Divine signs of the times

Church uses humor to connect with community


Gustavus Adolphus Pastor Christopher Mietlowski started the sign campaign seven years ago and has since seen an increase in church membership. (Photo collage by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

It’s not unusual for signs in front of churches to have uplifting messages. Often they’re lifted from biblical passages. Other times they’re behavioral suggestions, and if there’s room, there’ll be a bingo schedule included, too.

But in Gramercy, one church has managed to stand out from the parish pack for the messages on its signs, which have become so popular, they’ve actually boosted membership.

That church would be Gustavus Adolphus, a 150-year-old Lutheran church where a recent sign suggested: “Come, search for Pokemon — stay, find God’s grace.”

Another, inspired by pop song “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor, read: “We’re all about dat grace, bout dat grace, no Devil!”

And another reminded passersby: “That love thy neighbor thing — I meant that — God.”

Last winter, during particularly frigid temperatures, a sign pointed out, “On the bright side, we haven’t seen a mosquito in months.”

The signs, which get changed around twice a month, are the brainchild of the church’s pastor, Christopher Mietlowski, better known to his flock as Pastor Chris.

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New preschool opens at Gustavus Adolphus Church

Open Arms Director Misa Anderson in one of the new preschool’s classroom spaces (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Open Arms Director Misa Anderson in one of the new preschool’s classroom spaces (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel
With the number of young families on the rise in the city, Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church on East 22nd Street has opened its doors to Open Arms Preschool, a new ministry at the church, which is now accepting enrollment for a summer program for children 18 to 29 months.
The church previously had a senior center, which had offered programming for the last 40 years, but when the Stein Center opened on East 23rd Street in its new, permanent home, the administrators at Gustavus Adolphus saw less of a need for the services their center provided.
“The generation before us recognized that care for seniors was vital for the community and provided those services,” Pastor Chris Mietlowski said. “In the process of discerning the next step for our congregation, we noticed that families were not leaving the city and were instead staying here to raise their families so there is a growing need for early child care.”
The program in the summer is a playgroup-type experience targeting a younger age group than the usual preschool age, so the children are there for only a couple of days a week and the parents can stay throughout the classes. “We’re creating a place where parents or caregivers have a gentle separation to get kids ready for a real preschool setting so parents don’t feel like they’re ripping the band-aid off,” said Open Arms director Misa Anderson, who has more than 20 years of preschool teaching experience. “We want to create a lifelong love of learning so we want kids to have a positive first school experience with things like story time and music.”

A classroom at Open Arms (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

A classroom at Open Arms (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

The only religion in the curriculum is based around the holidays like Christmas and Easter and there are some Christian-based decorations up like a Noah’s Ark hanging in one of the classrooms, but most of the class time is focused on playgroups and other non-religious activities.
Mietlowski said that the space that used to be allocated for the seniors has been converted to modern classroom spaces with brand new equipment and furnishings. The renovations included a smaller and bigger classroom, which hold about six and 10 students, respectively.
Open Arms is currently open for enrollment for the summer program, which runs six weeks from June 30 to August 8. Mietlowski said that the dates have flexibility, though, since families aren’t always around for the whole summer, and families can instead sign up for the program for three weeks of their choosing. Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday schedule options are available.
He added that there’s also a plan for a program in the fall for slightly older children, ages two and three. The program will include enrichment classes such as cooking, music, yoga and sign language, which would be available to both the younger and older children.
Tuition for the full six weeks is $625 and for a three-week period, it’s $325.
The school is at 155 East 22nd Street and more information is available by contacting Anderson at openarmspreschool@gmail.com or (914) 806-3949.