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JENNIFER OLSON’S STATEMENT
Good morning everyone. Before beginning, I want to thank my amazing husband, Akshay. He can’t be here today because it’s our daughter’s naptime, and he’s at home taking care of her. My name is Jennifer Olson. This is my first time giving my testimony. And yes, I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church in the Bible Belt, in Georgia to be specific, where if you knew someone was going to be talking about his or her faith, it was known as their testimony. You would hear… so n’ so is giving their testimony in church today. And if you didn’t come out of there crying, it wasn’t an effective testimony. Anyway, I don’t plan on making anyone cry today, but I do think it’s time that you get to know me better and how I came to be a member of Park Avenue Baptist, oh I mean Methodist, Church! (Ha ha)
So, back to my childhood. The church was always a huge part of our lives. We went every Sunday, like it or not, and that was followed by lunch with all the family at my grandmother’s house. We went to vacation Bible school in the summertime. We wore our crosses and our WWJD bracelets proudly to school. We left our Bibles out on our desks to make a statement about our loyalty to Christ. I was even a Bible drill champion! Wait, do you know what Bible drill is? You don’t? OK everyone take a Bible from your pew. This is a competition and a speed test. Turn to 2 Corinthians 3:17. Go! And Raise your hand when you’re there. You got it? Do you have that verse memorized because that’s part of it too? You don’t? OK I’ll read it. ‘Now the Lord is the spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ Let’s meditate on that for a second. This was my signature Bible verse in middle school. Yes, we all had signature Bible verses, kind of like when you have a signature cocktail at a wedding.
This one really spoke to me because the first baptist church’s youth group, where I had symbolically transferred my membership, was a place of freedom for me. We went to meet and worship every Wednesday after school with young leaders in their 20s who we all looked up to. We would go to a Christian camp in Tennessee every summer. It was on an island in a lake. In the mornings, just after breakfast, a song would play over the loud speakers as a call to prayer and meditation. As middle schoolers, we would each find our own individual private spot in the wilderness to read the Bible and pray or meditate for 20 minutes in silence. This seems especially remarkable to me now because I teach middle schoolers, and they are never ever silent. During the day we would do fun activities and sports. This is where I learned to water ski! And at night, we would worship. Songs like ‘Our God is an Awesome God’ would ring through the forest. This was freedom for me. And it was also an escape because at the time in my life, my parents were going through a horrible divorce, and I hated being at home, where there would be screaming and crying and a deep sadness that I wouldn’t fully understand until much later in life.
Now how does all of this relate to Park Avenue United METHODIST Church? Well, jumping ahead, after high school, I never again regularly attended a Baptist church. In college and after when living in Spain, I regularly attended Catholic Churches. I eventually married an Episcopalian. We divorced, and my second marriage involved a Christian and a Hindu ceremony. I wandered into Park Avenue not long after moving to New York City six years ago with my first husband. I came back because it felt like home and Pastor Cathy felt like family. The only difference was that this was an inclusive home with members of all places and races. I wanted to become a member back then, but my first husband wasn’t interested.
Akshay and I finally joined the church last year around the time that our daughter Asha was born. Now, some of the information I shared with you earlier about my childhood in the south was to serve as a contrast to my experience in the north and specifically as a New Yorker (if I may call myself that). In the south, identifying as a Christian, and specifically a white Christian, was and is the cool thing to do. In fact, if you aren’t religious, you might be better off not talking about it. I found the opposite to be true once I moved to Europe, and later, to New York. I often find myself feeling embarrassed of my religious convictions, and I have to build up my courage to tell people that I go to church regularly. The question that I most often receive one telling people is why? Why would you do that? And behind that question, people are thinking ‘are you stupid OR do you not believe in science OR are you one of those fundamentalist exclusive Christian types? And folks, this is why I’m proud to be a member of PAUMC. I can invite those people to come to church and say see for yourself. What do you think?
OLAJIDE ARAROMI’S STATEMENT
Good morning all,
My name is Olajide Araromi, and I would like to share my journey of faith with you and what that faith means to me. As far back as I can remember, faith has always been a part of my life, probably because it has always been woven into my family life. My parents, who were both born and raised in Nigeria, instilled in me the importance of faith at a very early age.
My dad often recounts their arrival to the States. They had no money, no place to call their own, no formal education, and a two year old toddler (my older sister). My father, an old school, stoic west African man, rarely ever expresses his emotions, especially feelings of vulnerability, but when he tells the story of their arrival to Newark, New Jersey in 1983 in the dead of winter, his feelings of helplessness are still palpable.
The most moving part of the story for me is where he explains how powerless he felt when my older sister looked at him and said “baba o tutu” which in Yoruba means “father, it is cold” as she cried and shivered, but there was nothing he could do. Despite, their circumstance, lack of resources, discomfort, and helplessness – they had love for each other and faith that God would provide. And sure enough he did – through friends of friends of friends – virtual strangers who provided them with places to stay unto they were able to get on their own feet.
As for my mom – she explains that she coped with the transition by doing a lot of crying, but even more praying. It is from my mother that I learned the power of prayer. Direct communication with God.
My mother is what you would call a prayer warrior. She prays early and often. Growing up she would wake my 5 siblings and I up at 5:00 every morning to read the Bible and to pray. I can’t say that my brother and sisters particularly enjoyed waking up that early to pray and read the Bible, but I can say that we are eternally grateful to my mother for making us do it. As the mantra goes “a family that prays together stays together” – my mother often adds “through any weather” to the saying as well. Like many of you, my family has had a few storms pass through, but we leaned and continued to lean on our faith and belief in the power of prayer to weather the storms.
As you can imagine raising 6 kids in inner city Newark is no easy feat. Now imagine that one of them has chronic type one diabetes requiring frequent hospitalization and another is one is diagnosed with rabdosarcoma, a form of childhood cancer at the age of 9. My family didn’t have to imagine – this was our reality. In the face of mounting medical bills and co-pays, with death being a real possibility, our parents worked numerous jobs and side hustles to put food on the table and to pay the bills. Nevertheless my parents never lost faith. On the contrary, our trials and tribulations have only served to strengthen our relationship with God, as it takes a strong relationship with God, faith, love, and a lot of prayer to maintain one’s sanity under those circumstances. I’m happy to say that my sister’s diabetes is much more manageable these days and baby brother is cancer free, healthy, and is in his last year of college. Look at God.
The rest of us are college graduates with a number of graduate degrees thrown in the mix as well. You could describe my family’s story as an American dream, but a better description would be “a product of faith.” And the same faith lives in me today. I call on the lord when:
So to explain what my faith means to me I really only have one word to describe it “everything”
Thank you and God Bless
WINNIE TAYLOR’S STATEMENT
My faith journey began in my childhood. But I did not know that at the time. I grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, and I cannot recall a time in my childhood when I did not go to church. It was something my family did. I went to Sunday School and Church Services during the school year. In the summer, I attended Vacation Bible School. My first experiences with public speaking were done in Church. At that time, children were always asked to recite something, whether it was an Easter speech or Christmas speech or “tell us what did you learn today in Sunday School” recitation. I got baptized as a child and although I did not fully understand God and spirituality, I knew for sure I believed God exists.
My Grandmother’s church was different from my family’s church. We were Baptist and she was Pentecostal. Because my Grandmother had the status of being “the Mother of her Church,” my family would from time to time visit my Grandmother’s church. This was usually when she was being honored. Unlike my immediate family’s church, my Grandmother’s church was loud. The choir was accompanied by a piano, organ, drums, and even an electric guitar. In that church, the members had what we called back then “a hallelujah good time.”
My grandmother would “shout” things out aloud–things like “Thank you Jesus” and “Praise the Lord.” She would stand up and sit down and stand up again. And sometimes, even with all the other musical instruments going, she would play the tambourine. I did not mock my Grandmother or how she expressed her faith. At an early age, I learned from being in church, how to respect difference.
I loved Church, and I loved having God in my life. All went well until one day my faith was shattered. My mother died when I was eighteen. I blamed God for this. How could He take her away from me? Didn’t he know that I needed her? Didn’t God know everything? I was lost. There was no way my 18-year-old brain could comprehend this. God had let me down.
Later, after I graduated from college and law school, I realized that God had not let me down. To the contrary, God had seen me through all that I had endured. It was God’s Grace that had kept me going. I began to reflect on my blessings and appreciate them with fervor. I was back in close touch with God and I felt good about this.
I got married, had a son, and when my son got baptized, I cried. The baptism was in Ithaca, New York, where I lived years before I moved to Brooklyn. And then it happened again. My faith got shaken, if not shattered. The minister of my church—the same church where my son was baptized—impregnated a member of our church who was the babysitter of this minister’s young child. The pregnant girl was around 13 or 14-year-old and my minister was around 50 something. Although the Minister’s conduct was plainly wrong and scandalous, this was not the primary reason why my faith was shaken. I had learned by that time that people sometimes do horrible things.
This time, I was not angry with God, I was angry with my church members. Some of them seemed to blame the young girl by saying things like, “young girls are so fast these days they practically throw themselves at older men.” Others said things like “well, the minister is innocent until proven guilty and so the Church must stand with him until there is a court verdict.” This was not Christian, from my perspective. Although I am a lawyer who has belief in the Criminal Justice System, I did not need the Criminal Justice System to tell me what I already knew about this case. This man was guilty and the proof came out early in a tape recording between the Minister and this girl. In that recording, which many of my church members knew about, our Minister was begging this young girl to protect him and lie about what happened between them. I was angry with my Church, my place of worship where I formally practiced my faith. Whatever happened between the Minister and this young girl could never be her fault, and I did not think that my Church was not standing up enough for her.
Yes, my Minister was eventually convicted, but by that time, I had left my church. I could not stay in that environment where I could not look so many church members lovingly in their faces. And so, I visited other churches but joined none.
Years later, when I moved to Brooklyn, I wanted to serve God again as a church member. And so, I started visiting churches. In case you don’t know this, there are many, many churches in Brooklyn, and I visited some of them.
Then one day, a former student of mine, Nancy Morriseau, invited me to visit Park Avenue. I accepted the invitation. From that very first visit, something felt “right.” I didn’t know what it was, and I did not join immediately. After all, I must take the subway from Brooklyn to get to this church and there are many churches in walking distance in my Brooklyn neighborhood. Surely, I could find a church home at one of them. Well, that did not happen, and so here I stand.
When I invited a Brooklyn friend to visit our church, she declined and said to me, “church is too emotional.” Her response gave me great insight. She crystallized one of the reasons why I value this church. I feel something here. Because I cannot accurately name it, I will just call it “spirit.” It feels to me like God is present in the things we do and strive to do in His name. I try to keep this feeling with me when I am not here. It sparks within me a desire to want to treat people more respectfully, with kindness and compassion. And, every time I enter our church, I feel as if in some way, my spiritual tank will be refilled.
I am not the “Mother of my church.” But like my Grandmother, I want to serve God as best as I can as a member of my church. Also, like my Grandmother, but without a tambourine, I come to my church to “Praise the Lord.”
CARL CONDRA’S STATEMENT
May 10, 1987 I moved to NYC arriving on a Braniff Airlines flight. My one way ticket from Dallas-Fort Worth to NYC cost $165.00. That price included a snack and a 2 suitcase baggage allowance. When I saw the NYC skyline through the windows of the plane my anticipation was equaled to the screeching momentum of that jet’s wheels hitting the tarmac! I was full of promise and excitement and opportunity and it just “felt right.” I kept that forward motion going by claiming my 2 suitcases and carrying them to the taxi stand.
The next morning, I enthusiastically started a day job at a retail store on Madison Avenue with evening work as an Assistant Stage Manager for The Neighborhood Playhouse One Act Play Festival. During my lunch break that first day, I was exploring the Upper East Side neighborhood and spotted the familiar emblem of the United Methodist denomination, the Cross with the Flames of the Holy Spirit, hanging from a building. This banner led me to Park Avenue United Methodist Church.
Though I didn’t know my way around NYC very well, l knew I could get back here. On the first full Sunday that I lived in NYC I visited PAUMC. Upon arrival, I was greeted by Ann and Gordon Bryant who introduced me to others. I enjoyed the familiar worship service led by the minister, Reverend Phil Clarke. I looked around the congregation and noticed the diversity and sensed a feeling of hope and community….a forward motion. This place, PAUMC, just “felt right.” But, I thought that finding a church home on a first visit was too easy, so I attended other churches…even other denominations. As I was brought up a “good Methodist” I always put $5 or $10 in the collection plate at the church where I was visiting. I kept looking, but I kept coming back to PAUMC where people were welcoming and excited. I met Jacque Paige and others who started inviting me to social events. I began investing more time not only in the social events, but also in spiritual exploration and helping with charitable events. And I started putting $10 or $20 in the collection plate. I joined PAUMC.
Then I remembered that I was NOT going to get involved with a church when I moved to NYC. It was time for my personal “mini crisis” of faith. I wondered: “Is this what I really believe or just how I was brought up believing?” I joined a Bible Study at PAUMC led by John Simms, a good North Carolina fundamentalist Southern Baptist, and attended by a diverse group of people from various backgrounds that included Methodists, Lutherans (like Anna Delson), and a range of others from other denominations…even a woman from Saint Ignatious Loyola Catholic Church who had received special permission from her Priest to attend a Protestant Bible Study. We all studied the Bible, truly exploring the scripture, shared ideas and experiences and more completely defined our personal relationships with God.
I kept attending PAUMC and became more involved: helping at Rummage Sales, as a Communion Steward, Sunday School Teacher, Community Lunch Program, serving on various committees and..now as Chairperson of our Board of Trustees. I also started supporting our Church by giving more financially. It just “felt right.” After all, you invest your time and money in places in which you believe.
As mentioned, I grew up in the Methodist denomination, so I already understood that we have to pay for things that keep our Church going: salaries of our minister and church staff members, the utility bills, a place for our minister to live, for repairs and maintenance of our Church building and parsonage, and for all the necessary “business” of a Church. As Methodists, we agree to support our Church with our prayers, presence, gifts and service. It just “feels right.”
It is now mid October, please look at your financial pledges made to our Church for 2017 and make certain you have met or that you’re on your way to meeting the gift you promised. Here at PAUMC, some of us agreed to further help financially by donating at least $500.00 above our original pledge. Remember to meet that commitment. I remind you that our Church budget is partially determined by the donations we’ve promised, so our Church needs and counts on having our pledged money. In November we will make our 2018 Financial Pledges to PAUMC. Please start prayerfully anticipating your financial gift to our Church and consider increasing your pledged dollar amount.
Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to open your minds, to look through the windows of your hearts, to feel the momentum and excitement of forward motion of PAUMC. We at PAUMC are moving toward perfection. Please check to see that your morals and discernment are in the full upright position. On behalf of our Captain, Pastor Cathy Gilliard; Copilot, Pastor Intern Isaiah Fish, and the entire crew of our Church family, we know that you have a choice in churches and hope you will join us at PAUMC with your prayers, presence, gifts and service. Please remember to claim all your personal belongings promised by God…Amazing Grace, Blessed Assurance, a peace that passes understanding and the fruits of the Holy Spirit… including unlimited joy. Thank you for choosing PAUMC.
ANDEISHA FARID’S STATEMENT
Good morning everyone. I am Andeisha Farid. I’m from Afganistan. I was born in Afghanistan but I was raised as a refugee in Iran and then in Pakistan. I spent my almost all of my childhood in refugee camps and the neighborhood countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan. But I was fortunate and and I received an education.
When I was seventeen, in a refugee camp in Pakistan, I volunteered to teach women who had never been to school to teach them how to read and write. And I worked even harder to get the scholarship to go and study outside the refugee camp and the city.
I even worked harder and I got the scholarship to continue my education to receive a Bachelor degree. As soon as I was done with my Bachelor degree I moved from Pakistan to Afghanistan becaue I always wanted to have an identity of my own and live in my own country.
I was blessed. I got married in Pakistan with an Afghan man and was blessed with two children, a boy and a daughter.
Last year, I moved from Kabul to New York City with my two children, with no family, married, but a single mom in New York. Last year I also found out that my two years old daughter, who is now, is profoundly deaf.
It was devastating news for me and my husband. But we always kept hope. My daughter got three surgeries and she heard for the first time when she was two and a half years old.
This was an emotional day for me. When I first heard that Nehal was deaf I was so hopeless for her future. I didn’t know how she would make it in this challenging world as a girl. But today, I’m a proud mom.
Nehal started speech therapy when she started hearing and I always wanted Nehal to receive the best I could give her, especially in terms of education because education in my life has been so important to my life. I want to give the best education for my two children as well.
At the end of this summer, 2017, the plan I had for Nehal for September was immediately changed. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with Nehal. I heard through a friend about Park Avenue Methodist Day School. Believe it or not, in less than twenty four hours, Nehal was generously offered a seat in school. No matter what my financial circumstances were.
I felt blessed and I’m telling you this. It’s been only one month since Nehal has been attending the Park Avenue Methodist Day School, and today she is babbling all day she is awake.
Two weeks ago after speech therapy, she babbled all the way from Wall street to the 86th Street stop. Everybody who was sitting next to me looking at me to shut her up. Yes. I promised myself that when Nehal started talking I would never stop her.
The first day of school for her was Thursday. On Sunday of that weekend, I handed her her school bag because she wanted to go to school. It was hard to communicate with her that it’s weekend and there’s no school on weekend!
Today, Nehal was saying a few words. She says ‘no’ and we are teaching her ‘yes’ too. She is able to count up to three but she can show four and five with her fingers. Her receptive language is much better now. She almost understands everything I tell her. She follows directions. And believe it or not, yesterday was a family event on the third floor and Nehal volunteered with the musician. She was also part of the group of the children. So I’m so proud. I’m so proud of her and hopeful for her future.
I really would like to take this opportunity to thank Pastor Cathy, Molly, and the amazing teachers of Nehal, Ms. Conley and Ms. Friggand for their tireless work with Nehal. Without them, she oculdn’t be here today. And I also tell friends that my dream came true. That she would make her way one day to a university. And I honestly believe that the best is yet to come for me. Me and my family are blessed to be part of the community of the Park Avenue United Methodist Church.
I’m a Muslim, by the way. And this is what I like abut the diversity of this church., You get the best no matter where you come from or what religion you belong to. Thank you so much and God bless you.