Judgment-free dance parties. Concerts. Farmers Markets. Storytelling Events. It might sound like Greenpoint just got a sweet new venue, but actually, all these events take place at the Park Church Co-op (129 Russell Street), which is hands down the coolest church in Greenpoint. In 2015, the Park Church Co-op emerged out of what had been Messiah Lutheran Church, opposite McGolrick Park. At that time, Greenpointers sat down with Pastor Amy Kienzle, to learn more about the shifting nature of the congregation on Russell Street, and the Co-op’s open, community oriented approach to spirituality. I sat down with Pastor Amy last week to find out how the Co-Op has grown into one of the most exciting community spaces in the neighborhood.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
GP: The Park Church Co-op had been a Lutheran Church before it became the Park Church Co-op?
Pastor Amy: It’s still a Lutheran Church, technically, but it’s more of a new-start ministry than a traditional Lutheran Church. It’s still under the same Lutheran denomination, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, it’s just that we closed down the old church that had been there for 116 years, and decided to do something new in the spot, so it’s kind of continuing, but in a new way.
GP: What was the process of creating the Park Church Co-op here in Greenpoint?
Pastor Amy: So, I had come four years ago to do work with two churches, which was more of a redevelopment with two dwindled Lutheran Churches which had both been here over 100 years. The other one is on Milton Street, Saint John’s.
I realized that Messiah Lutheran Church had already begun the process of opening itself to the community in small ways. The previous pastor had gotten the church to let people in to rent the space. But when I would talk to people, they would say, ‘oh I’ve been to that church for a show, or for an event, but only in the lower level, but I’ve never been upstairs.’ So I realized there was potential there.
Being on the park, and having people know the location, and know the church as being open, at least a little, there was room to open it even more, and that’s why we started opening up the upstairs for events. Then I went to those people who were already using the space, like No Lights No Lycra, The Farmers Market, the CSA, to say, “I see you as ministry partners, and I want to use that language if that’s ok.” And everyone was receptive to that. And I said, “it’s not that everyone has to be Christian, we just think that you are doing something that we can’t with a few people. You’re serving the community in ways that we value, so we want to see you as an extension, or as partners in that work in the community.”
And so the formal process was that two years ago we did a formal worship service to close the church, so that there was an emotional closure for the people who were left from Messiah, and we began the Park Church Co-op.
GP: Do ministry partners or community members interested in putting on events at the Co-op pay to use the space?
Pastor Amy: It depends on the events. Our partners do pay a donation fee. No Lights No Lycra has been here over 7 years, so they split the donations with us. They take half and we take half. New people who come to use the space, we ask them to give a donation to our ministry. It varies. We work with people because we’re always balancing community benefit and our need for funding and our need to be sustainable in the future. If it’s a collaborative thing, like all of our music and arts programming, which works with our music and arts committee, we don’t charge for use of the space, but we do take a percentage at the door. For community meetings, we don’t normally charge. We hosted the Greenpoint Taskforce when there was increased crime in the neighborhood. We had an artist coalition come together after the election. They wanted to use their art and their music to say something, but they wanted a space to gather and collaborate. So those kind of community things, we open for free, and we let them use the space.
GP: Are there events coming up at the Co-op you’re particularly excited about that you want people to know about?
Pastor Amy: I’m excited about our Story Times. The Greenpoint Public Library asked us to house some of their collection while they are closed for renovation, so we have a little library now. We’re try to build on that to invite families to come in to get acquainted with the church in a way that’s not threatening, that’s not just “come to worship,” but instead, “come see what we’re about.” So we have Story Time. We have one today, and we’re hoping to do it weekly, but we need to find a time that will work in the school year. It’s really fun! We had one last week and we had about 20 or 30 kids come with their nannies or their parents, and we did music and we had stories, and then I was able to ask people if they’d be interested in an intergenerational worship experience for their kids, and a number of people said yes. So it’s just a way for us to connect, and see where people are at, and what can we offer them that would be beneficial to them. I think with the playground closing too, people are going to be looking for things for their kids, and we’re happy to try to offer what we can. We’re hoping to plan a Halloween event too, for kids, and of course our music programming continues, so there’s always a variety of things, and we’re always excited to see new things.
Pastor Amy: I wish I could take ownership for the whole idea, but it was actually a dad from the school, a member of the community. He does quirky things with The Diamond bar [43 Franklin St]. They have a ski gondola outside in the back, and he asked me if I would be willing to hear confessions on New Years, and I said sure. It was something I have been thinking about for a couple of years, how do I make myself available for people for confession? It was really moving. People got in the booth, and even if they had never done confession before, they said that, and I just explained to them that It’s not me forgiving their sins, it’s just them being assured that God forgives them or cares about them no matter what, or that they are able to talk to someone about things that are weighing on them. People really shared things about being concerned how they parent, or their relationships, and some theological questions.
GP: Are there other ways that the church comes out into the community in that way, not bringing people into the building necessarily, but going out?
Pastor Amy: We’re looking at doing that more. About a year ago, we did a Haircuts for the Homeless Ministry. It was a partnership with San Damiano Mission [85 N 15th St]. We got volunteers from our church, then found volunteer haircutters through connections we had already made in the community. And for about 6 months, twice a month, we offered haircuts at San Damiano, because they have a shower. We gave away clothing and we had snacks and coffee, and people could have their haircut and have a shower, or a shave. We’re looking to bring that back. We’re going to have some interns this fall looking at how we can bring that back, and maybe have it in our space. Maybe we could build a shower, and have a space where people could come in and do that, because I think it’s a service that’s overlooked in terms of what people need, and what would be helpful in lifting their spirits.
We’re also going to be part of a partnership to clean up McGolrick Park on September 30.
We have also looked into the Sanctuary movement, and how we could be involved, whether it’s making our space a sanctuary, or accompanying people to hearings or trials, so that they have somebody with them. We’re looking to do that more, because people see us as a space, but we want to be more active in the community in terms of outreach.
GP: You talked about working with San Damiano. Since there are so many places of worship in Greenpoint, has the Co-op been part of any interfaith collaboration in the neighborhood?
Pastor Amy: We’re working on that. We’ve had some interfaith meetings with the Brooklyn Borough President’s faith-based coordinator, Gil Monrose. We met with the Brooklyn Borough President and we talked about issues around homelessness. I’m working with the city councilmen’s office, and his staffer Benjamin Solotaire, to convene another interfaith meeting. It’s been challenging because all of us have different schedules, but we’ve been communicating through email. It’s something we’re actively working on. It’s something I did in Michigan and found was really important and helpful, especially in today’s climate and culture. We need to know about each other, and work together for a common good, to recognize that we all want the same things for our children or for the neighborhood, so if we work together we’ll be stronger.
GP: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Pastor Amy: Just that our doors are always open to the community. And my door is always open as a pastor. If people want someone just to talk to who’s non-judgmental, who will just listen. I know that’s not always something that we have, that third space to go to. We have our family, and we have our work, but then having somewhere else where we can connect – we’re always open for that. I have office hours on Wednesdays from 12-3, generally, so I’ll be around if people want to drop in, or if they want to schedule an appointment that’s fine too.
No Lights, No Lycra is held at the Park Church Co-op (129 Russell St) on Tuesdays at 8:30pm, Dancorcism is on Wednesdays at 8pm, and Morning Worship & Coffee Hour is Sundays at 11am. Pastor Amy’s door is always open and her office hours are Wednesdays from 12-3pm if you would like to drop in and say hello.
For more information on concerts and more events at the Park Church Co-op, you can find their full calendar here!