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Wall Street, New York City
Worshipper: Acton Bell.
Wall Street, New York City.
Interdenominational. The event was held under the auspices of
Church, located in the heart of Greenwich Village, which
has long been associated with local and national movements for
civil rights, peace, women’s rights, and gay rights.
The event took place at Zuccotti Park, located between Trinity
Episcopal Church and Wall Street in lower Manhattan. The park
is a block-long, privately owned public space of about 33,000
square feet, created in 1968 in return for allowing the building
One Liberty Plaza, then under construction, an additional five
floors. By the terms of the agreement it must remain accessible
to the public 24 hours a day and is not subject to the city-imposed
park curfew of 11.00pm. It is this requirement that is being
exploited by the protesters, as the city can't legally evict
them. Originally called Liberty Park, the park was controversially
renamed in honor of John Zuccotti, chairman of Brookfield Properties,
the park's owner. Many of the protesters have started to refer
to the park by its original name. The park is home to the monumental
de Vivre by Mark di Suvero, which the protesters have
taken to calling "the Thing" and which has become almost totemic
to the protest. Activities and meetings all begin at "the Thing,"
as did our service. When unoccupied, the park has tables and
chairs and is a popular lunch spot for the many office workers
in the area.
Judson Memorial Church is United
Church of Christ, but the service was inter-faith, with
representatives of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim
and Native American denominations present. There is a prominent
spiritual dimension to the movement. Inside Zuccotti Park is
a makeshift community altar, where protestors of all faiths
come to pray or meditate. There are also protest chaplains
many of them seminary students who minster to the protesters
during the week.
This is the financial district in lower Manhattan, which holds
the offices or headquarters of many of the the world's major
financial institutions, including the New York Stock Exchange
and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The area comprises
almost all of the colonial New Amsterdam settlement, and the
layout of streets follows the more haphazard 17th century pattern
— it doesn't follow the grid pattern typical of the rest of
Manhattan. There are small streets barely wide enough for a
single lane of traffic, bordered on both sides by some of the
tallest buildings in the city, creating rather sunless "canyons."
Zoning in the rest of the city is extremely strict precisely
to avoid replicating this canyon phenomenon elsewhere. The area's
architecture is generally rooted in the Gilded Age, though there
are also some Art Deco and mid-century modern glass-and-steel
The Revd Michael Ellick, pastor of Judson Memorial Church, was
one of the participants. I recognized him from news reports
on TV. There were seven others, but they didn't introduce themselves,
so I have no idea who they were.
The date & time:
October 16, 2011, 3.30pm.
What was the name of the service?
Bringing the Sabbath to Occupy Wall Street.
How full was the building?
The park was simply teeming with humanity, bursting at the seams,
with several thousand people. I would say there were roughly
400 in our section actively participating in the service, but
that is just a guess, as there was plenty of movement in the
crowd. It was impossible to count.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. When we arrived, someone at "the Thing" pointed us to a
relatively empty spot.
Was your pew comfortable?
No pews, standing room only. It really wasn't that bad, as we
all kind of shifted about, not standing in one place for too
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
The service was supposed to have started at 3.30, with participants
marching from Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village to
lower Manhattan, carrying what is now their iconic papier-mache
statue of a golden calf entitled Greed. They must have
made great time, as the service was already underway when we
arrived at 3.10.
What were the exact opening
words of the service?
B. Anthony, pray for us." (It was the first thing I
heard when we walked up, as the intercessions were already underway.)
What books did the congregation use during the
What musical instruments
Two guitars and an autoharp. Musically, the Kumbaya-quotient
was off the charts it might as well have been legendary
folk singer Pete Seeger's greatest hits. Interestingly, the
92 year-old Seeger showed up and gave an impromptu concert for
the occupiers a week or so after this service.
Did anything distract
There were a couple of thousand people milling about, as well
as buses full of tourists passing by. Also more policemen than
I've ever seen congregated in one place, some with riot gear.
So the distractions were too many to count. Since there were
no microphones, each sentence said by the speakers was shouted
back by the crowd, something they called "mic check." I found
that a bit difficult to follow at times. Also there were some
people in the crowd who would hold their hands up and shake
them. It took me a minute to realize that they weren't doing
"jazz hands" a la Bob Fosse, which was what I first thought,
but were clapping in American Sign Language.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
There were litanies of prayers, intercessions, petitions, short
sermons and lots of singing. I don't think I'd ever asked some
of these worthies to pray for me before: Hugo Chavez, Margaret
Mead, or Dorothy Day. But it probably can't hurt and it certainly
didn't ring as insincere.
Exactly how long was the
The total service lasted roughly an hour. There were five short
sermons that were interspersed between hymns and prayers. One
sermon was delivered by the leader of a Native American church,
one by the dean of the Drew Theological School, and two by rabbis,
with the final one by Pastor Ellick of Judson. Almost all identified
themselves by denomination, but nobody identified themselves
by name, which I found puzzling.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 The styles ran the gamut from folksy to strident, call-and-response
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
I can't summarize all of the sermons here, but almost all were
centered around social justice, calling attention to the widening
gap between rich and poor, the haves and the have nots. Some
made note to mark out our responsibility to do more to help
our brothers and sisters by reviving our economy with a more
equitable distribution of wealth and power.
Which part of the service was like being in
Talking about economic justice in a such a big way and among
such an unlikely and disparate group of people. My friend and
I both found that very moving.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
When the leader of the Native American church said, "The Square
is a village in which we have all come together under all of
our gods, our many gods, to work for change," several of the
people interrupted the service with shouts of "There is only
one God!" and "That's the Holy Spirit! It's the Holy Spirit!
Holy Spirit!" Somehow, surrounded by cops in riot gear, tourists
on tour buses, and folk of all conceivable colors, ages, and
and creeds, it hardly seemed to be the time or place to hash
out the finer points of religious differences. It was also massively
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There wasn't a coffee hour but there was a hip-hop circus performance
(!) to raise money to help those that had been arrested. I really
wasn't sure what that would entail, but was guessing it involved
very loud clowns. Since I'm not really all that down with the
hip-hop or clowns, we gave it a pass.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
Oddly enough, after all the peace, love and righteous anger,
it all ended on a note of exclusion. We saw a group of people
gathered across the street in front of the Brown Brothers Harriman
investment bank building, and we wandered over to check it out.
As we approached, a man hastily ran up to us and rudely told
us to leave, as the group was exclusively "for Muslims"
or "people of color." It was really strange, leaving a definite
sour taste, especially after the feel-good service we'd just
attended. But our mood instantly brightened when we were approached
by a bunch of young Lubavitch Chabad Jewish men carrying fronds
of date palm, willow and myrtle, as well as the biggest citrons
I'd ever seen. They were stopping passers-by whom they presumed
to be Jewish to ask if they were celebrating Sukkot (the feast
of booths) and offering to pray with with any willing men. I
had to decline, since I'm not Jewish, but with some reluctance.
I wanted to find out what that was all about.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
N/A While sympathetic to the cause, I'm only able to
Kumbaya with impunity infrequently.
Did the service make you
feel glad to be a Christian?
Indeed it did. I was reminded of Proverbs 29:18 "Where
there is no vision, the people perish."
What one thing will you
remember about all this in seven days' time?
Cops in riot gear. I found the police presence an overreaction
and deeply disturbing.
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