-in: 1-929-436-2866 Meeting ID: 150 620 342

Immediately following worship, Brown Memorial is hosting an adult education class, “Democracy and Our Faith” to help us learn more about our representative democracy and to get an update on what this means for the current national election. All are welcome to remain on Zoom following worship and participate. This is in addition to NYAPC’s class, Faith and the Election, on Saturday at 4 pm with Mike McCurry, director of Wesley Seminary’s Center for Public Theology and former press secretary for President Bill Clinton.

Many thanks to our Protest Hospitality Team and all their work to help make the church ready for post-election hospitality. Downtown has been incredibly quiet, with roving street closures and most of our neighbors boarded up. At the moment, it is a sea of blank plywood. We’re grateful that things have remained peaceful and will continue to make daily decisions about whether to be open. A special thank you to all who have dropped off or shipped donations. If they are not used this week, they will be saved for the inauguration and our Radcliffe Room guests.

Finally, the Trustees have been diligently working to keep our building in good shape, even as we continue to gather and hold meetings online. The Downtown Day Services Center is currently open during the week for appointment-based services, however, none of our other tenants have elected to return yet. The Radcliffe Ministry continues to serve lunch and provide fresh clothing items for neighbors in need on Sundays from 11 am to 1 pm. And in order to continue to care for our complex and aging building, a new full-time Facility Manager position was approved by the Session this fall. The Personnel Committee is currently interviewing candidates and hope to have someone in place by early December. We’re continually grateful for John O’Brien, Interim Facility Manager, who stepped in this year to help us manage and evaluate best practices. If you need to access to the church building, arrangements can be made by calling John at (202) 725-7779.

And a prayer by John Philip Newell to nourish you this week:

When it seemed there was no hope you showed us new ways forward, O God.
When it seemed there were only endings you showed us new beginnings.
Strengthen our belief in the power of life over death.
Strengthen our belief in the force of truth over falsehood
that we may be bearers of hope in the world,
that we may be bearers of hope.

Peace and Courage,

Heather

What’s Going On: Cuba Partners

By Marilyn Sieber

While we’ve heard little direct news from our partner church, First Presbyterian-Reformed Church of Havana, Rev. Liudmila Hernández, pastor of First Havana and vice-moderator of the Synod, participates via phone with the Cuba Partners Network Steering Committee meetings.

She reports that long lines for food, medicines, and other goods continue, and that shortages of food and medicines are making day-to-day living very difficult. One Presbyterian pastor waited in line for over an hour and a half to pick up a prescription. Presbyterian pastors keep in touch with daily morning prayers via WhatsApp, and that is the main communications tool used by many Cubans. Churches do not hold services via Zoom, but First Havana has been open for services in the past few months; we are not sure if that is true now. After a recent decline in Covid-19 cases, Cuba experienced an increase this past week with 420 active cases. Total Cuban deaths from Covid-19 since March are 128.

In response to the dire economic situation, Cuba Partners Network sent out a call in June to raise $25,000 for the Synod. NYAPC Cuba Partners Committee sent $1000 using its unspent budget. More than $60,000 was raised for the Synod for its work and to distribute to Presbyterian churches.

In August, the Network said it was able to securely transfer money to individual Presbyterian churches. NYAPC was able to give $8500 to First Havana from an unexpected $10,000 grant, which, after PCUSA fees, should be $7700 for First Havana. These monies were just received by the Synod for hand-distribution to designated churches.

Cuba has now opened is airports and American Airlines just announced that it will be resuming flights to Havana. This does not mean that the planned NYAPC trip to Cuba in January will go on as planned. We will wait until we know that safety for travel to Cuba is assured related to Covid-19 before we reschedule.

In the meantime, keep in touch with your Cuban friends and pray for them and the church there, and for all Cubans as they struggle through devastating economic hardship.

The following was reported by Cuban pastors who participated in the annual Cuba Network Partners meetings on September 23-24 via WhatsApp/Zoom:

Ongoing crisis in Cuba. As the pandemic resurges in Cuba only a few churches are able to hold services. Several borders between provinces have been closed. Churches try to continue their community service programs, but access to food and other items for these programs is limited. As scarcity of beef and pork persist, the government is looking at alternative protein sources. New “U.S. dollar stores” are fully stocked, but inaccessible to the majority of Cubans who continue to struggle and wait in lines for hours at the sparsely stocked stores that accept Cuban pesos. Even more serious is the shortage of medications. Cubans are helping each other by sharing their medications through the use of social networks.

The following was reported on October 23, 2020 by the Center for Democracy in the Americas and could affect church to church remittances:

The U.S. Treasury Department announced that it is further restricting remittances to Cuba by amending Cuban Assets Control Regulations that would subject remittance forwarding entities and related transactions to sanctions and is amending three general licenses that will affect remittances from persons subject to US jurisdiction. It will serve to further close channels through which the Cuban people can receive remittances.