NEW YORK — It’s certainly not a place where everyone knows your name. But, as a group of Harding University students recently discovered, New York City is a place where many people are happy to learn.
Jack Shock, professor of communication, led the 10 print journalism and public relations students on a week-long tour of the city recently as part of a new course titled “Study in Mass Communication.” They met with professionals representing such organizations as the Clinton Foundation, NBC News, the Securities and Exchange Commission and The Heckscher Foundation for Children.
From their home base in Times Square, they also became acquainted with the one-of-a-kind culture that is New York City.
Many of the professionals they met are members of Manhattan Church of Christ, including Amy Blankenship Sewell, a Harding alumnus and president of Shop with Style, a company that provides information on creative gift ideas, hot new products, tips for entertaining and shopping advice for millions of television viewers and newspaper, magazine and Web readers. She described her career path and discussed what it means to live a Christian faith in a city like New York.
“You get exposure to so many people,” Sewell said. “You can also have a tremendous influence — quietly or otherwise. The church here is fantastic; it is so diverse. We have about 50 countries represented.
“You’re not going to find any more resistance to your faith here than anywhere else. You may even find people are more accepting than in other places.”
The group also met Cara Hopper Pauls, a graphic designer for BrandNow and a member of Christ Church for Brooklyn, a plant by Manhattan Church of Christ. Pauls, who grew up in Searcy, Ark., home of Harding, moved to New York soon after graduating from Harding in 2002.
“Suddenly you’re not the majority,” she said. “Good luck finding an Orthodox Jewish person in Searcy. On our street in Queens, we have people from Pakistan and Afghanistan who wear burkhas. There are a lot of Hindus too.”
While she cautioned that the city is not an environment in which everyone would be comfortable living, she believes that overall New York “is a very kind place.” And, she added, “The Christians I meet here tend to be very authentic in their faith.”
Manhattan Church member Lester Holt, co-anchor of “Today” weekend edition and anchor of “NBC Nightly News” weekend edition, met with the group in NBC studios after broadcasting “Today.” He discussed how the medium of television is changing and explained his responsibility as a Christian journalist.
“There is a strong moral bearing to my job as a reporter,” he said. “What we do reflects our values. We have a tremendous impact. We change people’s lives, for better or worse. You have a moral responsibility to the people you deal with. You have to bring some compassion to the job. I try to carry that respect through to anyone I interview, even if they have views I don’t like or agree with.”
Said Shock, “Sometimes in the city of 7 million people it might be easy to feel overwhelmed. I wanted my students to see that the message really is the same, whether you’re 22 or 52, in small-town Arkansas, or at the top of your game in New York City. You just treat people with kindness and dignity and respect for who they are, realizing that each of those 7 million people is also a child of God.”
Students received that message.
Molly Morris, a May graduate from Indianapolis, is considering moving to New York after she spends several months working in Saudi Arabia beginning this fall. She felt encouraged and inspired to meet these Christian professionals.
“It’s obviously easy to get caught up in such a fast-paced, chaotic environment,” she said.
“This was my first trip to New York, and I wanted to be sure that there would be a church community I could get involved in. This trip not only showed me that there are multiple congregations to check out, but it gave me some great Christian contacts in the city who remember what it was like to be fresh out of college, trying to find a niche in New York.
“One woman we met said that being a Christian in New York does not automatically make you an outsider. New York welcomes everyone, but if you want to be accepted and treated with respect as a Christian, you need to be respectful of others, regardless of their beliefs.”
Morris, who lived with her family in Saudi Arabia as a teenager, said that advice particularly resonated with her, as it is a crucial attitude in places like the Middle East.
“I was really looking forward to church on Sunday morning, curious to see how a church of Christ in the middle of this huge metropolitan melting pot would operate,” she said. “The Manhattan Church of Christ seems to have a particularly strong sense of community. We could tell they were all thrilled to see each other and be together. The New Yorkers we met embrace the diversity of culture found in the city, but they clearly love the time they get to spend in fellowship with other Christians.
“It’s good to know that there’s a thriving Christian community in New York, and that I now know exactly where to find it.”