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.