The Reverend Sydney Marie Avent has a passion for social justice ministry that is grounded in her belief in God’s unconditional love for all people. She is ordained by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Northeastern Region and was licensed to preach the Gospel at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York. She continually seeks to discern God’s will in her life and understands her call is to fight for systemic changes for justice for all marginalized and oppressed people; to envision, teach, and work for the manifestation of the Beloved Community; and to seek individual and communal healing through spiritual practices and discipline.
At The Park, in addition to her ministerial duties, Reverend Sydney is an Elder and a member of the Ministry Council. She is a member of Northeastern Region’s Anti-Racism/Reconciliation Team and served as Co-Chair of the MissionFirst! Workshop for the 2016 Northeastern Regional Assembly.
From her childhood to the present, Reverend Avent has been active in churches for which social justice and civil rights are core ministries. Her home church is United Institutional Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. She served as Vice Chair of the Trustees Board at Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was a member of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington, DC before moving to Manhattan.
Reverend Avent earned her Masters of Divinity degree at Drew Theological School, her Juris Doctorate at UCLA School of Law and her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a licensed attorney and continues her career as in-house counsel for major international corporations and non-profits.
Reverend Sydney has a love for the arts and welcomes opportunities to partner with artists and to use the many manifestations of art in the pursuit of understanding, healing, forgiveness, justice, and reconciliation.
Rev. Cartagena Zayas holds a B.A. from City College New York, a M.Div. from New York Theological Seminary where he received the President Award in Ministry, and is a Micah D. Min. candidate at New York Theological Seminary.
At The Park Rev. Cartagena Zayas serves as the Pastoral Presence each week for the Saturday Community Lunch Program, a Greeter, a Translator for Immigration Clinics, is a member of the Hospitality & Fellowship Team and the Prayer Team.
In his role as Outreach Pastor he serves on the Jeremiah Leadership Council, NY/NJ Crop Hunger Walk and the Micah Institute. An activist he participates in many actions dealing with Housing Justice, a Living Wage, the elimination of Racism, Poverty & Hunger, LGBTQ, Transgender Justice, Immigration Issues and National Hispanic Hepatitis Awareness Day.
He serves on the Northeastern Anti-Racism/Pro-Reconciliation Team, the Northeastern Regional Response Team, and is the co-Moderator for the Northeastern Region for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Along with serving the congregation of The Park, Rev. Cartagena Zayas is the Director of the Modern Languages Language Laboratory at the Borough of Manhattan Community College/CUNY for the past thirty years, is a member of the LGBTQ Month Committee as well as the Hispanic Heritage Month Committee.
The Rev. Francesca Fortunato, M.S. (American Institute of Holistic Theology) has been doing children’s ministry for over ten years, with past congregations including Holy Apostles Episcopal, The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and Fourth Universalist. Dually ordained as an Interfaith Minister and as a priest with The Progressive Episcopal Church, Francesca continues to minister on the opposite end of the age spectrum, as a volunteer Chaplain for the St. Nicholas Home, an Assisted Living facility in Brooklyn. She considers herself to be bi-vocational, and also works part time as a dance and fitness teacher; currently teaching four classes per week for Asphalt Green. Francesca lives in Washington Heights, with her wife, Lynn, their “big cat,” Gracie, and recently adopted kittens, Daphne and George.
Rev. Dr. Peter Goodwin Heltzel is Pastor of Evangelism and Discipleship at Park Avenue Christian Church. An Auburn Senior Fellow, Pastor Heltzel teaches theology at New York Theological Seminary. An anti-racist/pro-reconciliation prophet from Vicksburg, Mississippi, Pastor Heltzel is passionate about providing opportunities for members of the Park to “know God” (Discipleship) and “make God known” (Evangelism). Shepherding a Soul Food Fellowship on the Westside, Pastor Heltzel is committed to equipping disciples to follow Jesus through deepening our spirituality, theology and revolutionary friendships.
Dr. Tony McNeill is the former Director of Worship and The Arts at Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church (“America’s “Freedom Church”) in Atlanta, GA, where he served for four and a half years. Prior to coming to Atlanta, Dr. McNeill was a Visiting Lecturer in Choral Music at his alma mater, Appalachian State University (Boone, NC). He currently serves as Program Director for the Certificate in Worship Leadership at Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary (Atlanta, GA) and keeps a demanding schedule as a consultant, workshop presenter, choral clinician, mentor and conference worship leader. He earned a masters degree in choral conducting from The Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL) and the doctorate of worship studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies (Jacksonville, FL). Dr. McNeill was also profiled in the BET.com documentary, HOLLER IF YOU HEAR ME: GAY AND BLACK IN THE CHURCH.
Hayley Richards is a recent graduate from Wagner College with a B.A. in Music and minor in Psychology. She has spent the past 7 years volunteering and working at Silver Lake Conference Center as a counselor and staff member, holding a number of positions that helped shape her expertise in hospitality, customer service, and management as well as strengthening her role in the missions of outdoor ministry through the United Church of Christ.
Passionate about the UCC’s mission and work in social justice movements, Hayley is excited to be a member of the team, looking forward to growing and making change with The Park.
Haji Russell is a recent Year Up New York Alum, having overcome the challenge of making a huge change in eir career path. Since starting a new journey in a totally new environment, ey has had the pleasure of calling The Park the beginning of eir new life. Having come from a background of customer service positions, ey is well equipped to work with every arm of the capital campaign to foster communication and help The Park reach its ultimate goals.
With a passion for art and learning, Haji looks forward most to experiencing The Park’s community and sharing that vision of social justice with others. Haji uses ey/em/eir and they/them pronouns.
Paul Vasile is a freelance church musician, consultant, and composer based in New York City. A multitalented musician and dynamic worship leader, he is committed to building, renewing, and re-shaping faith communities through music and liturgy.
Paul brings over twenty years of ministry experience to his work as a consultant, workshop facilitator, and teacher. He is excited to help congregations broaden their repertoire of sung prayer and praise, and to demonstrate how participatory music and liturgy can energize and unify worshippers from varied backgrounds, cultures, and traditions. His skills and background make him a unique resource to congregations in transition, or those experiencing anxiety or conflict in their worship life.
Paul is an inspiring teacher and has been a guest lecturer and worship leader at Union Theological Seminary, General Theological Seminary (NYC), the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, and The Chandler School of Theology. He has also curated notable concert series, arts events, and educational programs exploring the intersection of music and spirituality.
Led by Klay S. Williams, The Gathering is a holistic group of young adults interested in creating spiritual pathways to develop/nourish one’s purpose, build community and discovery of wellness practices to live an empowered life.
Curated by Pastor Kaji & Klay, the next program series, Speak, is a space where weekly participants will gather and share intimate personal stories of faith, gratitude, struggle, healing and spiritual exploration. Under the spirit of thoughtful live music, we will share in the lived experiences that connects our faith journey through the power of story. For more information, please contact Klay.
Klay S. Williams is an author, holistic lifestyle expert and media personality specializing in holistic personal and professional development. Klay has created a lifestyle-consulting firm, Plan A Enterprises, LLC that is a one-stop-shop for the entire person. Whether he is leading a conversation on spiritual progression of the self, supporting clients with closing the gap between their past and present or having a full service image/wellness conversation, it all points towards living what Klay calls, one’s “Plan A”. He is the author of There Is Only Plan A— A Journey Toward Self- Discovery and Renewed Purpose and 365 Plan A Nightly Meditations. A graduate of Kalamazoo College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Religion with a double minor in Economics and Business, he also holds a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. Klay has appeared/partnered with a host of media platforms, including but not limited to: Fox 5 NY, fyi, NPR, iHeart Radio, Lululemon and ABC. For more information on Klay, visit: KlaySWilliams.com
Stephanie Wilson is the Office Manager working the behind the scenes for the operational advantages of The Park Avenue Christian Church, also known as The Park to its parishioners. Since her introduction in 2014 as Admin Assistant, she has grown to play an integral part in getting to know the congregation with her charismatic spirit and assisting with the facilitation and execution of the finite details of many of the programs at The Park. With previous experience working within the operational management of different religious organization, Stephanie is one of the many faces you will see on any given Sunday at the church. Whether it be through wireless outreach or personal communication, chances are that Stephanie is your go-to person when it comes to finding the information and resources The Park has to offer or communicating within the complexities of the organization to help further along community goals. Currently a resident of Bronx NY, this millennial is more than happy to lend a helping hand and is often an open ear with an open heart that you can look forward to meeting when you visit The Park.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Jeanette Zaragoza is an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ (UCC). She earned a bachelor’s degree from Lesley College in early childhood education and obtained an M. Div. from Pacific School of Religion, which included studies at the Seminario Bíblico Latinoamericano in San José, Costa Rica, the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico, and the University of Jerusalem. In December 2011, she graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with an M. A. in Translation. Her graduation thesis title was, “From this Side of the Horizon: Feminist Biblical Hermeneutics,” (a translation of “Capítulo 16: Análisis feminista,” in Para que comprendiesen las Escrituras: Introducción a los Métodos Exegéticos, by Ediberto López-Rodríguez-Rodríguez). In 2016, Jeanette completed all requirements for a Masters in Research in Translation and Interpretation Studies from Universitat Jaume I, Castellón de la Plana, in Spain, the title of her thesis “The Search for a Mendi-court Interpreter in The Amistad Case in order to Challenge the Institution of Slavery.” Presently, she is a PhD (ABD) student in said university in same field. Rev. Zaragoza has worked as a professional translator and interpreter for the last 10 years. She is trained as a professional court, medical and conference interpreter, certified by the NJ and NY State Courts, and CMI and CCHI, both medical interpreting certifications. Her ministerial calling involves multilingual-multi rhythmic worship design and implementation centered in the social justice proclaimed in the Scriptures to cross boundaries in order to establish collaboration and for worshippers to recover their full humanity. During calendar year 2017-2018, Rev. Zaragoza will be also be a PhD Visiting Researcher at Yale Divinity School where she will continue to research the intersectionality among translation and interpreting issues, The Amistad Case, Christian Abolitionists, and liberation.