New York Gala Sweeps in a New Generation of Leadership

NEW YORK – An annual gala tonight will honor lifetime achievers as well as up-and-coming emerging Christian leaders in New York City.

Approximately 600 evangelical leaders will arrive at the Grand Central Hyatt Hotel for the 5th Annual Gala Dinner, Fri., Sept. 23, at 7 p.m. This year's theme is "Leaving a Legacy."

"We took the theme from Psalm 145:4 (NASB), and it says one generation shall praise your works to another and shall declare your mighty acts," said Beverly Cook, spokesperson for the event sponsor, Concerts of Prayer Greater New York.

Tonight symbolizes a beautiful transferal of leadership, said the Rev. Joseph Cortese, who has assumed the reigns of the thousand-member Crossroads Tabernacle in Bronx, N.Y., from his mother and female ministry pioneer, the Rev. Aimee Cortese.

In what is expected to be a tremendous display of love and joy, five pairs of legacies and next-generation leaders will be honored. The vanguard generation now in their 70s and 80s will be honored alongside an emerging generation of leaders in their 30s and 40s, some of whom are also their chosen successors.

"When it comes to transition, it's critical that people see the baton being passed instead of being taken," said Cortese, 38. "Tonight, everyone will definitely be able to testify that the baton has been passed to them. It's a beautiful thing because with that transition comes a sense of peace over His people and of God's will being done."

But Cortese said it would not have been possible without a period of time when he and his mother worked together.

"Even before you pass the baton, there has to be a season where both the legacy and the current leadership coexist in a powerful dynamic, where the Moses generation is holding up the rod of God while we the next generation are on the front lines, doing what they used to do. That relationship has to be present or else, as scripture says, we lose," he said. "Tonight will be a beautiful picture of being able to see both parties together."

"Just because you're a pastor's kid doesn't mean you're going to grow up and be an exemplary individual," said Cook. She pointed out the youth pastor of Youth Explosion in Queens as an example.

As a prodigal son, Adam Durso had to accept that he needed God in his life on his own, she said. Since he came to that realization, he has developed an effective ministry among the youth. Now over 600 youths are attending his youth ministry. Tonight, the now-Rev. Durso will be honored at the Gala with his father, the Rev. Michael Durso, who serves as the senior pastor of Youth Explosion in Queens.

From Unsung Heroes to a Worldwide Community

The not-to-miss event is also unique for its ability to draw out unseen networks of successful ministries, the "unsung heroes in our midst," according to Cook.

"You've got different events in the Hispanic, Asian, and Black community, but this event draws everyone from all those communities," she said.

According to research done by Christianity Today, New York City is diverse and large enough to house a Dominican city of 500,000, a West Indian city of 800,000, a Haitian city of 200,000, a Colombian city of 200,000 in Queens, two Chinatowns of over 100,000, 80,000 Greeks, 200,000 Russian Jews, 40,000 Hindus, and 150,000 Arabs and Middle Easterners, among others.

"[The Gala] helps to build community. We all have similar interests, challenges, dreams and seeing how others have done it makes us aware of what we have in common despite differences," said Cook.

The spokesperson added that people can easily find common ground in prayer. "Despite the theological understandings of different denominations, we believe that prayer is the one area we can all agree on."

Concerts of Prayer Greater New York has been credited with transforming the city. The Rev. Gary Frost of the Southern Baptist Convention called the ministry the "evangelical nerve center" of New York, and the Rev. Cortese said he has never seen such an "outpouring of unity" over New York in nearly 30 years of ministry.

"The Holy Spirit has used [Founder and Director of Concerts of Prayer, McKenzie "Mac" Pier] to cause a unity and a coming together that we as pastors and leaders could not have done ourselves," Cortese said.

The ministry led thousands of pastors and their congregations to organize the Billy Graham Crusade in June, and, according to Cook, "If it wasn't for the prayer movement having been established 18 years ago, when 9/11 occurred there wouldn't have been a network of churches to respond in the way that they did."

With a mission to mobilize leaders into united prayer, leadership development, and church growth, the ministry has emerged as a leading convener of the evangelical community across the tri-state area after 20 years. Its network consists of more than 6,200 churches of multiple denominations and ethnicities. The Gala will represent a spectrum of New York believers tonight.