By Pastor Amy Kienzle
We call it the Blessing of the Vegetables, but we bless anything, really: bread, cheese, pickles, scooters, dogs, and people. We’ve blessed all of these over the four months since we’ve been setting up our makeshift altar in the park. It doesn’t take much to claim a space for the sacred — a table, a candle, some homemade plumbing-pipe chimes — but the most important element is bodily presence, our willingness to be present as signs of God’s work in the midst of our Greenpoint, Brooklyn community. I don’t know if the neighbors are beginning to expect us, but the element of surprise has created an opportunity for engaging people’s curiosity. Walking through the park in our robes, carrying our giant chalkboard sign reading "Blessing of the Vegetables," we are a stark contrast to the Polish ladies in their kerchiefs and hipsters in their skinny jeans. People can’t help but take notice that something different is happening. Often we catch people gazing quizzically from across the farmers’ market as if they’ve never seen people wearing chasubles in the park before. Eventually brave souls tentatively approach, asking with some apprehension, "What are you doing here?" When we explain that we are blessing vegetables, they get a bemused look on their face: "Why?" Their one word offers the space for God to work as we articulate our desire to be present for our community.
The people who have entered our sacred space have been truly representative of Greenpoint. We have blessed the produce of young artists just awakened at two in the afternoon. We have answered the questions of skeptics, who just want to take pictures and smirk. One afternoon, our intern Joshua was approached by a group of three women, two daughters seeking prayers of healing for their elderly mother. Another time, musician Baxton and Joshua asked a group of four teen boys walking by if they wanted a blessing. Each in their own way reacted differently: two were outright skeptical, one was supportive, and the other was curious and stood some paces away. They asked if they would bless their weed pipe and if we wanted some, but Baxton and Joshua declined. Instead, they suggested a blessing for the boy’s knit hat. The teens all sort of stood back as though fireworks had just been lit and were about to go off. With the blessing of the hat, they sauntered away amused and satisfied.
During the winter, the farmers’ market moves inside Messiah Lutheran Church. We have continued our blessing of the veggies upstairs in the sanctuary, while people from the neighborhood shop in the fellowship hall. With a sign pointing upstairs and some candles lighting the path, people are welcome to enter the sacred space. Baxton plays familiar Christmas songs in a minor key, creating an atmosphere for contemplation. We intentionally step back and simply wait for people to find us and to ask that familiar question, "What are you doing?" As couples and individuals venture up the stairway, there are more than a few looks that tell us they are hesitant. Many people are not even sure how to enter a sanctuary. With some encouragement and openness, we tell them they can come and just listen to the music and that if they wish we are happy to bless their produce. More often than not, they come in with eyes filled with wonder at the beauty of the church, maybe finding something they didn’t even know they were looking for.
Often the work of the church is to create space for conversation and inquiry rather than filling the space with words and doctrines. We have found that creating an atmosphere of mystery and whimsy has piqued the curiosity of our community. It is the forbearing presence of the body of Christ in the midst of the world that hews out a space for sacred encounters to be possible — a space where God meets us no matter what we bring to the table — pickles, stinky cheese, or the weight of our cares. And these are caught up together in the sanctuary of our common life.