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New worshiping community started by dwindling New York congregation creates hope

Neighborhood Esperanza brings together rich and poor in Manhattan neighborhood

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

NEW YORK – In Manhattan, a new worshiping community is being formed thanks to a nearly 140-year-old church that has taken seriously its belief that all God’s people are holy.

Founded in 1887, Jan Hus Presbyterian Church had always been eager to invite the most marginalized people in the city. But the congregation had dwindled in numbers, down to fewer than 12 worshippers.

Yet the church’s pastor, Rev. Beverly Dempsey says, the remaining faithful “had the bones to do something new.”

Jan Hus was still serving a weekly meal to to an outreach population on Tuesday evenings, where anywhere from 110 to 150 people showed up. “We thought why not move worship to Tuesday’s when people are available,” says Dempsey, “recognizing it’s the people who are holy, and not the day.”

Jan Hus put out a couple of announcements, posted a few notices around the neighborhood and opened its doors. Within 15 minutes, as a talented group of musicians played, more than 65 people were sitting in the sanctuary waiting for worship.

Now that Neighborhood Esperanza has been launched, Dempsey says nearly 50 homeless or sheltered men and woman—along with approximately 15 people from Manhattan’s upper east side—gather for worship every Tuesday evening.

Dempsey believes the turnout is an indication that so many people are feeling the depths of poverty. Not just the poverty of having no money, but true poverty of spirit, of neglect, and the sense that nobody cares, which Neighborhood Esperanza seeks to overcome.

“We see God’s beloved kingdom magnified,” says Dempsey of the service that is now in English and Spanish.

“People of every color of the rainbow all worshiping and caring for one another in a true, just community. When I leave this place on Tuesday night my life is transformed because of these people.

“It’s so exciting.”

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