By Graeme Napier
The Open Door was a characteristic West Village response to HIV/AIDS. It was located where the Psychotherapy and Spirituality Institute is—in the courtyard of Saint John’s in the Village (West 11th Street at Waverly Place). At a time when men and women with AIDS (especially those who were young) were ostracized by their families, The Open Door provided a service of acceptance, advice, support, and spiritual counsel to people who were HIV+ as well as to their significant others, friends, and care-partners. The counseling aimed to help all those affected to place their experiences within the context of their individual spiritual journeys and relationships with God. The program was crucial to meeting the spiritual and emotional (and sometimes financial) needs of the participants. Many hundreds of people came through the discreet horse-walk entrance over the years. There was never any charge to participants; and although there was no proselytizing, Finding God in AIDS came to be a maxim with which many could identify.
Father Sam Cross, an Episcopal priest, founded The Open Door in 1998 and was chaplain and facilitator from its inception until its culmination in 2017. Long before that time many HIV/AIDS programs had folded. But despite the public misconception that the AIDS crisis was over, St. John’s knew it continued—with long-term survivors still struggling to live with the disease and the side effects of drugs which kept them alive.
In honor of this significant part of our local West Village history, a plaque will be blessed at Saint John’s at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 17th. Father Cross, who has retired to Tennessee, is visiting the Village this month and will speak about the spiritual and pastoral role of The Open Door. All are welcome to attend and to meet Father Cross at the reception which will follow.
Saint John’s doors continue to be open to the LGBT community. The Episcopalian congregation is known for its hospitality and acceptance; every week a Roman Catholic LGBT group, Dignity, also worships and enjoys fellowship at the church.
On Saturday, June 23rd, the 6.30 p.m. worship at Saint John’s will conclude with the blessing of the Johnsmas fire—there will be a small bonfire in a large brazier, and the sharing of victuals around the fire. Johnsmas fires are also called Midsummer fires because the summer solstice occurs near the time of the Christian feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. For centuries Christians and others have marked this time of year by the lighting of fires and the sharing of hospitality in their communities. That tradition has fallen into desuetude but will be revived this year at Saint John’s. A warm welcome has been extended to West Villagers who wish to join in.
On the following day, Sunday, June 24th, the Pride March will take place. The parade route has changed and will proceed down Seventh Avenue. Saint John’s will hold a ‘Pre-Parade’ Eucharist at 11:00 a.m., after which, those emerging from the church—near Seventh Avenue and Waverly Place—will be well-placed to view this year’s Pride celebration (which will begin at West 16th Street and Seventh Avenue at noon).