I have been a part of Forefront church for almost 10 years. In that time, I have seen and experienced examples of true community countless times. One such example occurred in 2009 when I was freelancing and having a tough time making ends meet. I had started hanging out with other freelancers at church, one of whom was becoming a good friend. As we got closer and shared more about our lives, we realized we were both struggling financially. So for most of that year, we shared our earnings with each other. If she made some money from a freelance gig, she shared it with me and I did the same. What I needed that year wasn’t prayers, it was cash. And thanks to my friend, I was able to pay my bills and take care of myself during a really difficult time. Her generosity is the reason I still live in New York today. It is also one of many reasons why I am immensely grateful to be a part of this community.
In this tumultuous season, Forefront Brooklyn added a time of prayer and reflection in our worship services. We want to prayerfully respond to the tension and the division in our country. Forefront community member Ashley Putnam wrote a moving prayer of peace for our nation. We encourage you to pray this prayer and share it with others that we might be conduits of real peace.
Prayer of the Peacemaker
Lord, we come to you today with heavy hearts. It seems every day we are waking up to devastating news, political divisions, natural disasters, lives lost.
Our hearts long for your peace, your justice, the world that you desire.
Lord open our eyes and hearts this morning, help us to see the distance between our politicalized mainstream American culture, and the radical love you want us to practice.
Lord, in a world is hurting and broken, where people fear each other and judge each other before they love each other, we pray we will be the hands and feet of your love.
God make us instruments of your good, guide our hands and feet to action, make us more than a people of thoughts and prayers.
May we be community in a world of isolation, mercy in a world of judgment, and reconciliation in a time of division.
Lord hear our cries.
The New York Times profiled our founding pastor, Jonathan Williams, and his family's story. Read about what happened when Jonathan's father came out as trans, and how that's impacted our community's theology, particularly on LGBTQ issues.
In case the message wasn't clear from the article, to our LGBTQIA brothers, sisters and all non-binary folks: You are fully affirmed and welcome to participate in the life of the church in all levels of leadership, ritual and service. In fact, you're welcome to join our thriving queer community over at Queer Communion--it's led by leaders at Forefront and is open to anyone who is anywhere on their journey of faith and gender or sexuality. They run monthly events which are open to anyone, including people outside of Forefront.
Interview with Thomas Cohen, member of Forefront.
Q. You've launched a subscription box business for new fathers -- BabaHero -- which has been featured in Entrepreneur, Buzzfeed Parents, and WNBC New York. Can you tell us about your journey towards fatherhood—and later on, your business?
A. It started when we found out that my wife was pregnant with twins, Zara and Amari, back in November 2014. We were elated but conscious of the fact that it might not happen. We had lost two due to miscarriage before—Emem, Mira and Jonathan at Forefront were there when we needed them through those tough times. We just leaned on Forefront Church for prayer.
As we got closer and closer to the pregnancy date, I was excited and started reading every book I could on parenting—I probably read 10 or 11 books, in addition to tons of articles. I just wanted to be the best parent I could be. I just wanted to be involved especially as a dad.
Q. Why were you so excited to be a parent?
Before we were pregnant, I found myself questioning whether I was truly ready to be a dad. I never knew how much I wanted to be a dad until that was taken away from me. Also I know a lot of dads get bad reputations for being absent—digging a little deeper, as an African-American dad, the typical stereotype is that they are not there for their children (although my parents were great). I wanted to debunk that.
Q. And then partway through the pregnancy, you received news that you would be laid off. What happened after that?
I was working in HR at a company for five years and I was laid off in May 2015—our girls were due in August. It was a really scary time—just thinking about how I was going to take care of them and afford to feed them. Looking back, I feel I was programmed to feel that since I was the man of the house, my role was to provide financially. I was frantic, thinking, what am I going to do?
What really helped was that my wife was willing to go back to work shortly after our girls were born because she didn’t want me to get a job, where I would be miserable, just to have a job. I’m really thankful that she was willing to be the primary financial provider for the family. I became a stay-at-home dad and the primary parent of our twin girls for 18 months. It was an amazing experience.
Q. Was it hard to transition from being anxious about providing towards being excited about being a parent?
It was kind of hard. After the 5th or 6th interview where I just kept getting “No”s — to be honest I still don’t know why, as I have a BA and Masters in HR, in addition to five years of work experience in a multibillion dollar company—but maybe in the bigger picture God had a different plan for me.
None of what I’ve accomplished so far would not happen if I landed a job and didn’t stay at home with my children. When they were six months old, I felt that I had the parenting down pat and I was looking for other ways to contribute financially, as we were bleeding financially. I was wrapping my head around, “What is the problem I have? What is the solution for it?” And that’s how the business came to be.
Q. Can you tell us more about the business, BabaHero?
It's a subscription box business for new dads to help them transition to fatherhood. “Baba" translates to dad in many languages, and “hero" is any dad or parent who just wants to be a hero to their child. In the box, you may find baby wipes, teethers, books, hand sanitizers, bath toys, etc. Every box will include a gift for dad — a way to say thank you and encourage them to bond with kids. Some dads will find socks, gadgets, tools, coffee or edibles.
When we conceptualized the business, there were a ton of subscription boxes for new moms but nothing much catering to new dads. There were “survival kits," but I chose a different philosophy. You’re not supposed to survive fatherhood—if you approach it that way, you’ll always be stressed. I believed that you should embrace fatherhood and really enjoy the time of being a father, including the ups and downs.
Q. What was it like starting a business while parenting?
It was a busy time. They don’t go to sleep until 11pm or 12am, so I start working on the business from 12-3am. When our kids would wake up throughout the night as infants, we split the labor 50-50. As one of them didn’t want to nurse—she only took the bottle—I would feed her, and my wife would nurse the other one.
Q. In your ideal world, what would society expect of parents?
Society is changing—two years ago, I got one day for paternity leave. NYC is changing its paternity leave structure to be more supportive of fathers. Ideally, I would like to see us head in the direction where being a stay-at-home dad or mom is okay, where it’s not shocking for a father to take care of the kids, to change diapers, etc.
Q. Has Forefront Church has been helpful at all in your journey as a father and an entrepreneur?
I would definitely give Forefront credit. Recently, we attended a family small group, which has been amazing to hear other stories from parents and realize that we aren’t alone, and that there are people going through the exact same things we are. The group also gives me insight into how other parents raise their children, what products they use, etc. It’s also been a great experience to see my girls interact with other kids during Kidstuf (Sunday school) — they are under two so they haven’t attended daycare, so being with other kids helps them develop their social skills.
Q. Has Forefront been supportive of your family’s parenting structure?
Yeah, definitely. Forefront has a female pastor, which hasn’t been true of some of the churches we’ve attended in the past. The community has been open and receptive to me being a stay-at-home dad. Quite honestly, it’s refreshing, especially compared to down South where I grew up. Forefront is a very open church—they talk about issues that really matter in society, such as the LGBT community. They’ve challenged my upbringing and my programming after 20-30 years of attending certain churches. Jonathan is very good at preaching in a way where I can relate to him, where he allows us to come to our conclusions instead of twisting the words of the Bible to fit an agenda. I grew up Southern Baptist and then later on attended predominantly Chinese churches with my wife. Forefront was an opportunity to start over and open my mind to what church really could be.
An interview with a member of Forefront.
Q. Why did you join Forefront?
My spouse and I were on the verge of separating—we were at the end of our rope and out of options. Obviously we love each other, we’re together, it’s great, but at the time, when your back is against the wall, what are your options? It was like, I don’t know, maybe we should try church again (we were done with church for a really long time until Forefront). I needed to find someone else to stare at. [laughs]
Q. So how exactly did Forefront help your marriage?
It wasn’t so much the Jesus factor or God, although that underpins everything. It was being around other people who have been married and almost divorced, or people who can reflect back to us how they see us and each other. Because we could no longer see each other the way that we needed to. It’s helpful to interact with someone and see, “Oh maybe I’m not a jerk, so maybe I don’t need to be the jerk that I am to my husband.” It was the same for him.
Q. What makes you stay now?
The community. My best friends have come from here. I’m continuing to build that community—it happens all the time that somebody new shows up who is willing to dive in and be part of the community. There’s also the writing guild I lead here.
Also, Forefront’s quest for asking questions instead of necessarily answering them.
Q. What are questions that you’ve been able to explore here that you haven’t elsewhere?
I mean, [laughs] the existence of God, the existence of hell, the infallibility or not of this biblical text. I have a lot of issues with what I perceive to be the sexism of the Christian faith; I try to hold space for Christianity and my feminism. Because one way that I can look at Christianity is: A bunch of men were so intimidated by the power of a woman to give life that they created a religion which required you to be born a second time by putting your faith in a man.
When I attended Jonathan’s and Jubi’s small group when the church first started, Jonathan held space for questions like that. Other pastors have been quick to answer questions with scripture and answer questions with ”more faith.” Jonathan held space to not have answers to questions and to acknowledge that if someone is having a crisis of faith, maybe the answer shouldn’t be the very thing they are questioning.
I feel like that there is space here for having a period of time where I don’t believe anything at all and that’s okay — these crises of faith are no longer a “crisis” and just a natural part of being human. It’s exactly the right kind of place for me because I’m not sure about anything ever a hundred percent, and that just needs to be okay.
An interview with Joanne Howell.
You and your small group from your former church, International Church of Christ, were looking for a new church a few years ago. Why did you all decide on Forefront?
We felt welcomed. No one asked didn’t ask us, “What are your beliefs?” in order make sure that we could fit with them. I certainly did a lot of praying and I felt that this was the answer to prayer. Yeah, it didn’t fit with box of what we knew, but it was an opportunity to learn without the sense that you had to accept the church’s way of looking at things. It was also important to me that our children liked this church—I didn’t want to have to wake them up on Sunday morning and push them to come.
But it wasn’t a completely comfortable transition?
It was when we had a baptism of someone who was gay. She told her life-story on stage. Frankly, it’s still something that’s hard for me. I wrestle with both sides of the argument. The way that I’ve resolved it is that I understand both point of views. I feel unsure about what I believe, but I don’t feel as compelled as I did earlier to have the right answer. It’s something that you can have a different opinion on.
Why don't you feel so compelled to have the right answers?
I come from a background where it’s “Thus saith the Lord” [laughs] If the Bible says it, then it’s true. One of the things that I’ve really loved and embraced here at Forefront is a new understanding of how to approach Scripture. It really doesn’t intellectually make sense to just lift it all up and say, "If it’s there, it’s literally true."
You work as a lawyer, right? So did you compartmentalize how you mentally approach your professional work versus the Bible?
I absolutely did. It’s not even rational. I think, subconsciously, that’s always been a question mark and this church has brought that question to the forefront.
What keeps you here at Forefront Brooklyn?
We have looked around at different churches, and frankly I came to the decision that this is what feel better for me than any place else — at least I can continue to grow as a Christian. It feels like other churches have very clear doctrines and I guess I’m not as comfortable with that anymore. I now realize I need some room to question and figure things out.
I feel my experience with God is what keeps me here. It doesn’t feel like it’s in danger because my understanding of Scripture changes. Before it was, “It’s gotta be exactly what you see the bible and if you get it wrong, you can’t go to heaven.”
My connection with God feels more honest and genuine. Now it includes my questions. Before I had to lock out anything that didn’t fit. I couldn’t process those parts.
This is a young church. There are still some things we feel are lacking in Forefront, and I expect that as time goes on, various things will get addressed -- they are already starting to be.
Why are we having a “Why Forefront” Campaign?
As we’ve talked about, Forefront Brooklyn and Forefront Manhattan decided to split our finances for 2017. Before 2017 we worked under one budget with both locations’ giving going to the same bank account. We operated under one combined budget.
As we separated our finances we found some good news, that with a few cuts Forefront Brooklyn was in fact a self supporting church. That means that we’re not receiving any financial help from outside churches or organizations, and we’re not receiving financial help from Forefront Manhattan. We’re able to cover staff salaries, rent, and about 2,000 dollars a month in ministry expenses.
That being said our margins are slim. We want to operate in such a way that we don’t have to make more cuts but can build into our ministries and families while maintaining financial stability. We’re praying that this campaign will create a financial margin that allows us to make upgrades to our kids’ area, to make positive changes in the ministries that serve our whole church, and keep us from tightening our belts further.
What is the Goal for our "Why Forefront" Campaign?
We’d like to raise $60,000 with 12% of all that is raised going towards our Refugee Relief Fund.
The money raised will go towards:
Improving our Kidstuf area by providing new equipment, new curriculum, and creating a more aesthetically pleasing area for kids and families. You can learn more by clicking here.
Funding our Forefront Brooklyn ministries, which include but are not limited to, supporting our lay leaders, paying our staff to help care for and disciple our community, paying for events including outings and retreats, and helping to cover the almost $2000 in monthly expenses ranging from coffee and bagels to paying insurance, and purchasing new signs.
As you know, rent in this city is crazy. Some of the money given will go toward renting our Roulette space each week and towards renting spaces for events throughout the year.
Why are we having another campaign after we raised money last year in our “Together in This campaign?”
Our "Together in This" campaign did its job. Our community raised money that allowed both Forefront Brooklyn and Forefront Manhattan to continue to operate in its full capacity. In fact, much of the money given to our TGIT campaign allowed Forefront Brooklyn to become the self supporting church that it is now.
Our TGIT campaign also helped us to make up the parts of the budget affected by the planned end of outside giving from our generous benefactors. It put us in great shape and allowed for us to make this financial split without incurring large cuts in salary, expenses, and ministries.
TGIT put us in a position to move forward in a positive direction, and our "Why Forefront" Campaign allows our church, Forefront Brooklyn, to continue to make strides towards living out our just and generous vision. This is our opportunity to create growth and stability in our church.
Explain the Refugee Relief Fund.
The start of our church coincided with the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. We recognized the need and were able to raise money to help victims of Sandy all over the East Coast. We started a relief fund because we recognized that our money would be best used if we were able to give it to multiple organizations, causes, and people.
In the same way we recognize that there is a wide swath of refugees in need of help. One organization that we've partnered with in the past, CAMBA, helps settle refugees in and around the city. We also know that there are major needs on the Syrian border where hundreds of thousands are in need of supplies to simply live. We want to be able to help refugees in every time and capacity. There are other organizations in NYC and throughout that can use our help. Just like with Hurricane Sandy, we want to use this money when and where it’s needed without limitations.
The money we receive will allow us to act swiftly when CAMBA notifies us of new refugee families who are settling in NYC. It also allows us to use our resources to immediately help ongoing needs in places like the Syrian border though the work of our friends at Gather for Goats.
Why isn’t there an option to personally support refugee families?
Simply put, we didn’t want our community to have to choose between supporting our church and supporting refugee families. Instead, we decided that it was more effective for our community to both support Forefront and know that as we support our church, we’re also supporting refugees in our city and beyond.
For those who are interested in personally supporting refugees, we encourage you to join Greater NYC Families for Syria and participate in the great work happening with them.
Why are we giving 12% to support refugee families?
Throughout the years Christian tradition has dictated a tithe of 10%, which stems from Jewish Levitical laws of the Old Testament. We know that every dollar counts and in some ways, 10% of our giving is a sacrifice for Forefront Brooklyn. CS Lewis had a popular quote that goes like this,
“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”
Although it sounds like a trite number, giving a little more, 12% of our total puts us in a position of truly trusting God with our provisions. We want to practice what we preach, and we hope that our community’s generosity spills over to others.
What do we do if we exceed our goal of $60,000?
Our hope is that we get an abundance, which will allow us to reimplement effective ministries like MidrashNYC, Marriage and Singles Retreats, and Leadership Retreats. Our hope is that we’re able to add those ministries back into the life of Forefront. Remember, whatever we get above our goal allows us to give even more to Refugee Relief.
What happens if we do not reach our goal of $60,000?
As I’ve previously stated, our church will not close. We’re ultimately a self supporting church. However, I also stated that our margins between giving and expenditures are quite slim. Any decrease in giving will ultimately result in the tightening of our budget even further. These cuts will most likely come in the form of staff salary reductions, which unfortunately hamper our staff’s ability to effectively serve the church.
What can we do to help?
Pray for our church. We say it every week. Prayer matters and makes a difference. Pray that our church aligns with the calling of God and that we work to bring God’s kingdom to this earth.
Thanks so much for all your help and support! I’m amazed at the way God has used our church community over the past 5 years and I look forward to seeing what God has in store for our future!
- Jonathan Williams, Lead Pastor
Why Our Brooklyn Ministries Matter
Everything we do is with the intent of loving people and bringing them into the life-changing presence of community. Our ministries, outreach, and events all reflect our values of community, humility, generosity, and diversity. When you give to our Bk ministries you make it possible for more people to be invited into the just and generous love of Jesus.
Here are just a few examples of the ways your gift will serve our community and our city:
$1250 - The cost of rent for one Sunday at the Roulette
$700 - New signage and storage bags for our lobby and sidewalks
$450 - One month's rent for our van parking space (The van stores all our Sunday supplies.)
$70 - Coffee and bagels for one Sunday morning
$300 - An appreciation event for our leaders and volunteers
$800 - Weekly programs and printed materials for one year
$350 - Application fee and supplies for the Atlantic Antic Street Festival
$150 - Rental space and food for the Women's Fall Party outreach event
$10 - Allows a staff member to meet a newcomer for coffee
$250 - Allows us to bring in a guest teacher like Rabbi Dan or Isaac Archuleta
$1000 - Allows us to have one Faith, Culture, Questions event this fall
$8000 - Allows us to do a weekend prayer/rest retreat
At Kidstuf, we believe in providing more than just childcare on Sunday mornings. We provide space so babies, toddlers and children alike can form friendships and grow in their relationship with God. We pride ourselves in being intentional about meeting the needs of the diversity of our community. In everything we teach, we focus on these Biblical truths:
I am loved by God.
We are created in the image of God.
Jesus taught us how to love generously.
We learn how we can continue to live out the Gospel in our daily lives, in our homes, in our schools, and in our community. One of the ways we do this is through community outreach events. You can learn more about our current kidstuf events and curriculum here.
We need your support to keep up with the growing needs of Family Ministry! Read about each need below and how contributing will help that particular area of our ministry.
Curriculum Development and Planning: $1200/month. There is a lot of free and paid curriculum out there. $500/month would cover a basic curriculum for the children downstairs. However, none of it would take into account, the vision and mission for our church as well as the unique makeup of our Kidstuf Kids. With more funds, we can cover the time and resources it would take to develop a curriculum that is unique to Kidstuf. We can take the time to develop curriculum that is inline with our vision and mission, and celebrates the diversity of our Kidstuf Kids. We want to celebrate the diversity in their backgrounds and experiences, the diversity in their learning styles and the diversity in how they worship. We want to develop curriculum that keeps in mind what goes on in the calendar year and integrating that so they see how the relevance of their Christian faith in the world today. We want them to find a place in their faith within Kidstuf and then in turn see how their identity in God, their faith and their walk with Christ can be used to bring shalom within themselves, in their home, school and in their neighborhood.
Library: $400 Children can explore Biblical themes in the context of what is happening in their world today, e.g. the importance of observing Earth Day and how the Bible tells us that we are stewards of the earth and then reading about how a little girl has done just that in a storybook. Biblical stories come alive as we read them along side children's books.
Snacks: $480/year. There's just something about apple juice and goldfish crackers that just brightens up every child's morning!
Toys for the Nursery: $300. We want to update our resources and purchase high quality toys made of wood. Toys will be purchased that are both sustainable and encourage children to learn through play.
Kidstuf Environment: $2000. We want kids to look forward to coming to Kidstuf and our families to take pride in it, and be encouraged to invite friends. One of our parents, Gretchen Chern, has so generously donated her time and talent to design a fun and inviting environment. We will be using backdrops that are child-safety approved and can be set up and packed down quickly and efficiently.
Personal Development: $700 per Kidstuf Staff/Volunteer. Our goal is to fund three Kidstuf leaders. This money goes to funding the attendance to at least one Children's Ministry Conference this year where we can network with other Children's Ministry leaders. We can learn from different voices, all with varying experiences to expand our knowledge on Children's Ministry so that we can better serve the families in our church and our neighborhood.
Pastoral Care for new families/current families and volunteers: $400/month Much of the growth of our ministry stems from taking the time to care for our families and volunteers. We take time to check on the wellbeing of new moms, hear the stories of new families coming in so as to better serve them and their children, and pour into our volunteers who continue to sacrifice part of their Sunday morning to investing in the future of our church. Caring for the health of our parents and volunteers, ultimately produce healthier relationships in which our children can flourish.
Volunteer Appreciation Event: $300 In ministry, we have learned that caring for and appreciating our volunteers make them feel appreciated, this in turn, produces a healthy and thriving ministry.
Baby Dedications: $35/baby. $700 will cover the next 12 months. This is an immediate need. Our babies from our baby boom are being dedicated and we want to welcome them into our church home with love. These funds go towards Baby Dedication church services and gifts.
Mother's Day and Father's Day: $250 We want to honor the Mothers and Fathers in our church community and those that visit on these Sundays. It's not a side note to us. We value them, we value what they do in raising their family and we value their role in our church too.
Outreach: $500-$800. We saw the success of outreach events such as the Easter Egg Hunt, made possible by the generous sponsorship of members of Forefront. We want to do more. We want to make space to bring together families who don't always have the means to enjoy pricey activities for their kids. We want to make space for them to enjoy an afternoon of fun without having to break the bank. In turn, we want our Kidstuf kids to see what it means to serve our community.
Cushioning: $500. Emergencies come up. Families/kids/volunteers may have urgent needs. We want as a ministry to be able to serve those who pour into our families and are a part of our community when/if they need us.
Click on the button below to give to Kidstuf. Giving to Kidstuf means that you have contributed to raising up the next generation of church and investing in their future. Thank you for joining us in caring for our families and our community!
How has Forefront supported me in ways that other churches haven't? Well, it's funny because I think the question should be more like, "How hasn't Forefront supported me?
This church has been a massive part of my life over the last 6 years, almost just as long as I've lived in New York City. Forefront has become my safe place to sit for an hour or two on Sundays to wrestle my stress and anxiety to peace. Forefront has become a group of people I call family who constantly help me and love me, even if it requires good ole Robbie Kleinberg and Don Torrance carrying boxes into my new apartment or Mira dropping off dinner to me when hypochondriac Stef proves herself correct. Forefront has become the ability to text message Jonathan and Jubi in the middle of the night because I'm convinced I've officially gone out of my mind this time and need someone to talk me back to center. Forefront has become the spiritual studio that's allows me to question, grow, and explore my faith in a way that I've never done before, making it stronger and more insightful than it's ever been.
These are just a handful of ways that Forefront has supported me and other churches haven't. I know it seems like the run of the mill types of things that a church and its community would do to support their members but there's one thing I haven't really mentioned that plays a big role in this story. Forefront supports me—and when I say me, while yes, I mean me as Stef the 32-year-old, filipino girl from San Francisco who loves to cook and pretend to play the guitar, I also mean me as in Stef, the lesbian. You see, I grew up in the church and I loved it. But one day, when you're 18-years-old and you're staring at yourself in your dorm room mirror begging yourself not to be gay, you realize you're about to lose church.
That's what happened to me. Other churches gave up on me. Other churches turned their backs on me. Other churches closed their doors on me and asked me to never come back. But Forefront, they let me be in a way that allowed me to reconcile, mend, heal, and start a journey meant to flourish. So yah, that's how Forefront has supported me in ways that other churches haven't. They let me exist and be a part of something I need...and that's church, love, and faith in God. - Stef Fontela
Join us at 7pm EST tonight only on Facebook Live as we team up with Ben Grace and his project, The Calendar Years, to bring you a contemplative Good Friday worship experience.
We've put together a service guide in pdf form to help you interact and follow along in worship tonight. Click the button below to download it. You can print it out or open a new window of your browser, and follow along on your screen.
We invite you to turn the lights down low, light a candle if you can, and join us at 7pm for a few moments of contemplation before we begin. Share our video on your own page and invite your friends to join us.
Go to our Facebook page by clicking here now.
In the Old Testament, Egypt enslaved the nation of Israel for 400 years.
God called to Moses from a burning bush and told him to say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go that they may worship me in the desert.”
Pharaoh refused, so God turned the Nile River into blood.
After the Nile, Pharaoh still refused to set the Hebrew slaves free, so God sent a second plague of frogs, followed by a plague of gnats, followed by a plague of lice, followed by a plague of flies, followed by a plague of livestock diseases, followed by a plague of boils, followed by a plague of hail, followed by a plague of locusts, followed by a plague of darkness.
Holy Moses! (pun intended) Why wouldn't Pharaoh give in?
Finally, in a rage, Pharaoh told Moses that he would be put to death if he appeared before him again.
This brought the final plague, and it was the worst of them all.
After that ninth plague of darkness God told the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb. They were to paint the lamb’s blood on the entryways of their dwellings.
That night the Lord “passed over.” Every dwelling that was painted with the blood was protected. Any dwelling that was not marked suffered the tenth and final plague, the death of the firstborn son in the household.
This final judgment humbled Pharaoh and he finally let the Jews go free.
The Historical Significance
About 1,500 years after Moses, Jesus ate His Last Supper with His disciples. It was Passover – the 15th day of Nissan. Jesus began the meal by serving unleavened matzah and a cup of wine. We do the same on Sundays during our worship, following the example of Jesus on that evening with his dearest friends.
After the remainder of the meal, Jesus left the Upper Room, was betrayed, arrested, tortured, and crucified.
In Moses’ day, the firstborn of Egypt died on Passover while the firstborn of Israel were protected. In Jesus' day, the firstborn of God died on Passover so that all would be protected.
Why We Celebrate Passover Today
Jesus drank from the Passover cup, then told His disciples, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”
Passover points us not only to death, but to the arrival of a loving Kingdom.
The Apostle Paul explained this in similar language when he wrote, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again.” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Communion and Passover remind us of these truths.
What Can You Do for Passover This Year?
Believers all over the world will celebrate the Last Supper as they have for thousands of years, at a gathering of friends and family called a "Seder Dinner."
If you are going to host a Passover Seder, you will need to provide Haggadahs for all the participants. The word Haggadah means “telling.” It is also the name of the book that Jews follow as they celebrate the liturgy of the evening. Seder means “order,” so it describes the order of the Passover meal.
We look forward to seeing you at our church-wide Passover Meal on Good Friday, April 14, at 7:30PM in our community space at the Forefront Offices. We will provide the food (and the Haggadahs).
An RSVP is required so that we can be sure to have enough food and a seat reserved for you. Entry to the meal is $10.00 and can be paid for by cash, check, or credit/debit card at the door.
You can RSVP on the event page by clicking on the button below. We look forward to joining you for a meal with meaning! All are invited.
See you there!
"Our Story" is just that, the telling of thoughts and actions that have shaped our daily lives.. Our Forefront community will share their stories in the form of poems, essays, actions, and perspectives. We hope that they inspire you to do the same. Share your story at www.facebook.com/forefrontbk.
What do we do now?
When this question first started to creep into my mind—you know, back in November—I initially felt like I was surrounded by people who shared the sentiment. But then I noticed that not everyone felt the same way. Not only were some of my Facebook friends and family not asking that question, but they were also feeling pretty good about the current situation. It wasn’t “What do we do now?” It was “Ok, great! Let’s see what happens.”
While I was grappling with my own political beliefs and how to stand firm in my ideals, I was also realizing just how many people felt differently than I did. But the tricky part for me in all of this was that I’ve never been a political person. Growing up in Ohio, I was more interested in theater or writing or even my math and science classes than learning about politics and government. many people experienced confirmation bias on their social media accounts during and after the election, I had a different experience. I saw venting from my super-liberal Brooklyn friends right below celebrations from people who I knew growing up on Ohio. Calls of #notmypresident and links to Vox right next calls to give President Trump a chance and links to Fox News. As liberals called Trump voters racist and misogynistic, I couldn’t rationalize that with the Trump voters I had known and cared about for years.
I studied journalism in college and even worked as a business journalist for a while, but I never even dipped a toe into covering politics. I thought I had moved on from that journalism life, but in the end, it was that background that helped me bring together all of the disparate reactions and thoughts I was having post-election.
In the end, I did what I always did: I talked to people. Specifically, I interviewed them about their political backgrounds and beliefs. And that turned into a short, new podcast series. Each episode of my podcast, called My Two Americas, features two short interviews with two people who have different political beliefs. It’s not a debate; it’s not an argument; it’s just a conversation about why people believe what they believe. I hope that it allows people’s voices to be heard and opens up channels of communication and understanding. This podcast has done much to impact my daily rhythms.
• It’s been an exercise in patience and listening—and that’s something we can all do.
• It’s been a chance to talk about my thoughts with people who agree with me and with those who don’t and that’s something we can all do.
• It’s been an opportunity to take time to read and learn about political issues and policies—and that’s something we can all do.
• It’s been a way to hear what others are doing and get ideas for how we can work together—and that’s something we can all do.
Throughout all of this work, my faith and church have played a major role. Not only in how they influence my political beliefs, but also in how they encourage me to be open to others, give people the benefit of the doubt, and work to bring peace to this world. As a member at Forefront Church in Brooklyn, I've relied a lot on my community as I tackled this project, both for support from friends and in guidance and wisdom from leaders. We've been talking a lot about how we, as a church, can stand for what’s just and generous in this world. One Sunday after the election, as I was trying to decide just how far I wanted to go with this podcast idea, our pastor Jonathan Williams spoke about how actions are the blessing. He encouraged us to step back from just sharing opinions and make that (sometimes uncomfortable) action. That is where the blessing will come. If it's something that scares you a little, then it's probably worth exploring. That kind of thinking, which encourages people to grow, was exactly what I needed to take this step and then some.
So the next time you find yourself asking, "What do we do now?" Or any of its variations: What can I do to make an impact? What should I be doing? Will it even matter? Just stop, step away from Facebook, take a breath, and look around you. Find someone who thinks differently than you and listen to them. Find someone you admire and listen to them. Find someone who is taking action and listen to them. And then you'll find what you can bring to the table—or the internet—too.
As Christians, I don’t think that we were called to a John Mayer kind of love.
Sorry – let me back up…
For those of you unfamiliar, John Mayer is a singer/songwriter who every college Caucasian male with a guitar aspired to be. With his boy next door good looks, sultry pipes, and chops with the wood and wire, John Mayer seemingly wooed an entire generation of young females whilst singing about love. One song specifically, “Comfortable” (a personal favorite), affectionately paints the emotional mise-en-scene of a particular love using cathartically intimate language like “our love was, comfortable and / so broken in” and “I loved you / grey sweat pants, no makeup, so perfect.” He crafts a warm and welcoming picture of what interpersonal love can look like, but when it comes to applying it to the rest of the world, it doesn’t serve us much good.
I don’t mean to take romance down a peg; Lord knows that I’m a sucker for a song or movie that’ll make you cry (I’m talking those real ugly tears) and I admit that Mayer’s song cannot and should not be used to make a 1:1 correlation to the message of Christ. But, we are living where the message of Christ’s love has been repurposed, reinterpreted, and reappropriated to fit into memes, mantras, and tweets.
The love of Christ was not brought to earth to support or confirm what we wanted; it was meant to be a revolutionary force that would overthrow a social and political status quo that saw the powerful oppress and the powerless en route to a dramatically restructured paradigm in which the first would become the last and the last would become the first.
The love of Christ is not comfortable.
Now, I don’t mean to say that there is not peace, comfort, joy, and hope to be found in Christ’s love – that is just patently false. Seriously, Google Bible passages about any of the above superlatives and you’ll find double digit results. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
See? All those things and more can be found by believing in Christ and trying to follow his example of selfless giving and loving. But while all those things – peace, comfort, joy, hope – are readily found in following Christ, they are not the end goal; they are not what we should be striving for when we look to Christ as an example of how we should live our lives. Christ was sent here as an example of the love God has for us, but nowhere in the Bible were we told that Christ came to make us happy, that he wanted to make sure we were comfortable, or that we should maybe just take a break for a little bit if it seemed like this whole Christianity thing was interfering with our plans.
Don’t believe me? Let’s ask the man himself:
“The second [commandment] is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:30 – 31
“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’” – Matthew 16:24 – 26
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” – Matthew 10:34
Now, admittedly, none of these passages (with maybe the exception of the last one) explicitly preclude peace or happiness from occurring, but they do utilize some language that makes it pretty clear that what Jesus wants is neither easy nor comfortable. Treat someone the same way I demand to be treated? Deny my previous life to follow Christ? And what’s all this about a sword? Sure, none of us believe that Christ meant a literal sword, but he did mean to cause some damage – specifically, he wanted to tear down the safety net of self-love and negligence of others that we’ve built up around ourselves.
Here at Forefront, I’ve been exposed to other opinions, other preferences of worship, other live experiences, and other views of the world that I never knew existed before. It exposed me to the 100 Days of Action, to the dinners at Boystown, to food pantries, to volunteer opportunities, and to the true understanding that the commandment of “love your neighbor as yourself” carries the implication of “NO EXCEPTIONS”: that means the poor, the marginalized, the hated, the ones who’ve wrong us, the ones we’ve wronged, and even the ones who just don’t agree with us politically. Have I done something to upset you? You are commanded to love me, but if the shoe is on the other foot, I am commanded to love you just the same.
That is not normal, but it is wonderful.
That is not comfortable, but it is life-changing.
BY LAURA HERROD
Leadership Mentor at Forefront Manhattan
At Forefront, we love a good ole “Meet and Greet”-- the part of the service where you go say hello to someone you’ve never met and ask them an ice breaker question of some kind. What’s your favorite color? Which disney princess is your spirit animal? What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you in the last six months?
My go-to follow-up question is, “How long have you lived in New York?” I don’t know why I go there. Usually, you don’t learn much from the answer, and even worse, my own answer is complicated. Well, I lived here for five years, moved away, and have been back now for two. Or in short, I’ve lived here 5 of the last seven years.
I went to college here, built a life and a community. I had a job here. I had my family of friends, roommates, neighbors. And when I moved away, we did all of the common rituals-- a going away bash, re-allocation of my furniture, tearful hugs and goodbyes. I had no intention of moving back. This “season of life” was closed.
But I came back. When I did, it seemed that the City had not changed and yet I had. I was a new person with new ideas, new doubts, new faith. Somehow, this life that I had built was not the same. I was a stranger in my home, back to feeling overwhelmed by the city the way I did when I first moved here. The churches and friend groups that were once my support system now felt uncomfortable, not quite as safe as they once were.
Then, I found Forefront. Walking in the doors, I found people I didn’t know existed before. I watched Ryan and Travis welcome everyone with the same cheerfulness and care. I heard their sermons carefully critiquing the doctrines that so bothered me now. And I laughed at their self-deprecating humor.
It wasn’t easy at first. I was nervous. I do not like “Meet and Greets.” And I struggled to trust that this church wasn’t just like the others. Too often, churches seem safe only for the successful, for the clean-cut, for the rule followers. Forefront isn’t like that. Slowly but surely, it earned my trust.
For a long time, I thought “progressive Christianity” was just a watered down version of the Truth that I grew up with. But here I found that our interdenominational beliefs meant we were more rigorous in assessing Scripture, dissecting the bias we bring to the text from each of our traditions and open to doubting the way we’ve always been taught. We respect the teaching of historical Christianity while laying bare the weakness of its modern American expression.
At Forefront, our doors are open wide, and our hearts are listening to the cries of our neighbors. Our bond is not about identifying who is right and who is wrong. Instead, this community seeks to embody the greatest ideals of the Great Book-- justice, mercy and love.
And in this way, I have finally found a place where I can bring all that I am. I bring my scars and healing, my laughs and my cries, my best days and my most awkward. And I find that here, all of it is welcome.
"Our Story" is just that, the telling of thoughts and actions that have shaped our daily lives.. Our Forefront community will share their stories in the form of poems, essays, actions, and perspectives. We hope that they inspire you to do the same. Share your story at www.facebook.com/forefrontbk.
THE REALITY OF HOPE
Hope is your survival
A captive path I lead
- “I Will Find You” by Clannad
What is hope? Some may say hope is wishful thinking, while others may say it is some kind of optimism. I don’t think either definition fully grasps its meaning.
Hope is not simply a positive outlook in order to get through the day, or life for that matter. It is not a frivolous expectation, like crossing your fingers that the line at Starbucks is short or that a seat will be available on the crowded subway ride home. Hope is something more. It is something bigger and more inspiring than simple optimism.Hope sees all. It sees the trash, the pain and the bleakness. It sees the despair and anger, the hurt and fear. Hope recognizes that light is difficult to find.
What hope does next is what defines it. Hope rolls up it sleeves and starts digging. It forges ahead and digs long and hard no matter how tough the digging gets. Hope does this because it knows that somewhere there is light. Hope knows that there is much worth fighting and living for. This is the essence of hope. Hope sees all the angles and the possibilities no matter how dire and knows that beauty and light still exist. That is why hope is inspiring. It gives us the will to journey on.
Let’s be honest, the world is a difficult place. Despair makes more sense. Negativity seems to be the logic of the day. And if we’re honest, pain and fear often laugh in the face of hope. We’re often overwhelmed by the current climate that we often settle on burying hope to let our pain and mourning take complete control. We can’t look at social media or the news without feeling the anxiety that comes with fleeting light and impending darkness.
This is why the hope of God matters. This is why the hope of Jesus Christ matters.
God is hope just as God is love. After all, how many of us fallen short of being His children? How many of us roll our eyes at the idea of God’s ways? God should be the first to give up. But God continues God’s infinite redemption. God knows there is light in us somewhere beneath our darkness. God sees our strongest possibilities. The very essence of God is hope and that’s why God sends Jesus. Jesus walks with us in the midst of pain, oppression, hurt, hate, and death. Yet the resurrection still happens, signifying that hope wins the day.
If God is Hope and believing in God means believing in God’s hope, Then what do we have to lose? The greatest gift of this Gospel is God’s continued hope in God’s creation even when it seems futile.
Finally, if God sees hope everywhere and in everyone, then shouldn’t we? We can’t be Christians and be hopeless about the future. We can’t be Christians and not be loving toward our neighbor. We can’t be Christians without the hope that there is reconciliation for all of us, neighbors included. We can’t be Christians if there is no hope that the marginalized, oppressed, and broken will be set free.
To believe in Christianity is to believe in the hope set forth by God. Receive it, strange and unusual as it may feel. But hope is the way to go. The foundation of our entire faith is based on the hope set forth in Christ. If God can send God’s son to bring this hope then what other choice is there than to do the same? And yes, hope is not rose-colored glasses. It’s not optimism. But it makes all the difference. That's what Forefront has given me, hope. Join me today in hope.
Beauty in the Broken
BY SHELDON ROGERS
Just last night, I received this sage advice from a friend via text following a session of heart pouring in which I dumped all my anxieties of late into his lap. He responded graciously with a question: “Do you know where the word ‘Israel’ comes from?” I replied, “I should know this…but I don’t.” He then recounted, in text-bubble-summarization, the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. In this story, Jacob is given a new name: Israel, “he who struggles with God.” My friend went on, “I always thought it was beautiful that Israel, the peoples who belong to God, are characterized by struggle. ‘You are mine because you struggle with me.’ It seems like, from the very beginning, God made beauty out of broken things.”
When I came to Forefront for the first time, in early 2014, I was broken. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still broken in many ways. We all are. However, the particular way I was broken at this point led me to be skeptical of churches and their intentions for me as an LGBTQ individual. I had long since come to peace with my orientation and its place in my religious walk, but I had struggled to find a church which felt the same way. Because of this, I had given up church altogether for the greater part of eight years. I walked into Irving Plaza with a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach because I didn’t want to end up in another building with another group of well-meaning people who “loved” me but didn’t “love my sin.” I quickly found out that I couldn’t be more wrong in this assumption when I was invited to pre-Pride church service at Forefront with a handful of members from Grafted NYC, an LGBTQ-Christian non-profit, in which I am now a leader. In this way, the members and leaders of Forefront loved me in my brokenness by fostering a community where I could flourish as a gay Christian.
Fast-forward to February 2015: I sat numb on the tarmac of John F. Kennedy International Airport, awaiting a flight home to visit my mother in the hospital. She had been struck by a pulmonary embolism the night before and was on life support in Charlotte, North Carolina. I posted a half-hearted ask for prayers and good thoughts on Facebook as the rear wheels of the plane left the ground. Upon landing, my phone buzzed for what felt like five straight minutes with messages of condolence, support, and encouragement. One of those was a voicemail from Ryan Phipps, the Lead Pastor at Forefront Manhattan. In denial, I spent the rest of the afternoon convincing myself that my mother would be fine. By 9 PM that night, she was gone. My closest family member and my biggest supporter, vanished in mere moments. There is no doubt in my mind that this is, was, and will be the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. Even still, the light at the end of this long dark tunnel came in the form of overflowing support and love from many people, including the staff and members of Forefront. It continues even to this day when grief appears from the wings to haunt me again. My heart was broken and the members and staff at Forefront have consistently helped me put it back together.
Some time after the loss of my mother, I also endured another loss: my job. A company I had worked with for almost two years decided to let me go due, in part, to my outlook and experience with the grief, loss, and the way it had changed my personality. Long story short: I wasn’t happy anymore and the clientele could tell. I followed the usual procedure and filed for unemployment as I faced the beast that is “being jobless in New York City.” My bank account got smaller and my fear got bigger. I exhausted every resource while looking for a new job and nothing was sticking. Feeling broken, yet again, I reached out to the church in hopes that someone had a lead on a job I could secure quickly. I got several leads on jobs. I also got grocery money, resumé help, financial help, and rent money from members of the church and staff who went above and beyond to help me when I was broken, lost, and in need. Sometimes, helping mend brokenness comes in the form of practical, material needs and I am forever indebted to those members of Forefront who helped me get through this time. I know they would help me again if things ever took a turn for the worse.
When we are broken and lost, we spend a lot of time asking God questions: “When will I find a job?” “Why did he break up with me?” “Will I ever truly love myself for who I am and who You see me to be?” “Why are my dreams not coming true?” In the asking, we often search too hard and too long for the answers. Around 1:30 AM, during this conversation with my friend, he sent me a quote from Rainer M. Rilke, author of Letters to a Young Poet:
“I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given you, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
This, to me, is the essence of the way Forefront loves people. They care for you through the questions in order to celebrate with you when the answers are found. They are there for you on mountain peaks and in deep, dark valleys. When you are broken and when you are whole, they love you. They embrace the name, “Israel” because they know the lesson comes from the struggle. They see the beauty in brokenness.
After all, the only way to get to the other side of a valley is to go through it.
And they’ll be with you all the way.
A colleague of mine told me a funny story once about his early days as a young assistant pastor. He was working at a large, influential megachurch in suburban Indiana at the time.
Each year during the Advent season, the church would set up a giant manger scene out near the entryway to the property so that passers by would be reminded of what Christmas is all about. There in the manger, nestled in the hay, my friend noticed something far too common in the suburban midwest. The baby Jesus figurine was white, blonde-haired, and blue-eyed.
Later that evening, in jest (or rather, protest) my friend snuck out to the manger scene and swapped out the white baby Jesus with a black one.
The next day he was called in before the Elder Board and nearly lost his job.
I mean, after all, his actions were anathema, right? Everybody knows that Jesus was a caucasian, blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby boy who exited the womb wearing a GAP onesie and a tossel cap from Urban Outfitters!
Sadly, this is untrue, though accepted as the norm in the minds of many North Americans.
It’s unfortunate that people of faith often fail to pause and examine our assumptions.
What assumptions, you ask?
- that God is male
- that God is an elderly white guy with grey hair and a long beard looking down sternly on the earth from some celestial location
- that Jesus was a handsome, white carpenter who would have looked good in a Home Depot Ad demo-ing a Black and Decker table saw.
None of these assumptions are backed up by scripture.
In fact, scripture says the opposite.
- God is not a man. (Numbers 23:19)
- Yes, Jesus’ Father Joseph was a carpenter (Matthew 13:55) but that doesn’t mean that Jesus was.
- Jesus wasn’t handsome. In fact, scripture says that “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2)
- And finally, Jesus wasn’t white. He was a Middle Eastern Jew.
Here’s what that looks like.
Scrutiny And Open-Mindedness
So when we think of God or Jesus, why do all the wrong images surface in our minds?
It’s because we have been taught revisionist history by those who were taught revisionist history, by those who were taught revisionist history by those who were taught revisionist history (ad infinitum). It matters not whether the teaching was done by well meaning people. If it’s not true, it’s not true.
If our current religious and political climates teach us anything, it’s that we need to do less swallowing and more studying. When we hear political or religious leaders telling us who and what God is, our response should be to go back to the scriptures and history to see if these things are so. We ought to be a people who examine everything that we hear.
The people of Berea were commended for this in the bible.
“The people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.” (Acts 17:11)
The scripture calls this way of listening and reasoning, “open-mindedness.”
That’s so different from the world we live in now, where scrutiny, questions, and doubts about the “truth” coming from the mouths of our teachers gets labeled as closed-minded resistance.
We all have our assumptions. That’s an unavoidable bi-product of being human. But are we willing to examine (and reexamine) those assumptions?
If we aren’t, it may be that we don’t have assumptions at all. On the contrary, our assumptions may have us.
BY SUSIE TURGEON
The church is more than an event that happens on Sunday. It is a beautiful collection of people with stories of how God is changing them, and inspiring them to change the world. We are consistently humbled and encouraged by how Forefront is making its mark on the hearts and imaginations of people all over New York City. We have asked a few members of our community to tell us the story of how Forefront has left its imprint on their lives. This week Susie Turgeon writes about how Forefront became her church family, and why it was worth the wait.
We’ve all heard that or some variation of it in our lives. It’s usually said in hindsight - after you know the outcome of a period of waiting. It’s a positive message, but what it doesn’t convey is the sheer frustration that can come from an extended period of waiting.
In April of 2014, I found myself as a new resident of New York City. Starting over in a new city wasn’t exactly new to me – this was my third out of state move in less than five years. By this time, I even had my new city routine down. Find an apartment, decorate and make it home, find the places that would become my “regular” spots, and find a church to get plugged in to. The last one was something that had come surprisingly easy to me with my two previous moves. It was also something that did not come easy to me in New York.
I started strong – I found a church in my neighborhood that I liked and jumped in feet first. I dutifully attended every Sunday and made several attempts to get connected with small groups and community groups. For various reasons, all of those attempts fizzled out. I made a few friends (which I was so thankful for), but it was a far cry from the community I craved. But I continued pursuing ways to get involved, and when I finally accepted that it wasn’t working at this particular church, I went in search of others. This led to months of further frustration. Going to a new church alone is tough, and it’s easy to go unnoticed. I started to feel like I was just spinning my wheels and got tired of trying so hard. I loved my life in New York, but I also knew I was missing community and too emotionally exhausted to keep looking for it.
After I’d been in the city almost a year, all of that changed. While catching up with a visiting friend, I ended up airing my frustrations about finding a church out on him. He’d heard of Forefront through one of his New York friends, so he connected me with her. A few weeks later I walked into the Gramercy Theater for the first time, and an hour and a half later I knew I’d found my church. I was greeted with a warm welcome, I loved the worship, and Ryan’s message was so impactful that it stayed with me for weeks. I came back week after week continued to be welcomed with open arms. I was noticed. I had found my community. In doing so, I’d also found a church that I was proud to be a part of. One that recognizes talented women and encourages them to be strong leaders. One that loves and affirms my LGBTQ friends and family. One that is more concerned with asking good questions and having healthy dialogues than having to have the right answers. One that celebrates the differences in all of us because we all matter to God. One that challenges me not just to be a better Christian, but to be a better person.
A year and a half later, I am still proud to be a part of this church community and am now part of the leadership community. As a leader, one of my biggest hopes is that everyone who walks into Forefront’s doors for the first time is welcomed with the same warmth and love that I experienced. This community is something special, and something this special needs to be shared.
During this time of year when everyone tends to look back and reflect on what they’re grateful for, I’m reflecting on how Forefront has become one of the best things in my life. And yes, it was worth waiting for.