Worldview Comes to Wall Street
And a Covenant Community Grows in Manhattan
By Gerry Wisz
It started soon after the Rev. Paul Murphy, pastor of Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship in lower Manhattan, began distributing flyers around Wall Street inviting people to, well, not a Bible study exactly. “We invited people to a study during their lunch hour to consider what the Bible teaches about work,” he said. “We call it Your Work Matters to God.”
Paul was surprised by the results; six people attended the first meeting, a considerable showing from passing out flyers anywhere, but especially in New York City. Now up to 12 come every Tuesday. It’s a topical study, but the Bible isn’t far away. To it Paul turns to find precepts and examples for teaching on topics under discussion. These range from theological examples like God as worker, the goodness of work, how sin affects work, and how Christ does to day-to-day issues like employment, taxation and retirement or productivity, profit and the perils of credit.
His most recent study and discussion topic was wealth. “The West is ten times richer than the rest of the world, and despite all its foreign aid the gap isn’t closing. Why is that?” Pastor Paul then begins laying out the explosion of knowledge and trade in the 17th century and the part the Protestant Reformation played in this phenomenon.
“There’s a connection between theology and economics; the Reformation spurred progress, which turned into wealth and capital,” he says. “When I show how that happened and why, it’s an eye-opener for a lot of them.”
A Book for All Things
Many regular attendees are evangelicals who aren’t used to going to the Bible for anything other than their personal salvation. That’s certainly what the Bible is for, Pastor Paul says, but there is also much in it to teach us about life in the real world once we come to Christ.
“Christian workers have a lousy reputation,” he said. “It’s the rapture mentality: we go to work because we have to though we’d rather not. Where we really feel we ought to be is at church or on the mission field. But work is meaningful to God. It’s a means to glorify Him. We were created to work. Work has both intrinsic and extrinsic value.”
Pastor Paul is not only exhorting but attempting to encourage a fuller orbed understanding of what it means to be a Christian in a bustling working environment like Wall Street. “I tell them they are doing something for the Lord,” he says, “and for the majority, this is new.”
Among the attendees are CPA’s, attorneys, information systems technologists and business owners. There are no securities traders, however. “We’re right next to the American Stock Exchange, but we have no traders. Their lunch break is too short.”
The Episcopal Connection
It pays to know people. Pastor Paul, a native New Yorker (and one can tell after a few minutes on the phone with him), has arranged for Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship to meet for worship at the Seamen’s Church Institute, a new facility of a 150-year-old organization run by the Episcopal Church.
Near Water Street, the site of a once bustling international port at the tip of Manhattan, the Institute provided food and shelter for sailors – wayward and otherwise – when in port, but today is a general charitable organization.
Two blocks up Wall Street from the Institute is J.P Morgan (today sans whiskers), another block up is the New York Stock Exchange (still heavily guarded since 9/11), and one more block up is Trinity Episcopal Church (Yes, the one with the high spires in all those turn-of-the-century photos of Wall Street). Nearby are also Fraunces Tavern, where Washington gave his farewell address, and of course Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 attacks.
The Your Work Matters to God group meets up Wall Street behind Trinity Church in a building owned by the church, 74 Trinity Place. “We’re in a private dining room for the study, and there’s a cafeteria on the second floor. It couldn’t be more convenient,” Paul said.
A Community Church in a Beehive
Lower Manhattan is a beehive during the day, but a ghost town after dark, and yet in and around the financial district are apartment buildings and condos, Brooklyn is not far away, and a subway ride from almost anywhere in town can put someone in the financial district fairly quickly.
Your Work Matters to God, Paul said, was not established as a portal to get people into Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship a few blocks away on Sunday, although it would be great if that happened. “We are trying to take an organic approach to ministry, not just an imposed one like door-to-door or street evangelism, although we do that,” said Paul. “We are coupling the gospel to what’s going on in the community and meeting needs as we find them while taking the opportunity to preach and apply the gospel.”
So, Your Work Matters to God is an attempt to serve the financial or business community where the church is, in this case trying to inculcate a biblical worldview or how the gospel works itself out in an area like business and finance. That’s one endeavor. Another is Paul’s role as volunteer chaplain at New York Downtown Hospital, where he’s joined by seven other volunteers from Messiah’s Fellowship – all trained for visitation.
Going Where The Needs Are
“This provides plenty of opportunities to talk about the gospel, the scriptures, to pray with them,” he said. “Sometimes I get a life story – which can be very interesting – sometimes a discussion, sometimes just appreciation to see a Christian minister.” The staff chaplain’s position was de-funded years ago, so Paul took it up as a volunteer and got avid help from the congregation and cooperation from the hospital.
Another community outreach is teaching ESL to immigrants, which Paul does each Saturday at the nearby Murry Betraum High School for Business Careers. Two church volunteers also taught there when other classes met during the week. Paul is a member of the school’s business advisory council, for which he qualifies as a local pastor. Overhearing a conversation between the principal and a staff member about the difficulty of communicating to non-English speaking parents, Paul offered his services to teach an ESL course.
“They were thrilled, but the curriculum is based on the Gospel of Mark, and the principal had to approve it,” he said. “I just figured it would get shot down, but she loved it! I was told later they thought I’d come in with a stack of mimeographed sheets, but I actually had a textbook.”
Emboldened, Paul brought in a case of John Piper’s The Passion of the Christ, published when the movie first came to the theaters. Pushing the case of books along the table in front of the security guard, Paul was asked what he was carting. “Books about Jesus Christ and why he came to die,” he responded. “Can I have one?” the security guard asked.
Thinking himself in the clear, Paul went to his class of non-English speaking parents, where he planned to distribute the book and use it as a teaching aid. But before he could do that he heard the voice of the sergeant in charge of security at the school from down the hall: “Where’s that guy giving out those books?” Walking into the classroom the sergeant asked if he could speak to Paul privately before he began teaching.
“I’m thinking, that’s it. I got caught red-handed doing evangelism in a public school,” Paul said. Out in the hall he was asked, “Are you the guy giving away those books?”
“Yeah,” said Paul.
“You think I can have one?” the sergeant asked.
“It’s a funny thing. Every time I teach there, I’m thinking someone’s going to find out what I’m doing; but every time they find out, they express thankfulness,” he said.
Inheritance Christian Academy
A covenant community’s outreach into its environment is a blessed thing. It’s love in action. Not yet a particular URC congregation, Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship is a mission church, and it lives up to that name.
Yet, just as one prepares his field before building his house, the church sees the need to educate its own children even as it reaches into the public schools to minister and evangelize. Outreach is one thing; nurturing covenant children another.
Inheritance Christian Academy, run by Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship in Brooklyn, has 15 students and three full-time teachers. Housed in the fellowship hall of the old Emmanuel Episcopal Church building that three separate congregations also share (Teddy Roosevelt spoke there on occasion), the Inheritance school students and staff, as others, were recently displaced when the fellowship hall caught fire early in the morning on May 5. Most books and materials were saved, but the students have had to relocate to church members’ apartments for classes, and one landlord has already objected. Pastor Paul will be writing an update on their situation in a future issue of Christian Renewal.
There is that verse in Proverbs that underscores Paul Murphy’s ministry in lower Manhattan: when you walk with God even your enemies live at peace with you. Pastor Paul is less concerned with personal enemies than he is to see those who are God’s enemies reconciled to Him.
Those who know Paul Murphy know him to be a highly gifted preacher, teacher, and pastor who is easy to befriend – and of a distinctly New York mold. Raised in a rough-and-tumble Irish neighborhood in the Bronx, Paul went on to Fordham University, where he studied philosophy. Subsequent jobs took him around the world as a deep sea diving construction worker until, wanderlust expended, he returned to his native New York with more questions than he’d had before he left.
He heard the gospel, knew for the first time his sins to be truly forgiven in Christ, and embraced the Reformed faith, for years reading, studying, and sitting under the ministry of Pastor Steve Schlissel until going to Westminster Seminary, becoming ordained, and entering the pastoral ministry himself. He left the pastorate of a large and growing Reformed congregation in Michigan with his wife, Julie, and their five children to return to the Big Apple to plant a church. During his first service, there was one other worshiper aside from himself and his family.
Four years on, Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship has as many as 75 worshipping together on the Lord’s Day, and has already left its mark on a community – if it even can be called that -- where it is almost impossible not to be invisible. “God has blessed us,” he said. Visit www.merfnyc.org.
[Reprinted with permission from Christian Renewal magazine.]