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2022 Village Awardee: Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis and Middle Collegiate Church, 112-114 Second Avenue

Village Preservation is very proud to honor Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis and Middle Collegiate Church as a Village Awardee in 2022. Join us in recognizing Rev. Dr. Lewis and Middle Church and these other worthy awardees at Village Preservation’s Annual Meeting and Village Awards on Tuesday, June 14th. Registration is free and open to all!

Community and History

Middle Collegiate Church, referred to on their website as Middle Church, has a long storied history that means a great deal to the community it serves. The Church brings a message of the power of love well beyond its geographic location. 

“Middle Church is where therapy meets Broadway; where art and dance meet a gospel revival; where old time religion gets a new twist. We are Bach, Beatles, and Beethoven; we are jazz, hip-hop, and spirituals. We are inspired by Howard Thurman, Ruby Sales, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Martin Luther King. We are on-your-feet worship and take-it-to-the-streets activism. We feed the hungry and work for a living wage; we fight for LGBTQ+ equality and march for racial/ethnic justice. We stand up for the stranger and the immigrant; we care for women’s lives and Mother Earth.

We’ve been to the border, we’ve rebuilt in Puerto Rico; we’ve been arrested while fighting for health care and supporting survivors of sexual violence. From Trayvon to Mike to Sandy to Eric—we know that when Black Lives Matter, all lives will matter.

Middle Collegiate Church and The Collegiate Church of New York is co-affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the Reformed Church in America.”

– Quote from Middle Church’s Website: https://www.middlechurch.org/about/
Jerriese Johnson Gospel Choir at Middle Church

A Historic Building and Congregation: Middle Collegiate Church

As Village Preservation noted in our blog “East Village Building Blocks Tour: Churches,” Middle Collegiate Church is part of the 2012 East Village/Lower East Side Historic District. The church’s architecture reflected a Gothic Revival-style built in 1892 by architect Samuel B. Reed for the Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church. Some familiar with the Middle Collegiate Church may recognize that it was constructed entirely from Indiana limestone. Its facade was three bays wide, featuring a gabled three-story central bay, a 130-foot hexagonal limestone spire on the five-story tower of the northern bay, and another hexagonal limestone spire on the four-story southern bay.

Other features included a peaked entry vestibule with a pointed-arched main entrance, pointed-arched window openings, and elaborate stained-glass windows which were possibly made by Tiffany & Co.

Middle Collegiate Church on Second Avenue at E. 7th Street, New York, New York, late 19th or early 20th century. (Photo by Eugene L. Armbruster/The New York Historical Socity/Getty Images)

When asked about the history of the church, Dr. Lewis explains a history that is steeped in the complexities and contradictions of our neighborhoods: 

Dr. Rev. Jacqui Lewis.
Photo Credit: Beatrice De Gea

“The church building dates to 1892, but the Collegiate Church dates to 1628. We got centuries of stuff. We have, honestly, being the Dutch Reformed Church that “bought Manhattan from the Lenape,” lots of apologies and repairs needed around that. Some of our folks, some of our senior ministers owned Black people, our church was built with stolen labor and that’s real. And I think the work we’ve done in these last few decades has been all about repairing that harm—LGBTQ justice, opening the doors for all the people in the community dying with HIV/AIDS. We fed them. We housed them. We gave grants to them. We loved on them. We became a multiethnic, multiracial, anti-racist church. People count on us for anti-racist trainings. Six thousand people or so we trained during Covid in the digital space. This Black dreadlocked leader leading Middle Church is part of the way the Collegiate Church offers repair in the world for things we participated in.”

– Quote from Rev. Dr. Lewis’ interview in The Nation entitled “The Fierce Love of the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis”

Middle Collegiate Church is the place of Rev. Dr. Lewis’ dreams and prayers, “a multiethnic rainbow coalition of love, justice, and worship that rocks her soul.”

Middle Church facade after the fire.

“The Fire: This Time”: Watching dreams burn up and then working to rebuild.

The long history and beautiful architecture of the church added to the deep layers of loss felt by the congregation when they saw their church engulfed by fire in on Saturday, December 5, 2020. Dr. Lewis is quoted as describing the moment as “Watching dreams burn up.” But that is not the end of the story. 

Fortunately, some hope remains even after the fire. The church’s bell, known as the Liberty Bell of New York, survived the blaze, remaining atop its home in the church’s tower high above Second Avenue through June 2021. As Village Preservation noted, the completely intact bell was then safely secured and lowered from its belfry on high, and prepared for its trip to a temporary home at the New-York Historical Society as part of a new exhibit. 

Middle Collegiate Church’s New York Liberty Bell at its temporary home, the New York Historical Society

Once lowered and secured, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis rang the bell 19 times — commemorating both Juneteenth and the first enslaved Africans brought to this nation in 1619. This is a reflection of the ethos of the church and its focus on resilience. Now Dr. Lewis is leading the church through the process of rebuilding. The church and community is very lucky to have this incredible person leading the charge. 

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, rings Middle Collegiate Church’s New York Liberty Bell before it travels to its new, temporary home.

Because of her dynamic leadership, Middle Church has the national recognition that can help them rebuild. The Church was featured in a national broadcast on CBS. A Bold New Love: Christmas Eve with Middle Collegiate Church aired on December 24, 2018 to more than 1,000,000 viewers. Dr. Lewis has been on the The Today Show, All In with Chris Hayes, AM Joy, The Melissa Harris Perry Show, NY1, ABC, NBC, PBS, CBS and WPIX, where she covered the Brooklyn memorial for George Floyd. Dr. Lewis has been interviewed on Through Her Eyes at Yahoo News, 30 Good Minutes, Grit TV, the New York Daily News, Here and Now with Sandra Bookman, and appeared on the History Channel H2 series, The Bible Rules.

Celebrating Leadership: Dr. Rev. Jacqui Lewis

Dr. Rev. Jacqui Lewis.
Photo Credit: Beatrice De Gea

The Rev. Jacqui Lewis, Ph.D. is the leader of Middle Collegiate Church and uses her gifts as an author, activist, preacher, and public theologian in an effort to create an antiracist, just, fully welcoming society in which everyone has enough. “Fascinated with how faith heals the soul–so we can heal the world,” Dr. Lewis has focused her studies on theology, religion, and psychology. Earning a M. Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Ph. D. in Psychology and Religion from Drew Univeristy, she continued her studies at Middle Church and then joined the staff in January 2004. 

Dr. Lewis is a womanist whose preaching, teaching, speaking, writing, and activism are aimed at racial equality, gun control, economic justice, and equal rights for all sexual orientations and genders. Dr. Lewis  has preached at the Festival of Homiletics, Wild Goose, The Children’s Defense Fund’s Haley Farm, and was a featured speaker on the Together national tour with best-selling author Glennon Doyle.

As the leader of Middle Church, Rev. Dr. Lewis has a deep impact in our East Village community and beyond. Dr. Lewis co-founded The Middle Project and The Revolutionary Love Conference with her spouse, The Rev. John Janka, which train leaders to create a more just society. Annually, Dr. Lewis curates Revolutionary Love, a national justice conference that features cross-discplinary speakers who are working to create a world based on a public ethos of love. She has brought together speakers such as America Ferrera, Ani Di Franco, Tituss Burgess, Van Jones, Valarie Kaur, William J. Barber II, Melissa Harris-Perry, Wajahat Ali, Linda Sarsour, Sharon Brous, Brian McLaren, angel Kyodo williams and Ruby Sales to the Revolutionary Love stage.

As COVID-19 made gathering in person an impossibility, it did not stop Dr. Lewis from creating impact with her message of a public ethic of love. Dr. Lewis oversaw the move of this conference to the digital space with “Revolutionary Love Online—Toward a More Perfect Union” drawing 650 attendees, April 24-26, 2020. As a result of this important work, Dr. Lewis and the church built their capacity to create curricular materials and networks and as a result over 7,000 people attended trainings offered by Dr. Lewis and Middle Church in 2020.

Want to watch Dr. Lewis in action? You can tune into one of the national television programs she created: Just Faith, an on-demand television program on MSNBC.com, and Chapter and Verse at PBS. 

Lewis and Middle Church have been frequently featured in Now This news; her most recent post has received 222,000 views via their Instagram page. Dr. Lewis’ has been interviewed on the Sirius radio by John Fugelsang and Mark Thompson, on The Brian Lehrer Show, and on The Takeaway. The Associated Press covered the work of Middle Church and Dr. Lewis after the 2020 presidential election; over 13.3 million people read the story.

Dr. Lewis is an accomplished author and has written books including Ten Essential Strategies for Becoming a Multiracial Congregation, The Power of Stories, a Guide for Leaders in Multi-racial, Multi-cultural Congregations, and the children’s book, You Are So Wonderful! a rhyming celebration of diversity. She is contributing chapter to Becoming Like Creoles: Living and Leading at the Intersections of Injustice, Culture and Religion. Her newest book Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness That Can Heal the World is available wherever books are sold.

Help Middle Church Rise 

“On December 5, 2020, our historic Middle Church sanctuary was destroyed by a fire. But no fire can stop Revolutionary Love. We’re still busy, working to heal the world with love, through worship, crisis care, small groups, justice programs, and trainings. Even as we grieve, we know that out of the ashes, something powerful is rising and we’ll need your support.”

So said the church after the devastating 2020 fire. Now is a great time to celebrate Rev. Dr. Jaqcui Lewis and Middle Collegiate Church, as they prepare to take on this next great challenge. As a church tackling difficult issues like racism, gun control, and health care for all, they are a community that has practiced resilience and helps us all overcome unimaginable societal hurdles. Now, our community can help the church recover and rebuild right here in our back yard. Check out their page https://www.middlechurch.org/rising/ to find out more. 

One can even demonstrate your support of Middle Collegiate Church by purchasing some of their merch. Check it out and get stylish while showing your support for a good community partner as they rebuild.

And join us as we celebrate an organization and person who represent some of the best of our neighborhoods. Don’t miss the ceremony on June 14th when Rev. Dr. Jaqcui Lewis accepts the Village Award for her incredible impact and the work of the Church. RSVP HERE to attend in person and HERE to participate virtually via livestream. Learn more about our annual meeting and awards, including past awardees and videos of past ceremonies, here.

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