Heidi Neumark, pastor and author, at YDS as Hoskins Visitor
By Brin Bon ’13 M.Div.
Heidi Neumark, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Manhattan and author of the book Breathing Space, sat down with Bill Goettler, assistant dean for assessment and ministerial studies, and a small group of Yale Divinity School students during the first week of March to reflect on the challenges and opportunities she has faced in her nearly three decades of ordained ministry. Neumark was at YDS under the Hoskins Visitorship, established in 1967 in memory of Fred Hoskins,’32 B.D. by gifts from the churches that he served and from individual friends.
Reflecting on her roles as preacher, pastor, community builder and writer, Neumark shared both spiritual and practical wisdom on how to engage the church in the prophetic witness that has come to characterize her work.
Neumark’s 19 years working in an urban parish in the South Bronx grounded her in an awareness of the needs of her community inside and outside the walls of the church. Since 2003, she has continued her ministry at Trinity Lutheran in Manhattan, a small congregation on the Upper West Side that is 40 per cent white, 30 percent African American, 30 percent Hispanic.
Trinity Lutheran has active engagement in issues of social justice—issues that Neumark said her parishioners identify based on their own communities’ needs, which are then shared with the church. Trinity now oversees an afterschool homework program for school-aged children in the area, participates in advocacy on behalf of immigrant workers in a program called the “Sweatshop Free Upper West Side,” and now runs a transitional housing shelter for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer youth ages 18-24 called “Trinity Place.” In a city as immense as New York, the needs of the community come knocking on the doors of the church, and Neumark says her work is, in part, to equip her congregation with the faith to respond.
The social justice ministries of her church are just a few of the entry points that might draw people into the life of the church. “Wee Worship” for families with small children, Spanish worship, and a Grandma Group, Neumark told students, are among the many other ways Trinity welcomes people into the work of the church.
Just as people came to Jesus for all sorts of reasons, the multi-faceted programming at Trinity Lutheran appeals to a wide range of people with varied interests, according to Neumark. Sometimes even a mistaken understanding of the church can yield positive results.
In one case, she recounted, a large family initially came to Trinity to enroll the children in Trinity’s Summertime Bible School. While completing the Bible School registration form, the mother indicated that she was interested in baptism for herself and her children. After several attempts to visit the family’s apartment, Neumark was finally able to speak to the mother. “How much do you charge for baptism?” she asked. Surprised, Neumark told the single mother or four that baptism is not something that one has to pay for at Trinity. Now, after several months of regular church attendance and involvement, the family has been preparing for an upcoming baptism this Easter.
Neumark’s visit to Yale Divinity School provided students with valuable insights into how a multicultural congregation with only limited resources and a small membership can yet flourish and be a beacon of hope amid the challenges of a gritty, urban environment like Trinity Lutheran’s. For her, key ingredients are helping people to get to know each other, to get over stereotypes, and listening carefully to what people have to say—and a foundation built upon the Good News of Jesus Christ.