But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? - 1 John 3:17
Back in the 90s Rose and I lived in a rent controlled railroad apartment in Hoboken. I was in seminary while working for the church and Rosemary was an adjunct professor who also did artist residencies as a playwright in schools all over North Jersey. Like the retired factory workers who lived there for forty years, the man dying of AIDS on the third floor and the family on public assistance directly below us, at the time we had no money. We knew we were lucky to have somewhere to live in town at all as rents skyrocketed around us, but it wasn’t easy.
Our apartment didn’t have central heat or a bathroom sink and the leaky ceiling we complained about for years finally crashed onto our bed one afternoon during a torrential rain. When we finally moved it was because my contract came up for renewal and I negotiated our way into the first floor of the church rectory three blocks down the street. No one else in our building had an opportunity like that so they stayed and lived with the crumbling walls, leaky plumbing and unreturned calls to the landlord. I kept in touch with our super for a number of years and brought her food from the shelter after her husband died because she couldn’t always make ends meet.
Inevitably, as gentrification moved west through Hoboken, the property was sold. I found this out one day while driving by. An enormous, material sign hung from our former living room window down the front of the building. It read “Beveli Arms Luxury Condominiums”. A quick search on Zillow just now brought up pictures of our unrecognizably posh looking, 700 square foot, former apartment which sold for $428,000 five years ago.
What happened to our former neighbors?
On Sunday, Grace parishioners joined members of a few dozen other faith communities who comprise Jersey City Together in the parish hall of our sister church, St. Paul’s Bergen. The hall was packed to capacity. Everyone who showed up on that wet, chilly afternoon came to stand by their neighbors: the tenants of Trendy Management, many of whom have lived in substandard, dangerous housing for years. As rents in Jersey City continue to rise and Trendy Management ignores their calls, these tenants have no options.
While the owner declined the request to come listen to her tenants concerns, Mayor Fulop accepted the invitation and went on a walk afterwards with about fifty people to look at several Trendy Management apartments. We saw dead rats, broken glass, crumbling stairs, black mold and leaky ceilings. We also met families who clearly cared about their homes.
This meeting and field trip resulted in the city issuing over one hundred violations Trendy Management confirmed to the press they will address.
While I’m putting all my eggs in the basket of God’s mercy, sometimes instead of asking Him for it Scripture calls us to spread mercy around ourselves. The great 20th century theologian Rabbi Abraham Heschel called this “praying with your feet”.
A little bit of Heaven came to Jersey City on Sunday afternoon when so many people with widely divergent religious beliefs came together to pray with their feet.
Please God, show us how and where to pray like that again. Soon!
Rev. Laurie Jean Wurm