"Great is Thy Faithfulness" is a favorite hymn I can no longer sing, as I’m usually overcome by emotion. Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church is my home church, so I would say yes, I have experienced God’s faithfulness here.
Some of you may know me as the woman caring for her father, who sits in the front pew at the 11 o’clock service. Many more may know me as the Nursery School coordinator, caring for the youngest of our congregation. What many may not know is that I grew up in this church. I came to Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church as a 16-month old toddler—the same age as many of my students now—back in the early part of February 1966.
My family, my parents, older sister and brother left Cuba on one of the Freedom Flights. At that point, my parents were anti-revolutionaries against the Communist regime, and it became imperative for us to flee. We arrived in Miami where, in the Freedom House, my father was interrogated by the CIA while my mother waited outside with her three children. She must have been scared—broken away from her extended family and having left everything behind. While she waited, a Presbyterian minister approached her. Aside from solace, he offered us toiletries, a hot meal and a bag of coins to call family in New York.
By the third day we were in New York. We had made a connection with a Presbyterian minister in a small church near Columbia University. That minister was friends with Dr. Ken Jones here at Fifth Avenue. He knew that Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church was looking to sponsor a Cuban refugee. But he also knew that if we’d go as a family, we would not be refused. He was right; we weren’t.
Our first Sunday in the United States was spent here, and this has been our home church ever since.
My parents were re-baptized here when they became members as a sign of their new life. My mother went into labor with my youngest sister on a Sunday morning, and Dr. Kirkland announced her birth from the pulpit. Both of my sisters were married here. My niece and two nephews were baptized and confirmed here. My father, brother and I served as officers.
Over the years everyone has gone their separate ways, but three years ago there was no question where we’d have my mother’s memorial service, and her name remains in the Columbarium as one of our dearly departed. This was her home, and here she rests.
After my mother’s passing, it was difficult for my father, who together with my mother had been living in Florida for 10 years. He was reluctant to come back to church. Many of his friends were long gone, and he no longer knew the pastors. With a little encouragement (and little choice, since he lives with me), he began coming. Little by little, he started re-connecting with old friends who are still in our midst. But more importantly, he made new friends.
Slowly but surely, this church helped to restore our souls.
I am a second-generation Presbyterian because of a mission in my hometown in Cuba. It would have been the Benevolence Committee here at Fifth Avenue that voted to sponsor our family. I began pledging even before I really pieced these points together.
It’s been a while since I’ve been at this podium, speaking to the congregation. And before I go, I’d like to share one last image. Every Sunday, without fail, someone helps my father out of his pew, into his wheelchair and delivers him to me just outside the nursery downstairs. The profound beauty and significance of this action is not lost on me. I pledge.
Again I say, great is thy faithfulness. I have experienced it here.
Osanna Urbay has been a member of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church since 1980. She shared this testimony during worship on Sunday, Nov. 10. Learn more about how you can support the 2020 Pledge Campaign: Great Is Thy Faithfulness.