- The Washington Times - Monday, December 23, 2002

NEW YORK
Young, educated New Yorkers are pouring into mainline churches and synagogues in such numbers that some ministers believe they are witnessing an awakening.
"It is an awakening, it's a revitalization," exclaimed the Rev. Amandus J. Derr, senior pastor of St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Manhattan. His congregation has grown from 220 to 560 members in the past five years; 100 have joined in the year since September 11, 2001.
"They are all extremely committed. Every Sunday morning, our sanctuary is full. We have to put in chairs."
Mr. Derr's colleagues say the young professionals in the pews have thoroughly distanced themselves from the postmodern culture of "me, myself, I and nobody else," as he phrased it.
"They are tired of relativism and embarrassed by the 1990s. Now they want to make sure that their own kids are properly grounded in Scripture," agreed the Rev. Fred R. Anderson, senior pastor of the prestigious Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, which has swelled to 1,000 active members.
"Sure, they may have enjoyed a hedonistic lifestyle. But now that they have kids, they seek meaning, assurance and purpose."
It isn't easy becoming a Presbyterian or a Lutheran. Both denominations have a tradition of educating their laity solidly in Scripture and the confessional writings of the 16th-century Reformation.
"They are eager to learn," Mr. Derr said.
His neighbor, Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein of Manhattan's Central Synagogue, confirmed this trend. "Our new members are eagerly studying Hebrew because they are seeking content and authenticity," said Mr. Rubinstein, whose sanctuary traces its roots back to 1839 and is the oldest Jewish house of worship in continuous use in New York City.
Central Synagogue's membership stands at 1,800 households, up from 1,100 in 1991, when Mr. Rubinstein became its senior rabbi. "These 1,800 households translate into 3,000 to 4,000 people," he added. Of these, 500 to 800 come to the congregation's Friday-night services. Hundreds more attend on Saturday.
Like Mr. Derr and Mr. Anderson, Mr. Rubinstein noticed a growth especially among young people just graduated from college and young couples with children. One of the most stunning developments occurred after his landmark sanctuary burned in 1998.
"We expected to lose members," reported the rabbi, "instead the opposite happened. The tremendous growth of the preceding years continued. As in the case of St. Peter's and Madison Avenue Presbyterian, this proved that the return of young educated New Yorkers to their faith is not just something superficial, such as an attachment to a particularly beautiful building, but something much more profound.
Carl Feit, an orthodox rabbi, Talmud scholar, and cancer researcher at New York's Yeshiva University, observed that young Jews of the Reformed tradition are becoming more conservative, the Conservatives more orthodox, while some of the Orthodox drift into the even stricter Hasidic sects.
Mr. Rubinstein, who is Reformed, confirmed this trend and pointed to an outward sign: "Before I came here, the rabbis did not wear skullcaps and prayer shawls, but now they do."
Within the past decade, the scull cap, or yarmulke, has become a prominent feature in New York streets, as has the black cross on the foreheads of Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans on Ash Wednesday.
A youthful neoconservatism within Scripture-oriented congregations of otherwise liberal denominations, especially in urban centers, may suggest a global phenomenon. Studies in Europe have shown a return to religion in many of the continent's large cities, though not in Paris.
In New York, the "ultimate city" which has often been unjustly accused of being more godless than the rest of the country, this development is particularly strong. Mr. Anderson, the Presbyterian, said that only one or two out of every 10 new members had Presbyterian roots.
"Almost half have been nothing before," he said. Hence, Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church often offers an interesting spectacle: the baptism of a Harvard- or Yale-educated pair of professionals, followed by the christening of their child.
At St. Peter's, 50 percent of all members are young couples. For one such couple, finding a spiritual home in this congregation was one reason for moving from Staten Island to Manhattan.


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