how we connect
It all began in 1624, when the first Huguenots entered New York harbor, where the Dutch planned to create a new colony. When they founded Saint Esprit, these French-speaking Protestants created a space where all could feel at home, united by the spiritual values of tolerance, freedom and liberty.
As a church founded by refugees fleeing religious persecution, we feel especially called to welcome the stranger and the immigrant in our midst, and to answer the Gospel's call to love our neighbor as ourselves. We participate in our own mission and outreach initiatives, as well as with the Episcopal Diocese of New York and other churches and communities. Our unique heritage has also led us to close bonds with francophone communities in New York and around the world.
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As a church founded by French Huguenots in 1628, Saint Esprit’s historic mission and outreach has been to the early Huguenots that arrived on New York’s shores, and their descendants. This vital link continues to this day through the spiritual home the church offers its Huguenot members in the Huguenot symbols and family crests adorning the sanctuary space, Huguenot liturgical elements, pastoral care, an annual Huguenot Sunday to remember and celebrate this heritage, and the Rector’s role as Chaplain of the Huguenot Society of America.
French Speakers at Home and Abroad
Saint Esprit supports the local francophone community in New York by maintaining regular contact with and participating in events by local francophone associations such as the French Institute Alliance Française and the Committee of French-Speaking Societies of New York, and by nurturing relationships with neighboring francophone churches such as the Haitian Congregation of Bon Samaritain in the Bronx. Our church is also very proud of its association with the worldwide family of French speaking protestant churches and networks such as Rencontres Internationales and the French Protestant Federation. In 2010, we welcomed the president of the Églises évangéliques d’expression française à l’extérieur in France, organization to which Saint Esprit belonged before joining the Episcopal Church in 1803. In recent years, Saint Esprit also has developed links to the Taizé community in France thanks to its parishioners, by hosting a Taizé prayer in its sanctuary every Thursday evening and receiving visiting brothers belonging to the Taizé community.
Africa and Haiti
Many of New York's new French-speaking immigrants are from Haiti and Africa, which are important parts of our community. We host an annual Afrique-Fête to celebrate the continent's faith traditions, and to extend our welcome to the local African community. Saint Esprit also has responded faithfully to assist Haitians in Haiti and in New York facing repeated economic and environmental setbacks. Over $400 was raised for flood victims in Gonaives in 2009. In 2010, Saint Esprit families were severely impacted by the earthquake in Port-au-Prince. The church responded by donating over $3,000, and medical supplies and clothing, to the relief fund of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, and clothes and supplies to our sister Haitian church for Haitians stranded in New York. A Saint Esprit parishioner travelling to Haiti as part of an emergency medical team transported over $1,000 in medical supplies collected by parishioners, and another parishioner’s family member delivered tents with an emergency search and rescue team. Besides offer assistance in times of emergency, Saint Esprit parishioners have had the particular joy of developing a relationship with a school in Jacmel, Haiti, to which a barrel containing school supplies, canned food and other basic necessities for children was sent in 2008.
Immigrants and Asylum Seekers
As a congregation of more than 20 nationalities, Saint Esprit is intimately involved with the challenges facing newcomers to the U.S. Our community is known for its warm welcome and support to people of all backgrounds and nationalities thanks to our sense of shared community and pastoral care. In 2006, a Saint Esprit member organized a free immigration information forum and in 2007, an Asylum Seekers Fund was established to fill specific unmet needs of parishioners seeking political asylum. Grants totaling $1,500 in 2009 assisted several families, with special concern for Haitians granted temporary settlement rights in the U.S. Saint Esprit members have also supported the Sojourners Program at Riverside Church by participating in visits to detained asylum seekers in the New York City area, donating books for detainees and raising funds for this program.
Saint Esprit helps the needy through annual parish contributions and fundraisers. In 2009, nearly $12,000 was donated to neighborhood social service agencies, an Episcopal soup kitchen in Chelsea, Episcopal social service agencies, and a francophone charity supporting French expatriates in New York City. We contributed to the well-being of our Haitian sister church, Bon Samaritain, following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Further afield, our funds have enabled young people to participate in spiritual retreats to the Taizé community in France.