The M-word* in Manhattan: From John Chrysostom to City Seminary


Emmaus House, Harlem

The modern field of social work (originally called “applied philanthropy”began in New York City, in 1898 at the New York School of Philanthropy, now the Columbia University School of Social Work. During World War I, fifteen years before Dorothy Day launched the Catholic Worker Movement in the Bowery, the School’s fledgling journal, Studies in Social Work, published articles on hygeine, local infant mortality rates — and three translations of ancient religious texts: including one sermon by John Chrysostom (d. 407 CE); a text on charity from the mid-16th century Rabbinic text, Shulhan Arukh; and Book 2 of  Juan-Luis Vives’s 1526 letter to the senate of Bruges, “Concerning the relief of the Poor or, Concerning Human Need.” The authors and titles of these three historical sources are not exactly household names, although all three shaped the emergence of new civic welfare systems in 16th century Europe. Today John Chrysostom’s influence is strongest in Orthodox Christian traditions, including faith-based social services in Manhattan. For one story of what Director Julia Demaree calls a “gaggle of prayerful individuals,”  read her account of the history of  Emmaus House, Harlem.  View photos of Emmaus House in Jim Forest’s FlickR album, including its volunteers, icons, and food distribution. More on the connection between religion and “reform” in the settlement houses of Manhattan during the era of the “Social Gospel” is online at the Social History Welfare Project.

And for a powerful vision-in-practice of solidarity in theological education in Harlem, visit City Seminary of New York, directed by Dr. Mark Gornik, author of To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City, as well as Word Made Global: Stories of African Christianity in New York City.  Professor Gornik reflects on his journey to New York here.

*Ministry, Mission, Mercy…

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