Practicing the Art of Presence in Woodside, Queens

“We don’t live in a religious desert. But it is a church desert.”

When Larry and his wife Lindsey moved to Western Queens, there were about 30 mosques and temples in the neighborhood and barely any churches. For the 800,000 residents who call Western Queens home, there were only 3 English speaking gospel-centered churches. Today, there are about 12. 

From the beginning, the goal has not been to start and build one church — but multiple churches, each reflecting the uniqueness and diversity of Western Queens. They co-planted their first church with another couple, and in 2020, Larry and Lindsey paired with a few others from their first church to start Queens Church, a community with the specific focus and mission to serve the Woodside Houses. In early 2023, Queens Church moved into its first permanent home. In their first 3 years, they met in 9 different locations. 

Larry shares, “One of the challenges to planting a church in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic neighborhood is when we, as church planters, come in with our own ideas — without a propensity to listen to what the people in the neighborhood say is what they need or what they want. We can create a church that attracts Christians, maybe from other places, but doesn’t hit the pulse of the neighborhood.” But with Queens Church, we were very intentional about serving and listening. This included us serving at the Senior Center because from listening, we learned that the seniors in our community were very lonely. Serving at the local community center after-school program, enabled us to listen to the stories of the single mother who lives in the projects.”

“Learning to listen is what I have learned most in starting a church.”

At Queens Church, a main focus is to practice the art of presence.

The only way you can listen is if you are present. Larry, Lindsey, and the other leaders at Queens Church do this by spending all of their available time in the neighborhood. From date nights to walks, cafes and restaurants and schools for their kids — it all happens within a 10-minute walk of their homes.

By doing this, Larry and Lindsey got to know the Tenant Association President, who has lived in the Woodside Houses for over 60 years. Getting to know Larry and Lindsey, she said that there has never been a church to serve this neighborhood.

There are over 160 nations represented in the neighborhoods of Western Queens. In Woodside specifically, it is equally diverse. However, at Queens Church, they say they are a minority majority. The vast majority of their church is African American, Latino, or Asian and many who come from the Woodside Houses are at or below the poverty line. Larry shares, “A number of people in our church are single mothers, many are on government assistance. And our church has become a place of refuge. They have found the hope of Jesus and it has been life-changing.” 

“At Queens Church, our church dynamics mirror our neighborhood dynamics. I think this happens naturally when you put an emphasis on serving the poor and marginalized and when the people you serve begin moving into leadership positions in the church.”

Candace, a single mom of four, grew up in Woodside. She went to the local schools and is now raising her children here. After becoming a believer, she started serving in children’s ministry. Now, she is the Children’s and Outreach Director, teaching dozens of children in her own neighborhood weekly about the hope of Jesus through her Wednesday night small group for kids. She also leads Queens Church’s outreach in the neighborhood through events like Trick or Treat and the annual Easter Egg Hunt, two events that have become mainstays in the neighborhood. 

Her oldest son, mom, dad, mom’s best friend, and two cousins have all come to follow Christ in the past three years and are now a part of Queens Church, serving in multiple capacities. 

Today, about 140 people call Queens Church home. Of this, only 20-30 people previously attended church. Reflecting on this unique dynamic, Larry shares, “Serving a group of new believers, the majority of whom have little or no church experience, has taught me to be an agile leader. Oftentimes I’m counseling people through intense personal and relational difficulties in the morning and teaching teenagers the basics of loving Jesus at a young age in the evening. We are serving our senior citizens by listening to their stories and loving them through their loneliness, then talking to a couple who has never seen a healthy marriage navigate their relationship now that they’ve both surrendered their lives to Jesus. 

Being present in people’s lives and in the neighborhood means experiencing a wide range of emotions and encountering a great deal of stress and trauma, sometimes on a daily basis. It has taught me to love people regardless of their response to the gospel and I’ve grown to have more compassion and love for my neighbors as I’ve spent more time in the streets than in an office.” Larry laughingly shares, “We don’t even have an office!”  

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“We don’t live in a religious desert. But it is a church desert.” When Larry and his wife Lindsey moved to Western Queens, there were about 30 mosques and temples in the neighborhood and barely any churches.