A Neighbor for Chelsea

“I didn’t think I had the gifts to start a church, but at the same time I was thinking – Why not me?” 

A pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, David started to consider how to support the movement of starting and growing more churches in the city. He had lived in and around Chelsea for two decades, and regularly walked the neighborhood, often praying over it. A friend and long-time Redeemerite, Lourine Clark who occasionally accompanied him on these walks shared, “I couldn’t count the times that our prayers were interrupted by people in the neighborhood or store owners stopping by to greet David by name. It then occurred to me that – wow – the Lord had been preparing David…for over a decade to start a church in Chelsea.”

The plan was for this new church to launch in the fall of 2020. But by the Spring of that year, the pandemic thwarted everyone’s plans. He and his launch team began meeting online that Spring. This was a time when neighbors were eager to connect and so people started showing up virtually. While many were fleeing the city, David and a small group of friends and neighbors committed to Chelsea started connecting with new people and looking for opportunities to support those who remained. The Fulton and Elliott Houses, Chelsea’s government housing, was three short blocks away. At the height of the pandemic, David and his family, as well as their team,  showed up 3-4 times a week to deliver meals for these neighbors. Relationships were formed, and David was routinely invited to attend Tenant Association meetings, and open them with prayer. This led to a weekly bible study in the cinder-block tenant association office.  A sense of community, permanence, and true friendship formed through this time. Though difficult, it helped form the roots of the church in the neighborhood. 

In October of 2022, Storefront Church began worshiping in a neighborhood school, but in January 2023, their original vision became a reality, and they opened a storefront space to help foster deeper connections in the neighborhood. In fact, it’s called, Neighbor.  This storefront is a multi-purpose space with no obvious signs of religious affiliation. On the windows, it will merely say ‘Neighbor’. The goal of this space? To explore together what it means “to love your neighbor as yourself” in a divided age. 

David joined us for a conversation about Chelsea and what he is seeing and learning as he plants his church. 

What makes Chelsea unique? 

“West Chelsea is unique in that it’s a microcosm of New York City. From The Whitney Museum to Hudson Yards, from 8th Avenue to the water – in these 15 blocks, all of NYC is represented.”  

Historically, this area has been identified with five people groups or institutions, which we lovingly refer to as “The Five G’s”.  They are; General Theological Seminary, the Gay Community, the Galleries (and Arts) scene, Google’s headquarters are here, too. However, the NYCHA government subsidized housing community, more than any other, has been the heartbeat of this neighborhood.”

What needs do you see in the neighborhood?

“NYC has an open invitation to the best and brightest in finance, the arts, and education and government, but what it needs from each and everyone of us is to be a neighbor. Of course, nobody moves to NYC to be a neighbor. And I think we’ve felt the need for true neighbors. One of the ways I see God moving is that post-pandemic era is that there seems to be an increasing desire amongst the diverse communities along the High Line to do just that. There’s less averting of eyes, less “smile but keeping it moving.” People have more time. When it comes to caring for their neighborhood, there is a recognition that we’re the adults in the room now. I’ve seen a real posture shift. It’s funny, when people stop and look at our signage, which reads, “Hi. Let’s Neighbor together” and they take a pic. I can’t help but think they’re sending it to a friend because it’s something they’ve already been considering or are already doing.”

What makes this experience unique for you? 

“We live above our neighbor space. We always wanted a church that was radically accessible and now we have one! To do ministry in a context where you don’t just see people on Sundays but throughout the week. It is a powerful experience and often an uncomfortable one. However, it’s been nearly four years all in all, and we all wish we’d been bolder sooner. I know this isn’t true for every church planter. But as hard as it has been, it’s been more fun than anything. Jay Kyle, a long-time leader at CTC, told me (more than once) – David, it will be so hard. But because you’ll be in God’s will, you’ll never have more fun and you know it will be good. That stuck with me. And despite lots of ups and downs that’s been true.”  

What are you learning?

“A lot. Mostly about myself and a daily need for grace. Also, about others. And how desperately people want a pastoral presence or a thoughtful, available friend, or a good neighbor in their lives.” 

The above story is a product of conversation and interview with David Plant and an interview article, “A New Church Plant in the Chelsea Neighborhood of Manhattan” by Christina Stanton.

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