Easter week is the busiest of the year for many New York City churches. For one Manhattan minister, the race starts on Palm Sunday
As people buzzed around the Marble Collegiate Church on Sunday, awaiting the start of the Palm Sunday service, Reverend Dr. Michael Brown was away from the chaos, rehearsing his sermon in his office. "That's better, much better," he says to himself while printing the latest copy. "I always read my sermon out loud to myself a few times before finalizing anything. You have to make sure it reads well out loud because what I do is talk, my words have to be heard clearly and be able to relate to people."
After chatting with some of his colleagues for a few minutes, he then asks for some privacy to rehearse on his own. You can hear him loudly projecting his sermon, pacing around his office as if it were rehearsal for a play.
He then opens his door and talks about the strenuous pace of Holy Week, which, for churches like Marble Collegiate, is the most frenetic week all year. "This week is always very emotional because I have to guide people from the despair of [Good] Friday, to the joy of Easter Sunday," he said. "Easter is our busiest time of year, even busier than Christmas."
By 10:30, Brown hustles downstairs to the sanctuary, passing a class of parents preparing to baptize their children, several Bible studies, and the church choir warming up their voices. Brown gives everyone he passes a warm hello and handshake, until he meets the ushers in a side room adjacent to the sanctuary.
After getting a microphone pinned to his tie, he asks everyone to join him in a prayer circle before leaving. The group files out of the room and into their assigned seats, as the choir sings "Ride On, King Jesus" to open the service.
By 11:30, Brown begins his sermon, which is titled "A Needy Crowd." He describes the difference between things that we need versus things that we want. To illustrate the latter, he talks about people driving Hummer SUV's around Manhattan.
After the service ends, the Reverend says goodbye to as many people as possible, standing in the entryway greeting people as they leave the church. The first woman who shook his hand upon leaving worked for the company that makes Hummer's. "I was nervous she was going to yell at me, but she was the nicest lady."
By 1 p.m., switching out of his robe, it's back to the alter to answer questions from people around the country during a live streaming Q&A called "Talk Back." A woman from Virginia wrote in asking the Reverend ways to better realize things we need vs. the things we want, and he answered by giving the example of the night Jesus spent in a garden after being betrayed by Judas. Some questions pertained to the sermon, but others were general questions about life.
"The hardest questions I ever get during Talk Back are the ones about forgiveness," he explained afterwards. "What I always do at that point is tell them that if they don't learn to forgive, they are allowing the person who has hurt them to continue to abuse them."
By 1:30, he's in the elevator heading up to the studio so he could record a weekly online segment called "Worship Without Walls." He developed these weekly video posts with the producer Bob Marty as a way to reach younger audiences. He relates each video to his Sunday sermon, and they post it to Vimeo, and the Marble Collegiate Church blog.
Once he wrapped taping, it's across the street for lunch at Ben & Jack's Steakhouse, then home, to begin writing his sermons for Good Friday and Easter Sunday.