Promenade Is Sacred Space For those Remembering 9/11

The Rev. Dr. Flora Wilson Bridges, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church, recites an interfaith prayer for peace from the organization Pax Christi. In background are: Frank Kain from Church of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity; Dr. Ahmad Jaber and Imam Abdallah Allam of Dawood Mosque; and the Rev. Dr. John McGinty, representing Grace Church. Photo by Francesca Norsen Tate


by Francesca Norsen Tate

Members of the Brooklyn Heights Clergy Association led a well-attended 9/11 commemoration on the Promenade last Sunday — in many cases bringing members of their congregations following regular worship. Clergy and some lay representatives presented readings from their sacred scriptures: among these, Lamentations, the Psalms, the Sermon on the Mount and Revelation, and other literary sources. Many readings spoke of the commandment to love rather than hate and create rather than destroy, and of the creation of a new heaven and earth.

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Youths tell the story of their project to design gloves for a social service project. Photo by Francesca Norsen Tate

Sunday evening, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of Congregation Mount Sinai led another well-attended 9/11 memorial on the Promenade. Guest dignitaries included State Senator Daniel Squadron and Peggy Kerry, who is with the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, and sister of U.S. Senator John Kerry. Rabbi Potasnik also saluted Sen. Squadron’s late father, Howard Squadron, with whom the rabbi was friends.

Rabbi Potasnik invited the youth-led theater ensemble Project Girl Performance Collective, to present excerpts from its new show, “Ten Years Later: Voices from the Post-9/11 Generation Speak.” The ensemble’s members, ranging in age from 9 to 23, are from of various ethnicities, religions and political affiliations. Through workshops, personal and group writing exercises, and interviews with peers, parents, teachers and community members they explore what it means to come of age in a post-9/11 society. The resulting performance of monologues, songs and dance open them to the audience, giving a feel for their experiences in living most of their lives in a post-9/11 world. The Collective was also scheduled to perform Monday night at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at West 42nd St. in Manhattan, and has recently given presentations at the White House and United Nations. They have been broadcast on NPR’S on All Things Considered.

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Julie Johnson Staples to Be Ordained At Plymouth Church This Sunday

Julie Johnson Staples. Photo courtesy of Plymouth Church

Julie Johnson Staples, a member of Plymouth Church who has enjoyed successful careers in journalism and finance, is representative of a growing trend of ordained ministers who first succeeded in other careers. She will be ordained at Plymouth this Sunday.

Ms. Johnson Staples is a 20-year veteran journalist and former White House correspondent for The New York Times and, later, a managing director and partner of Warburg Pincus, the New York-based private equity firm.

She will become the third generation of her family to serve a Protestant church. Her grandfather, the Rev. C. L. Williams, was an African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) minister for more than 40 years, serving churches in Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas. Her aunt, Rose Reynolds, who currently serves as senior pastor of the Friends of Christ Church in Omaha, Nebraska, has been in Christian ministry for the past 36 years. And, Ms. Johnson Staples’s parents have been active in church life their entire lives, serving in lay and music ministry.

Besides her secular business experience — she holds degrees in journalism and law — Ms. Johnson Staples brings an extensive theological and ecclesiastical background to her new ministry. She was graduated this past May from the Union Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree, and is currently in a one-year Th.M. degree program at Harvard Divinity School. For the past two years she also worked in the Ministry of Education at the Riverside Church in New York City. She is the newly elected moderator of the New York/New Jersey chapter of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches.

A member of Plymouth Church since 1998, she has served as vice-president of the Plymouth Council, as a teacher of Adult Christian Education, as a member of the senior minister search committee, and as a delegate to the NACCC annual meeting.

The ordination of Julie Johnson Staples is the third such event at Plymouth in the past twelve months, and the fourth in five years. Since 2006, Plymouth has hosted the ordinations of Alvin Bunis Jr., a longtime church member and now the Assistant Minister at Plymouth Church; Yvette D. Wilson, former minister-in-training at Plymouth, now serving as Associate Dean for Student Life at Union Theological Seminary; and Margaret Blamberg, church member and United Church of Christ Minister for Global Witness at the United Nations. Each of them are representative of a trend captured in the most recent Pulpit & Pew national survey of clergy, which shows that more than 50% of congregations today are led by clergy who had another occupation prior to entering ordained ministry.

Ms. Johnson Staples’ ordination begins at 4 p.m. at Plymouth Church and is, as are all worship services here, open to the public.

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Experience Shape Note Singing at Plymouth Church

New York City Sacred Harp, dedicated to preserving and singing one of America’s oldest musical traditions, holds its annual “All-Day Singing” event this weekend at Plymouth Church. This unusual participatory music event attracts fans from near and far as they join together in singing “sacred harp.”

Sacred Harp is specifically the name of a hymnal published in 1844 that introduced an innovative approach to learning how to read music: “shape notes,” a system of easy-to-scan triangles, squares and diamonds embedded in musical notation. The shape note system was grafted onto the congregational singing style of early New England churches, and thus a distinctly American form of hymnody emerged. The music has since gained a wide following, and active sacred harp groups can now be found throughout the country. Moviegoers may recall performances by the Sacred Harp Singers of Liberty Church in the soundtrack of the 2003 film Cold Mountain.

NYC Sacred Harp’s All-Day Singing at Plymouth Church takes place on Saturday, September 17, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Hillis Hall, 75 Hicks Street. Visitors may come and go as they wish, and everyone is encouraged to join in the singing or at least immerse themselves in this spellbinding music. Those interested in learning how to sing sacred harp are also invited to a “Traditional Singing School” at 7 p.m. on Friday, September 16, also in Hillis Hall. Leading the workshop is Judy Hauff, a prominent shape note singer and composer from Chicago.

Admission is free and open to the public. Contributions will be collected at the All-Day Singing. For more information, visit, or call 718-624-4743.

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Community Welcome to Synagogue’s Open House Learning Workshops

The Brooklyn Heights Synagogue welcomes the community to an Open House and High Holy Days Learning Workshops.

The Open House is geared for members, prospective members and those new to the neighborhood seeking a spiritual home. Participants will have a chance to meet Rabbi Serge Lippe and Rabbi Molly Kane, Director of Congregational Education, to explore membership, the religious school, the Judaica shop, and outreach programs like the synagogue’s Women’s Homeless Shelter. A study session with the rabbi will be offered at 10 a.m. and workshops for all ages begin at 11:15. And being that meals are a central part of Jewish life, lunch, at 12:30, will be provided, featuring delicacies from local merchant, Shelsky’s Smoked Fish, in Carroll Gardens.

Rabbi Kane will be officially installed at the synagogue’s Friday night service on Sept. 16.

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Rabbi Potasnik Moderates Forum at Book Festival

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, acclaimed for his interfaith and chaplaincy work in New York City and his leadership of Congregation Mount Sinai, will be the moderator of a discussion featuring U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, during this weekend’s Brooklyn Book Festival.

Rabbi Potasnik will moderate the 3 p.m. forum, “Recharging through Spirituality.” Senator Lieberman and Reverend A.R. Bernard will discuss the benefits of choosing to live a spiritual life guided by one’s commitments to his/her religion.

The Book Festival is free, but tickets are required for certain indoor presentations at venues around the Heights. For more information,

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