NYC Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson answers question on Faith Based Advisory Council
Today, NYC Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson shared with us the progress made by the Faith Based Advisory Council. It would be in response to a question I posed to him. The council was one of a number created by the de Blasio administration for the sake of guiding them in their “efforts to reopen the economy and city life” in the midst of the Novel Coronavirus pandemic.
This day would be one month since the Mayor first announced the appointment of members to this council.
It would also be be five days shy of three months since the cancellation of church masses by the Archdiocese of New York. Thereafter, other places of worship would follow suit.
Mayor de Blasio, that week announced a state of emergency for the city followed by Governor Cuomo issuing a ‘New York on Pause’ lockdown for the state.
As I’ve mentioned in past writings, the city’s residents have been without their places of worship all this time and so I felt it appropriate to ask the Deputy Mayor about the progress they’ve made. In recent days, attention has been given to the other Advisory councils with none going towards this very one which I brought up today. Keep in mind that Mr. Thompson is leading a number of other councils as well. Thus, the reason he was present at today’s press conference.
This past weekend, Governor Cuomo announced that places of worship would be permitted to reopen with 25% of their Occupancy during Phase 2 Reopening. NYC is only now within Phase 1, yet expected to enter Phase 2 anywhere from June 22 to Early July depending upon how the city’s metrics do in the days ahead.
Neither the Mayor (who also chimed in with his own response) nor Mr. Thompson would disappoint with their answers today.
One heartening item which stood out is the mention of larger churches and synagogues wanting to accommodate smaller churches who’ve not the means to accommodate their respective parishes in these days of recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. That is, accommodating them whilst adhering to city, state and federally mandated guidelines.
Also, we’d learn of how “many of the churches and synagogues said they would like – that are predominantly white, said they would like to invite people from the protest movements, Black Lives Matter, others to come and talk to their congregations about what they’ve been experiencing, what their aspirations are. So there could be more understanding across communities about all of this,” said the Deputy Mayor.
I’m grateful to have finally been able to ask the Deputy Mayor that which I’ve been wanting to learn about for weeks now. Hopefully, I’ll be able to reach him again in the days to come.
“I’ve got a question for Mr. Phil Thompson. It’s my understanding that you’re leading the Faith Based Advisory Council. There’s no question how faith plays an important part in the lives of most New Yorkers. And considering how New York City’s places of worship might be able to partially open after phase two, I was hoping you could enlighten us as to the purpose of the council and any progress made this far?”
Mayor de Blasio:
“I’ll start and pass to Phil. Phil and a lot of others have been deeply involved in our faith efforts. Our Commissioner for Community Affairs Marco Carrión has been a key leader in that effort. The head of our community and faith initiatives, Reverend Dominique Atchison. And then of course the faith leaders for so long, we’ve had extraordinary leadership from pastor Michael Walrond, First Corinthian Baptist in Harlem. We’ve had tremendous leadership from CORL led by Cardinal Dolan and so many others. So the voices of faith communities are constant in this administration. We listen constantly. It’s been crucial to the Thrive initiative with the faith efforts to spread mental health support through congregations. I’ve had a number of calls with faith leaders over the last few weeks, and they have been incredible in helping people through this crisis, including telling people that it wasn’t time to come back to services. So now we have an opportunity to start services on a more modest level in phase two. And then build from there, but always making sure we’re continuing to hold back this disease. So a lot of good work is happening. And then when there is specific suggestions – there’s been suggestions about how to restart services that certainly contributed to the thinking of the City and the State. There’s been suggestions both ways, including us asking faith leaders, take the lead in helping people understand how to be safe. But we will be engaging faith leaders constantly on what they think will be additional steps we need to take for justice in communities and to serve communities’ needs. And Phil, I know you have worked with a lot of faith leaders over the years. So if you have other reflections you’d like to offer on how we’re going to work with them and some specific things that might come of that, I’d appreciate it. And obviously you’ve been particularly focused because you have Department of Youth Services under you, on the question of how we can serve youth, which is a central, central concern for faith leaders as well. Phil Thompson.”
Deputy Mayor J. Phillip Thompson, Strategic Initiatives:
“Thank you. I would just mention three of the items we’ve been talking about on the Faith Council, and I will tell you that the conversations have been so robust that we decided to keep meeting for weeks longer than originally planned just so we can keep the dialogue going because so many things have come up. But one big concern of the faith leaders actually was that the entire faith community follow safe practices and not open up too quickly or unsafely. And that was a concern that the faith leaders themselves really emphasized. Two initiatives we discussed last week – one, several of the leaders that have large churches, synagogues, and buildings such as the Archdiocese in Brooklyn, want to open up their buildings for storefront churches, smaller churches that don’t have the kind of ventilation or room for spacing people out. They want to open up their doors to invite those churches, to use their facilities so that they could have staggered hours for church services, things like that. And so that was something they were very interested in, the large churches. And we’re following up on how to make that happen.”
“A second thing, many of the churches and synagogues said they would like – that are predominantly white, said they would like to invite people from the protest movements, Black Lives Matter, others to come and talk to their congregations about what they’ve been experiencing, what their aspirations are. So there could be more understanding across communities about all of this. And how we can all work together to achieve a more just and fair city. And that is something actually, we’re all very excited about and we’re going to continue those conversations and figure out how to operationalize a lot of that.”