A.R. Bernard, pastor of the largest evangelical church in New York City, has been working on a plan for more than 10 years. Now the proposal to build a $1.2 billion urban village and revitalize the struggling neighborhood around his church is progressing through the city’s approval process and closer to reality. The Christian Cultural Center (CCC) hopes developers could break ground in Brooklyn next year.
“If I’ve got land, and it’s valuable, I’m going to leverage that land to partner in its future, not surrender it. … What can we do to better the quality of life?” Bernard told CT in early August as he paged through the proposals for the urban village. “My theology is summed up in two words: human flourishing. That’s the story from Genesis to Revelation.”
Bernard had just returned from an event with the New York governor in Buffalo and was planning a trip to participate in the coronation of the new Zulu king in South Africa.
But back in his office without any staff or audience around, he was diving into the minutiae of land development, showing slideshows of proposals for different heights of buildings and talking about the design for “porosity” of streets and ULURP, the city ’s land use process.
On 10.5 acres of church land, the proposed village would include thousands of units of affordable housing, a trade school, a supermarket, a performing arts center, 24/7 childcare for night-shift workers, senior living facilities, and other amenities designed to revitalize the East New York neighborhood.
As the founder of the 30,000-member nondenominational church, Bernard is also a kind of unofficial mayor of the city’s evangelical churches. He has served as the head of the Council of Churches of the City of New York and is often the person public officials call when they want an evangelical advisor or representative at significant events. He also works in evangelical organizations outside the city, including serving on the board of Promise Keepers.
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