Since 2011, This Is Our City has shared stories from across the country while focusing on six American cities and the seventh "your city." On Thursday, August 29, This Is Our City introduced its final featured city, New York City, which appears in Christianity Today's September issue.
Over 150 people from New York's five boroughs—the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island—gathered at the American Bible Society to enjoy a reception, three panel discussions, and a thought-provoking musical performance in celebration of the story's launch.
"We were really intentional about making sure that we included all of New York City in terms of the five boroughs and different demographics," said Christy Tennant Krispin, This Is Our City's director of engagement. "We had people from different ethnic groups and just people who were interested in the stories and in the theme of Christians contributing to the common good of the city."
Krispin explained that the This Is Our City team was also intentional about speaking with Christians who have ministered to New York for decades, including second and third generations. Many Christians have moved to New York City in the past decade, resulting in new churches. "But there were people here long before that," Krispin said.
The event was similar to past This Is Our City launches in many ways. Each held short presentations and panel discussions, and featured some of This Is Our City director Nate Clarke's videos and a performance by a local artist. But Krispin said the New York City event was different in that there was no keynote speaker. This Is Our City team members gave brief introductions, but let the New Yorkers do the talking. "Our goal was to focus on them—on their stories and hearing their voices."
"It was humbling hearing the stories of saints in the five boroughs who are pouring themselves out daily for the sake of the gospel," said Christianity Today president, CEO, and editor in chief Harold Smith, who attended the event. "Communicating these powerful stories has made This Is Our City so significant in the life of the church."
In the first panel, five pastors—representing each of New York's five boroughs—spoke on ministering to people. "It was amazing to see the breadth and diversity of the church in five boroughs," Andy Crouch, executive producer of This Is Our City, wrote in an e-mail to CT. "Paul warned the Corinthians of the danger of saying, 'I have no need of you.' I think we all left saying, 'I have need of you'—seeing that the church makes its greatest contribution to the flourishing of the city when it draws on its incredible geographic, ethnic, and denominational diversity."
The second panel featured people working in secular vocations. This Is Our City wanted to cover those in both types of work. The panelists in the second session discussed how their theology of work informs how to carry out their work in the public sector.
"All of us would be the first to say that there's no way we could have done a comprehensive, conclusive coverage of New York City," Krispin said. "We wanted this to be a small sample of the kind of stories that are inspiring to us and informing this idea of Christians who are contributing to the common good in many different ways, both in small neighborhood initiatives all the way up to things that are changing entire systems of leadership in the city."
Before the third panel, the James Hall Thousand Rooms Quartet performed. The local musicians talked about the importance of improvisation and demonstrated how to do it. The talk and performance segued nicely into the final panel discussion of how the church should improvise after disaster, such as with Superstorm Sandy relief efforts. The three panelists discussed how the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy impacted their work, such as transforming their own respective ministry and also how Christians relate to one another.
"It was very encouraging to hear how quickly and powerfully churches responded to Superstorm Sandy one year ago," Crouch said. "The networks that have been built in New York over the past several decades, and especially since September 11, 2001, are a source of great creativity and resilience in the face of crisis, giving churches much more capacity to love and serve their neighbors at moments of intense need."
Several of the event's attendees also told Krispin that the musical segment and its transition to the discussion on improv was a highlight of the evening for them, as it was for Krispin.
Dave Watson, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Staten Island, served on the launch's panel of pastors. He wrote in an e-mail to CT: "This event was unique and impacting on many levels. Perhaps most importantly, it reminded us that though we live in a vast city in which a lot of bad stuff goes on and in which Christians are widely outnumbered, we also live in a city where there are more churches and people than we know. They are reaching out to the lost, seeking justice for the downtrodden, feeding and clothing the destitute, and in almost innumerable other ways being the hands and feet of Jesus to the city."
"I applaud the ecumenical nature of Christianity Today's recent gathering in Manhattan of leaders representing multiple theological, social, and cultural perspectives," wrote Kari Kristina Reeves, founder and principal of ATLAS Spiritual Design. "Given our organization's emphasis on finding common ground, This Is Our City was a heartening illustration of the beauty of 'unity' and the value of building pathways of love, compassion, and attention across religious and cosmopolitan contexts."
Crouch wrote, "We wanted folks to leave meet someone they would never have met otherwise, celebrate the ways Christians are contributing to the flourishing of New York, and make deeper commitments to being prepared to serve their neighbors. I think that happened in some beautiful ways."
Throughout the month, This Is Our City will release at least a dozen more stories on New York City through articles and videos. The team cosponsored a Q session September 17-18, featuring Crouch as a speaker, and will participate in the Leadership Movement Day.
More photos from the launch event can be seen on This Is Our City's Facebook page.
Elissa Cooper is assistant editor of Christianity Today magazine.