Up Front and Personal

Genuflecting Amidst The Gentrified

By Melanie Louis

The only thing I knew for sure about this daunting past year of teaching children our three-in-one God’s dimensionality is that it came after nearly two years of faith being a flat-screen experience. My surroundings of Williamsburg rose to the purpose. If you get to know the locals — such as Philomena of Humboldt, who always says a kind word — Divine Mercy Parish’s 11211 ZIP code comes to have more warmth than its cool reputation.

It also has old-school narratives: “In my day, the pews were filled, the families cared, the saint societies thrived!”

As I wondered how to brighten students not “back like they used to,” but as they need to be served now, Creation served its purpose. Holy Communion student David explained Matthew 11:25 best by exemplifying: “God is so wonderful — think about it! Creation is beautiful enough that He could have made it in black and white. But He made it in color because He loves us.”

The color was to be found by treasure hunting through the neighborhood for Catholic homes that still display statues. The heavenly superheroes standing still on sidewalks invited us to notice a counter-cultural vibrance amid vape stores and tattoo parlors. So, we began to pray in thanks before the homes where residents care enough to make their faith known. It attracted attention, the good kind.

Brooklyn’s own Anthony and Sons’ owner thanked us with blessed rosary bracelets from Italy. A Zoomer stopped me in a juice bar to ask, “Your students are the ones who pray, right? Would they come here to pray for us?”

And more certain than any compliment, the children themselves grew. A first grader’s father marveled, “I took Nolan to Dyker Heights, and instead of counting Christmas trees, he counted mangers.”

A missionary can only convert if they willingly change, so we looked inward and reflected our thoughts. Confirmation candidate Alyssa, shared that it made her want to write a love letter to neighbors that read, “You make me feel like I’m not the only one.” So, we did — that letter was published in our Thanksgiving bulletin. The manger-counting child took it further by reimagining his life someday, which went from being in a house to a home with a Mary statue because seeing her watch over us makes him feel “proud and … peaceful.”

My own three-dimensional experience came from witnessing him place his hand on his heart as he spoke. Moments like that propel the Church’s intergenerational awareness that when we bend our knees for the Eucharist, we are not the trendy Brooklynites with street cred but timeless souls who live to worship.

Melanie Louis was the Director for Religious Education for Divine Mercy Parish, Williamsburg.