I finally completed my 52nd worship experience in Brooklyn.
My52WOW-BK was the second full iteration of My 52 Weeks of Worship — the first was a global, spiritual, interfaith journey, now documented in my book, and shared through My TEDx talk, Navigating Sacred Spaces. The “My 52 Weeks of Worship Project” started when I made a commitment to visit a different place of worship each week in 2010 — whether that place of worship reflected my personal religious tradition or not. As a result, in one year I visited 61 churches, temples, mosques, shuls, synagogues, covens, living rooms, and sacred spacesin the USA, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Nigeria and South Africa. My first year of My 52 Weeks of Worship was a grief journey, begun after a season of loss. It launched my passion project, facilitated a fair amount of healing, and has become one of my life’s best things.
Then came My52WOW-BK.
In the summer of 2017, after having lived in Brooklyn for a little less than 2 years, I decided to launch My52WOW-BK. This time I would not be undertaking a grief journey. It was more an effort to try to get to know my new neighborhood. I am from a lot of places. Born in the Bronx to Nigerian parents, I was raised in Atlanta, the place I call my hometown. I went to college in California, and then moved to Chicago for grad school, thinking I would live there for 2 years…only to stay there for 22 years, almost half my life. A consultant by profession, over the years I set up “second homes” in Stamford and Hartford, CT, in Munich, Germany, even in New York City, but Chicago remained my base of operations until the summer of 2015 when I moved to NYC for a new professional adventure — living in Brooklyn and working in Midtown Manhattan. In trying different things in an attempt to make NYC feel like home, I thought: why not fire up a new round of MY52WOW? This time, every worship experience would take place in “The Republic of Brooklyn” as a Brooklyn-born friend of mine called it.
From the beginning it was wonderful. Week after week, I was experiencing new neighborhoods in Brooklyn, new communities, and new worship practices. Although I lived in Fort Greene, I walked, drove, Ubered, and took the subway to various parts of the borough, every time adding a new dimension to my life in New York.
I realized, soon, however, that My52WOW-BK would be different. I am not a stationary person. I travel, therefore I am. My life takes place in different cities around the world. To expect that I could complete this project in 52 consecutive weeks as I did the first time turned out to be unrealistic. Travel was wreaking havoc with my attempts to visit a different Brooklyn-based worship experience every week. So, I gave myself the permission to have 52 worship experiences…in as long as it took. It ended up taking a little longer than a year — but I was committed to finishing it, so I did.
So, I have completed the final meditations, attended the final masses. And I have learned something new with every worship experience.
You can read the 52 Things I Learned From My (first) 52 Weeks of Worship on my blog. Here are a few things that I learned during my Brooklyn based journey:
1. Inertia is real. Perhaps, surprisingly, I am still not someone who pops out of bed, ready to go every week to a worship space. I often need to convince myself to get up and go. I do believe that worship happens where it happens — whether that be Bedside Baptist, Pillow Pentecostal — or in the company of others in a common space. Even after the 8th year into this project, I often have to coax myself out of my cozy apartment and into a sacred space where I can coexist with others who also find value in coming together to have a common spiritual experience. I often don’t want to go. After I motivate to go — I am always glad I did.
2. The project has become a revolutionary act, and everyone involved is a revolutionary. In our collective recent past, given the violence that has been taking place in public and private spaces around the world, I have become acutely aware how revolutionary every part of this project is. Not just for me, but for all the different strangers that see me enter their space, and welcome me, rather than closing the door in fear. First, believing anything good in the midst of so much madness is revolutionary. Gathering to support each other rather than shutting oneself off in an effort to self-protect is revolutionary. Opening the door to a stranger who appears to want to join in worship — but who could just as easily be a force for evil — is revolutionary. In the recent past, violence has infiltrated so many places where people go to learn, to rest, to recreate, to heal — movie theaters, bars, yoga studios, public squares, elementary schools, hospitals, college campuses, to name a few — not to mention churches, synagogues, and mosques.
Every time I took a trip to a part of Brooklyn I knew nothing about and opened a door to enter into a worship service, I thought of the recent instances of violence that have been reported so widely. I thought of my safety, and thought of the people who looked at me, not knowing me, and wondered if they were thinking of their safety.
This was not so much the case for me when I did this project 8 years ago for the first time. It is a heavy, sometimes sad thing, until I look up and see those who are gathering anyway, welcoming me anyway — then I feel hope.
3. Radical acceptance is a blessing: As I walked through my 52 worship services in Brooklyn, I experienced not just the blessing of those who gather together in community to raise their children, raise themselves, and navigate life’s joys and challenges. Additionally, I often found myself in some beautiful worship communities whose similarities went beyond the expected characteristics of community (worship tradition, denomination, ethnicity, common practice, language, etc.) These worship communities also had a solid foundation of radical acceptance. A few of the memorable included a congregation created by and for incarcerated persons, formerly incarcerated persons, their families, neighborhood persons, and people who feel called into ministry with the poor, a community where people in various stages of recovery from addiction came to worship together, and a meditation network that was, as the New York Times put it: “part Sid Vicious and part Dalai Lama.” Each time, I was overwhelmed by the radical acceptance that permeated the sacred space, and the warmth with which people reached out to me, ostensibly assuming that perhaps I was a part of their community, looking for a place to find spiritual solace.
In this time of social media, where everyone is sharing the best parts of their lives (not to mention fabricating things so their lives look even better) — to find a place where people know you — your shiny parts and your not so shiny parts and still say come, worship, grow, share, heal, be loved…what a blessing. It is community, taken to a beautiful new level.
Although it has long been clear, as I said in my TEDx talk, “…there is a sacred space for everyone who seeks it, no matter who you are, what you believe, or what you don’t believe…” it was lovely to see that play out in so many ways in Brooklyn.
The final lesson is — I have so much more to learn. I don’t expect to do a full 52-week trip through sacred spaces again (but then again you never know.) I look forward to writing about my different Brooklyn-based worship experiences in some way in the upcoming weeks.
I also look forward to replanting myself in a new community. Alas — it is time for me to leave New York City. I have enjoyed my time here, but I will be returning to Chicago shortly to start a new professional chapter.
Chicago is a city I know well and love. I am excited to take on a new professional challenge with a city that I love as the backdrop.
I expect that I will continue to have experiences in different sacred spaces around the world and continuing to talk about the beauty that comes from being open and accepting to the Divine in the many ways and spaces that divinity presents itself. At the same time, I look forward to replanting myself in Chicago, and while there, in one worship community — to give and get, experience the good and not-so-good, all of it.
And, I will never forget Brooklyn.