NEW YORK Black, White, Latin, and Asian men and women in suits and ball gowns sailed up the three sets of escalators at the gold-embossed New York Hyatt Hotel to get to the ballroom. But they were not there for a cocktail. They were there to honor followers of Christ who ministered all their lives.
Over 550 leaders from churches, the marketplace, and the government joined Concerts of Prayer Greater New York (CPGNY) at its Fifth Annual Gala Dinner on Sept. 23.
"We're having an event in the Hyatt Hotel one of the main hotels in the city and the hundreds of people who are here represent a cross section of Christianity, said Dr. David Ireland, pastor of Christ Church in Montclair, N.J., and one of those being honored at what is known as one of the strongest events in the region.
"We're at the forefront. Christianity is not to be pushed back to the backroom. It's to be brought out to the mainstream."
However, in a place such as New York, the challenge is unity.
"New York City is a microcosm of the world," said Marlinda Ireland, 42, who accompanied her husband to celebrate his achievements. "Because you've got so many different denominations, cultures, and races - all of these factors need to come together and find a common ground."
According to the Rev. Terry Gyger, executive pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, CPGNYs annual Gala dinner is one of the few events in the city where there is very wide cooperation and participation across all denominational, racial, and ethnic lines.
And it's united around the most common need, and that's prayer for the city," he added.
"We serve a living God who hears our prayers and desires to answer them if we, his people, will humble ourselves and seek his face," said Dr. Mac Pier, president of Concerts of Prayer. "The power of more than 550 spiritual leaders, connected across race, denomination and geography, in one place, in one accord, seeking in prayer is what Concerts of Prayer is all about."
CPGNY Spokesperson Beverly Cook had no regrets over the expenditures made, explaining that the event also joins people from the marketplace.
"Not only are church leaders at the dinner tonight, but we also have people from the marketplace," she said. "So in order to meld the two cultures, we do a gala event like this once a year."
Last year the event raised $30,000 to support CPGNY and their work of coordinating the growing prayer network that is now 6,200 churches strong.
The awards presentation was foremost for the honorees. The dinner exposed achievements of "unsung heroes."
The Lifetime Achievement award was presented to the Rev. Dr. Adolfo Carrión, Sr., for his service in the Assemblies of God Spanish Eastern District a district that encompasses twelve states and the District of Columbia.
The five being honored for their legacies included the Rev. Beverly Morrison Caesar of Bethel Gospel Tabernacle, the Rev. Aimee Cortese of Crossroads Tabernacle, the Rev. Richard Del Rio of Abounding Grace Church, the Rev. Michael Durso of Christ Tabernacle, and the Rev. David Ireland of Christs Church.
The theme, Leaving A Legacy, played out as emerging church leaders Rhonda Coy of Bethel Gospel Tabernacle; the Rev. Joseph Cortese, who now pastors Crossroads Tabernacle; Jeremy Del Rio, Esq. with Generation Xcel; the Rev. Adam Durso of Youth Explosion Ministries; and Rahsaan Graham from Vision Youth were honored alongside legacy honorees, many of whom are also their spiritual and physical parents.
Before the choir ensemble ever performed its first number, the excitement was already palpable.
"I've been serving in ministry almost 30 years. I have never seen such an outpouring of unity over New York before," said an emerging leaders' honoree, Rev. Joseph Cortese when he was about to leave for the event. "I'm elated to be alive in these days."
"At least once a year, it's the best thing that we can do as churches together," said Gyger.