Magazine article The Christian Century

A Corner of the City: Caring for One Place

Magazine article The Christian Century

A Corner of the City: Caring for One Place

Article excerpt

WHEN WE MOVED to New York, my husband, Chris, picked a corner of the city to own. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which commemorates those who died in the American Civil War, is a templelike structure surrounded by formal paved terraces. It's also a hangout for vagrants and skateboarding teens. Broken bottles, crack vials and newspapers routinely settle into its nooks and crannies.

Chris liked the monument's grand scale and its stunning views across the Hudson River. He'd sit on a stone wall and read or sketch. Every now and then he would leave the house with our broom and sweep up debris at the monument. He performed this civic act quietly and unnoticed. I was impressed. It would not have occurred to me to take ownership of public space.

A few years later we chose another corner of the city: Trinity Lutheran Church on the Upper West Side. The church was built by German immigrants, and it has grand old bones, with its vaulted ceiling and soaring arched windows. But the nails are rusted on the slate steeple tiles, and water trickles down through the tower and rots the window frames, causing cracks in the walls. In the basement an old stage is a dumping ground for file cabinets, chairs, warped bulletin boards, books, crayons, paints, easels and more. Every year the stage is cleaned and much of the rubbish goes in the dumpster, but it's soon cluttered again. For me the stage represents the futility of some of our congregational efforts: the child who refuses to do homework in our after-school program in spite of our best efforts, or the young person in our homeless shelter who does not take the steps necessary to move into independent housing.

Recently we had our semiannual clean-up day. Our treasurer, Joy, waxed the floor while council member Dan secured loose pews so children won't get hurt when they gather for songs at our summer day camp. Jennifer polished the wooden seats; Brad vacuumed the corners and edges of the sanctuary--a job that took hours. Downstairs in the kitchen Pastor Heidi was up to her wrists in creamy, corrosive metal cleanser. With a toothbrush she polished the brass candlesticks that now sit shining on the altar. I mopped the sanctuary floor and worried about larger, structural problems--the widening rat holes in the back garden and the water-damaged walls. …

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