Remembrances of the Lost Village: Judson Memorial Church


04/03/2019        ArchitectureArt & ArchitectureMonthly ColumnsNeighborhood

By Roger Paradiso

On a cold and brisk October day in the Village, I made my way through Washington Square Park passing many fellow strangers. I wondered if they knew? I wondered if they knew that Judson Church and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) were going back in time to celebrate the greatest cultural revolution in our time? It took place at Judson Memorial Church on the corner of Thompson and Washington Square South in 1960s. And it took place all throughout the Village. And it spread all over the country and world. Greenwich Village was the epicenter of this cultural revolution so great that it overtook the mainstream culture in less than a decade and has influenced our culture to this very day. I wondered if they knew?

As I wandered through Washington Square Park, I saw strangers speaking and texting into cell phones. And on the bench near them sat an old couple wondering where it all went. I couldn’t help noticing the salmon colored monolith that is the contribution that NYU has made to our current culture. You know that large slab of salmon colored rock that houses NYU’s Bobst library on the opposite corner of historic Judson Memorial Church. I went past the fountain and I noticed the older couple staring at me. They smiled perhaps because I was walking without talking into a phone or headset connected to a phone. I passed more strangers speaking to someone inside their phones. They were speed walking and talking. Did they know? I looked ahead and there was Judson Church, the true bedrock of this community, holding back the tide of darkness that has grasped our current digital age whose god is speed and greed.

The event was called “Judson Dance Theater Reassembled” but it was much more than dance. According to their brochure, MOMA and Judson wanted to talk about “urgent and persistent questions about creative expression and community organizing.” As I entered the Judson, I was met by a smiling volunteer who allowed me to place postcards of my film, The Lost Village, on her table as she waved me in without a ticket thanks to an invitation from the Reverend Donna Schaper. Again, this gesture of sharing my postcard was of another era when artists roamed the Village.

I interviewed Donna, the Senior Minister at Judson Church, a few years back for another film called Searching for Camelot. She explained the mission of Judson to me. “Judson is a church…built to be a church that’s a little bit different. We’re a social action center, a sanctuary for immigrants, founded to occupy faith here and we did occupy Sandy here.”

Judson, above, was part of the greatest cultural revolution of our Judson archives.

As I made my way up the steps to the Church I passed those wonderful stained- glass windows by John La Farge. The beauty of these massive windows was enhanced by the sunlight. On the east side of the church the beautiful stained-glass windows were denied light by the monolithic Bobst Library across the street. I entered the Meeting Hall and I saw the Reverend Micah Bucey, the minister, serving hot food to the needy in the community and to guests of this event. I was back in the 1960s sort of. It was today, 2018, but the feeling they were trying to recreate was Judson in the sixties. And it was working. This was like it was back then in the Village. People could dance. People could talk in coffee shops for hours without the bill being thirty dollars. People could interact. We did not talk to Siri. We talked to people. Sorry Siri. Robots are not people until the Supreme Court says so.

I moved through the space waving at Micah and I saw Donna and we exchanged greetings. She was smiling. I congratulated her as we both watched a dance performance. I moved through the people, no longer strangers staring at cell phones. It was a community of human beings. And they were gathered into a space to communicate to each other in human terms—not computer code.

The Judson has never changed. It continues to serve the community with programs and the arts. When the AIDS crisis hit, Judson was there. And now with immigrants threatened, the Judson is there. In this moment on a partly cloudy day in October I see the sun peeking through the dark clouds. And the sun light was shining on Judson Memorial Church and its stained-glass windows. It made me remember Greenwich Village was once the epicenter of a cultural revolution. I wondered if they knew?

As Senior Minister Schaper said: “Social Action. Arts. Worship. All together.” That’s how it was and is today.