City News catches up with A.R. Bernard, founder and senior pastor of Christian Cultural Center, also City Harvest’s advisory chairman, who has been busy breaking new ground bringing Christ into culture.
Contributed By Yong Yung Shin
We heard you were not so well the past months. Are you better now?
I had a bout of pneumonia in November 2009, and throughout 2010, I was traveling every month so I never had a chance to let my body recuperate. Finally, last November, I decided not to fly, and just stay home and work within the country. I really needed it; it was good. The pneumonia’s been cured and I’m in a good place now—physically and spiritually.
What are you working on back home?
We have several projects going on in church, but the main project we’re working on is based on the “third place concept.” (It’s an urban planning term that refers to social surroundings apart from the two main environments of one’s home and workplace, aimed at fostering broader and more creative interaction within the community.)
Primarily, part of our church building is being converted into a museum and gallery, so we’re working on having a Bible exhibit containing Bibles and books over 1,000 years old as well as artifacts and artworks; we’re also creating an interactive area of Bible history. So we’re looking into changing our facility to incorporate a fusion of contemporary culture with Smithsonian and cathedral elements, merging all of that to give a unique experience to visitors.
What is the inspiration behind it?
The name of our church is “Christian Cultural Center,” so we see Christianity as not just a system of beliefs or a religion, but as a culture, a way of life and a way of thinking. We want people to experience the faith when they come. We want to deliver it not just as a message but as an experience. We want the walls to talk … we want the hallways to speak the gospel; we want every part of the church to say something.
What stage is the project at now?
It’s already started; it’s ongoing. There are already some exhibits, some of which are temporary, some permanent but we’ll be embarking on more expansion and construction after 2012. When I get back to New York, I’m meeting with the president of the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, which is one of the oldest seminaries in the USA. They have a great collection of books and artifacts; I’m also meeting with the public libraries and a private collector who has a very beautiful collection. So we’re working through all these negotiations to purchase some items.
What is the value of such an undertaking?
In terms of monetary value, that can get into the millions, but really, it is to give a history of our faith and show that our faith is relevant; it teaches how it has progressed throughout the centuries and what each key event meant in the development and growth of Christianity and how that is impacting who we are today.
Any other projects that are close to your heart?
We just finished the first year of our charter school; it’s a public school except that it’s not run in the traditional sense. There’s a private board and our church is the sponsor. It’s a unique educational innovation that is becoming very successful especially in New York City, and ours is one of the very few run by a religious organization.
We have a ratio of two teachers to 25 students, and the children are exposed to an education culture, meaning it’s not just a school to learn facts, but one that combines different methods of learning such as phonics, which is more technical, with immersion style learning. We’ve brought the two of them together, and it’s proving to be very effective.
This is the first time you’ve returned since the set-up of our advisory panel. What are your hopes for it?
It is my hope that with the establishment of the advisory board, there’ll be more quality oversight and engaging accountability in terms of how things are structured. So I’m excited for it—change is good because if you run this ministry today the way it was run when there were only 1,000 people, then something’s wrong. As a church grows, it has to go through changes and restructuring in order to accommodate the growth and continue to be effective and efficient.
God is still committed, He hasn’t forsaken us, and as I’ve shared, storms are facts of life, be it through our obedience, disobedience or the actions of others, and these storms are intended to undergird and strengthen the church.