Unity and refuge

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City churches host interfaith services, and activism


  • Activists gathered downtown to protest President Donald Trump’s “refugee ban” at a 24-hour event hosted by Trinity Church. Photo: Trinity Church Wall Street/Jim Melchiorre

  • Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan speaks at an interdenominational service at Marble Collegiate Church on March 29. Marble's pastor, Dr. Michael B. Brown, is to Dolan's right. Photo: Michael Garofalo

Wednesday evening prayer services are part of the normal routine at Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue, but congregants at the March 29 edition of the weekly gathering were treated to a decidedly unusual sight: a Roman Catholic cardinal delivering a homily from the altar of a Protestant church.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, headed 20 blocks south on Fifth Avenue from St. Patrick’s Cathedral to join Dr. Michael B. Brown, Marble’s senior minister, for an evening of interdenominational worship at the historic church.

Brown and Dolan emphasized themes of Christian unity in their remarks, calling for collaboration and solidarity between the two denominations, which Brown described as “different cars on the same train.”

“We are united in our yearning for heaven,” Dolan said, referring to the Protestants in attendance as “fellow patients of the divine physician.”

The seeds of the joint service were planted almost exactly a year earlier, when the church leaders met for the first time at an Easter dinner. The two bonded over their shared passion for a good buffet spread. “We do not worship food, but we approach it with reverence,” Brown joked.

“There is a fence that perhaps in some times past may have separated us that’s no longer there, and for that I’m profoundly grateful,” Brown said to the cardinal after the service.

“And we don’t need any more fences,” Dolan replied with a laugh.

Earlier that day and further downtown, another interfaith group wrapped up a day-long protest against actions taken by one of Marble Collegiate Church’s most famous former congregants — President Donald J. Trump. Dozens of activists, religious leaders, immigrants and refugees gathered at Trinity Church in the Financial District to rally against Trump’s controversial executive order regarding refugee resettlement.

The executive order, which suspends the issuance of new visas to people from six Muslim-majority countries and temporarily halts the United States’ refugee resettlement program, is currently blocked from being implemented by a federal judge’s ruling. The Trump administration is appealing the ruling.

The “City of Refuge” event, which began on the afternoon of March 28 and continued for 24 hours, included a demonstration outside the Trump-owned 40 Wall Street building, workshops on immigrant rights, music and a candlelight vigil. A number of attendees spent the night outside Trinity in a small “tent city” on the church’s grounds to symbolize the plight of those in refugee camps. Rafts and life jackets were scattered amid the tents to symbolize the open water crossings that are a common feature of the refugee experience.

“We wanted to do something dramatic to illustrate the struggles that refugees have,” said Amaha Kassa of African Communities Together, the organization that planned the event in collaboration with Trinity.

The protesters were undeterred by inclement weather. “It’s a little rainy and a little cold, but it’s nothing compared to what refugees experience, so we feel grateful that we have some nice warm tents and sleeping bags,” Kassa said.

Michael Garofalo can be reached at reporter@strausnews.com

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