Volume 76, Number 44 | March 28 - April 3, 2007

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Reverend Lyndon Harris and Grammar.

Pastor is making the most of his time at St. John’s

By Albert Amateau

Reverend Lyndon Harris, an Episcopal priest, came to St. John’s Lutheran Church as vacancy pastor less than a year ago.

“‘Vacancy pastor’ means I’m here in a transition, but St. John’s congregation has been so welcoming that I’ve fallen in love with what is probably the most ecumenical church in the city,” he said in an interview earlier this month. “They’ve welcomed me and my dog, Grammar,” he said, introducing his visitors to his energetic rat terrier.

His appointment to St. John’s, at 81 Christopher St., by Bishop Stephen Bouman, of the New York Metropolitan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, is a reflection of the past six years of full communion between the Episcopal and Lutheran Churches.

Interfaith sharing is a familiar tradition at St. John’s Lutheran. Two other congregations in addition to the Lutheran congregation served by Reverend Harris hold Sunday worship in the 186-year-old structure.

Emmanuel Presbyterian (the Presbyterian Church is also in full communion with the Lutheran Church) gathers an hour before the 11 a.m. Lutheran service, and the Metropolitan Synod’s Finnish Lutheran Congregation worships at St. John’s once a month.

The Christopher St. house of worship was built in 1821 in the nearly rural Greenwich Village of that day by the Eighth Presbyterian Church. In 1842, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church acquired the building and held services until 1858, when it became the home of St. John’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church.

“We’re in the heart of the Village and the Village is in our hearts,” said Reverend Harris, who also directs the interfaith Garden of Forgiveness project, which took form soon after the 9/11 World Trade Center attack and began with a location in Beirut, Lebanon. There is a Garden of Forgiveness sponsored by a Jewish congregation in Plaindome, L.I., another in South Africa and there are plans for one in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

“We’re on a journey of forgiveness — not responding to violence by violence. Gandhi once said an eye for an eye leaves both eyes blind,” Harris quoted.

Led by Reverend Harris, St. John’s has just concluded a free four-week Lenten study and discussion group that met on Tuesday nights on March 6, 13, 20 and 27. The program explored the nature of blessing and forgiveness using examples of movies, poetry, Biblical stories, spiritual exercise and psychotherapeutic technique.

St. John’s is also reaching out to New York University students and the entire Village community with 7 p.m. Sunday night prayer services that began March 4. Featuring music, chants and meditation, the Sunday night program draws on the talent of St. John’s multi-talented neighbors, Harris said.

Born in Gabney, S.C., Harris went to University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., attending the theology school affiliated with the Anglican Communion.

“I always had an eye for the big city, so I came to New York 10 years ago as a doctoral student at Union Theological Seminary,” he said.
He served first as chaplain at St. Hilda & St. Hugh School on the Upper West Side and then on the staff of Grace Church in the Village from 1998 to April 2001. He then went to Trinity Parish, where he initiated a Monday night jazz Mass that attracted 200 people.

Of course it all changed on Sept. 11. He was in St. Paul’s Chapel on lower Broadway when the planes struck the World Trade Center and remembers running through the smoky streets to help bring children from a daycare center on Liberty St. to relative safety further uptown.

“We got every child out by the time the second tower collapsed,” he recalled.

Harris was assigned to St. Paul’s to set up its relief operation for Ground Zero workers. Over the next eight and a half months, the effort involved serving half a million meals and finding nooks and crannies in the church where workers could catch a few winks of sleep.

“A podiatrist offered his services and asked us where he could work. There wasn’t much spare room so we set him up in George Washington’s box pew,” Harris recalled. “It proved to me that people of all faiths and no faith could work together, and I asked myself how we could end the cycle of violence. I came to see that forgiveness will have to make the world livable.”

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