Food for body, mind, and soul
In March 2020, St. John’s in the Village commenced, and continues now, a free grocery service for vulnerable Greenwich Village residents who have no access to the internet.
Greenwich Village has one of the highest proportions of seniors living alone in the five boroughs of New York City. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of them (and other vulnerable people, such as the immunocompromised) have felt unsafe, even with masks and distancing, in crowded indoor places such as grocery stores. Many can, of course, either order their groceries online, or have non-senior friends or relatives shop for them—but those with no internet access and with no non-senior friends or relatives in NYC are in a difficult situation. In response to this, volunteers from St. John’s staff a dedicated phone line (from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday). Seniors call in on this line and say what they need; and St. John’s volunteers then order and pay for the groceries and have them delivered. The delivery is achieved through a partnership with Invisible Hands (invisiblehandsdeliver.org) and their teams of vetted volunteers operating under CDC guidelines. The project is funded by St. John’s with the help of Episcopalian private donors, and significant grants from a charitable trust in the UK. Thus far, St. John’s has provided over $30,000 of groceries to those in such need.
St. John’s in the Village has a notable history, humbly worn, of helping Villagers in times of distress. St. John’s played a significant pastoral role in the Village’s cholera outbreaks in the 19th century, in the Village’s response to the “Spanish” Flu of 1918—and, of course, in the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s. It is in keeping with this long tradition of community care that St. John’s created new programs in this time of COVID-19.
In addition to helping seniors and other vulnerable people with their daily bread, St. John’s has also kept very close to the arts community, so much part of the life of Greenwich Village. Before the pandemic, St. John’s presented at least four or five concerts each week, from early music, through Baroque, Classical, Romantic, modern, folk, jazz, and more. Having invested in top-of-the-range audio-visual equipment, St. John’s now offers its fine acoustic and this equipment to musicians who wish to live-stream their concerts to online audiences. Recently these have become “fusion” concerts with a limited in-person audience attending the live-streamed performance under CDC and Bishop’s guidelines. This is to the benefit both of the musicians, who can continue to perform and earn revenue, and also to music lovers, who can hear live performances from a Village venue, and now, at last, attend concerts safely in person once more. St. John’s is delighted to be able to keep live music alive in the Village despite the cost incurred in engaging professional sound engineers and other skilled personnel to enable this service to musicians.
Theater at St. John’s also continues online—though St. John’s theater itself is closed, with a number of innovative community and cultural events curated by St. John’s resident theater company Rattlestick.
It is important for the Village’s visual artists to be able to show their work at this time when many commercial and even not-for-profit galleries are closed. Revelation Gallery, St. John’s own art gallery, has uninterrupted shows by Village artists this season: Maria Carla Genovesi (of Parsons School of Design) in September, Joyce Rezendes (of Westbeth) in October, Kazuya Morimoto (of W 11th St) in November, and Barbara Braun in December. Kazuya Morimoto, known as ‘Kaz’ to Villagers, and a familiar sight on Village streets, is now busy painting the new Paris-like, table-lined, diner-filled streets of the Village for his November show.
As restaurants have now lost their indoor seating and some have very little outdoor space, St. John’s has opened its lovely interior garden, St. Benedict’s Courtyard, to its neighbor Taïm, the Israeli falafelry on Waverly Place. Taïm customers enjoy shade, quiet, free wi-fi, the gentle plash of the water fountain, and the chirping of St. John’s two blue budgerigars as they eat. The courtyard is open to everyone (not just Taïm customers) between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, and is valuable as a safe place for Villagers, seeking a break from the confines of their own apartments, to read, work (there is free Wi-Fi), and relax.
St. John’s has re-opened for in-person worship, with a Eucharist (under the Bishop’s strict protocols) at 6:15 p.m. every Wednesday, followed by “distance drinks” (champagne and soft drinks) in St. Benedict’s Courtyard: a time of in-person worship, prayer, and fellowship much needed these days. All other worship is now (as it has been since the pandemic began) webcast on the parish’s YouTube channel: Morning Prayer and Evensong (plainsong) from Monday to Friday and two Eucharists every Sunday. Like many other parishes using YouTube seriously for the first time in the pandemic, St. John’s experienced frustration in live-streaming to this medium as YouTube demanded the channel have over 1,000 subscribers before this could be done. Promoting the parish’s YouTube channel on the parish Facebook page soon had over 2,000 subscribing, and the system continues smoothly. Presenting liturgy online opens up possibilities not otherwise available. Sunday and feast-day liturgies, webcast on the YouTube channel, have included guest homilists and musicians from Australia, the UK, Iceland, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, and Canada (as well as from other states within the USA). St. John’s Ascension Day Eucharist, celebrated from the rectory roof, included guests from all those countries, participating from towers, hilltops, and rooftops around the world. The August-September series “Saints & Shrines of England” was a virtual pilgrimage to the places of veneration of Sts. Hilda, Alban, Edward the Confessor, Cuthbert, Bede, Thomas Beckett, and Our Lady of Walsingham, with clergy of those cathedrals, shrines, royal peculiar, and churches as guest preachers. The crisis moving so many to online worship became opportunity to engage with the wider Anglican Communion, where our brothers and sisters are experiencing, of course, the same trials and tribulations as we are here in New York.