Slideshow: Churchgoers Trade Sunday Best for Hoodies

Photos: Tim Schreier

The pews of Middle Collegiate Church were packed on Sunday morning as more than 400 people worshiped in hooded sweatshirts in honor of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

“We are wearing hoodies in solidarity with all those who seek justice,” associate minister Chad Tanaka Pack told the group at the beginning of the “Wear A Hoodie to Church” service, urging those with hoods to put them on.

The sight of worshipers dressed similarly to the demonstrators who flooded Union Square last Wednesday might have been disconcerting if not for Middle Collegiate’s credo: “Welcoming. Artistic. Inclusive. Bold.” The church on Second Avenue espouses a commitment to economic, social and LGBT justice, and was one of the houses of worship that opened its doors to Occupy Wall Street protesters after Zuccotti Park was cleared by police in November.

"Wear A Hoodie To Church"Tim Schreier

On Sunday, the church’s Jerriese Johnson Gospel Choir got bodies swaying and hands clapping with an energetic rendition of “Speak to My Heart,” followed by “Sit Down at the Mercy Seat,” a song dedicated to Mr. Martin, who was shot dead by a neighborhood watch volunteer who claimed to be defending himself.

Clad in a pink hooded sweatshirt of her own, the church’s senior minister, Rev. Jacqueline Lewis, began her sermon by saying, “I don’t like Skittles, but clearly he did,” in reference to the candy that the teenager had purchased before he was shot. The sermon touched on the issues of racism, politics and remaining faithful during tough times. “Sometimes our hearts have to be broken so that God can move in,” she said.

Addressing the racially and culturally diverse gathering, Rev. Lewis lamented that many Christian churches don’t have similar congregations. “I hope for the day when our culture looks more like Middle Church,” she said.

Wear A Hoodie To ChurchTim Schreier

Middle Collegiate was one of hundreds of churches around the country, including one in Fort Greene, that encouraged its members to wear hoodies on Sunday, a day before the one-month anniversary of the 17-year-old’s controversial killing. The spectacle, though not unique to the church, was in keeping with its history of outspokenness on social issues, something Rev. Lewis, 52, discussed openly during an interview with The Local on Friday. “The guy that we claim as our role model, Jesus, was politically involved,” she said. “When the church isn’t political, it’s not doing its job.”

Middle Collegiate has long maintained progressive values. In the 1980s, Rev. Lewis’s predecessor, Rev. Gordon Dragt, welcomed victims of the AIDS epidemic. “Middle was the place where people could come and have funerals and be treated with dignity,” she said.

Today, the church supports several Occupy Wall Street protesters. “We’ve helped about nine of them live and stay sane and we’re very proud of that,” said Rev. Lewis, later adding, “Our alignment with [Occupy] is a peaceful, non-violent movement to call attention to how our current economic system doesn’t work.”

To raise awareness for such issues, the church maintains a Twitter account and Livestreams its services. Distributed with Sunday’s program was a note urging attendees to tweet photos of themselves wearing hoods, along with the text “I/We am/are not dangerous, Racism is.” Congregation members were also encouraged to send Skittles packets to the police in Sanford, Fla. and to sign an online petition at

Minister Jacqui LewisTim Schreier Minister Jacqui Lewis

The ecumenical church’s inclusive and forward-thinking attitude is in part a reflection of its neighborhood. “The East Village’s personality is Middle’s personality,” Rev. Lewis said, adding, “People can come here, find good folk, do art,” referring to the church’s creative writing workshops and dance and meditation classes, as well as its two choirs. “The arts can really speak to a part of our soul that’s different than just words,” she went on. “Music helps us to be grounded and also to soar.”

After Sunday’s service, Rev. Lewis stood at the church’s front door and shook hands with attendees, some of which gathered outside to discuss the service. Wearing a hoodie and armed with pamphlets about the proposed Spectra pipeline, Sharon Goldstein of East Fifth Street reflected on the issue of race in the United States. She said, “It’s a crime to W.W.B.: Walk While Black.”

Another churchgoer, Luther Stubblefield, a public member 0f Community Board 3, had a similar outlook despite the positive message of Rev. Lewis’s sermon. “Jim Crow Mississippi is alive in America,” he said. “They no longer hang the black man, they shoot him.”