Pastor Gregory Fryer isn’t waiting for people to come into his church — Upper East Side residents can find him every Tuesday morning on the sidewalk in front of it, his smiling face beaming out from a yellow booth identical to Lucy van Pelt’s in the “Peanuts” comic strip.
“The idea of a pastor being available on the street, with a stool there for somebody to sit down on, that just seemed right,” said Fryer, who spends about two hours every Tuesday morning beginning at 7:30 a.m. tending to the “hungry hearts” passing by Immanuel Lutheran Church on Lexington Avenue and 88th Street.
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Fryer, 65, did everything from carefully scaling up the exact measurements of Lucy’s booth to finding the font; the church’s sexton built it. He was partly inspired by the character’s “audacity, the courage to brazenly sit there out there in public and offer to deal with important matters.”
The people who approach him “reflect the demographics of the sidewalk,” including Christians, Jews, some who haven’t been to church for years. He gets all kinds of requests, large and small. A young woman asked for prayers to ward off a cold; another on her way to a job interview wanted a little extra goodwill. Once, a well-dressed businesswoman sat down and burst into tears. “She said, ‘I’m worried about my grandmother down in Florida, could you pray for her?’ And I do,” said Fryer, who also offers Bible stories that might help his solace-seekers. “And I’ve learned to have a box of tissues there.”
Though the sign, as Lucy’s, says the prayers cost five cents, Fryer actually has a plate of nickels sitting in front of him for people to put in Lucy’s jar if they want. That doesn’t stop them from giving, even $50 once, but the most memorable gift wasn’t money. “A 4-year-old child sat on my stool, and he said, ‘I love God, and I love daddy and I love mommy.’ And then he said a prayer for me; I was really touched by that.”
The booth is also a way to draw attention to the church, which was built in 1863 and can seem a bit imposing. For those persuaded to come inside on Tuesdays, there’s also coffee and pastries to welcome anyone who needs a quiet moment of reflection before starting their day. And for those who may not have the time to stop, Fryer hopes they’ll remember him when they do need to speak to a priest or to celebrate a special event.
The project is already having a more immediate effect. Some people take photos, telling him they’ll pass it on to their own pastors and rabbis to inspire them to start a similar project. Fryer hopes they do — “I’d love the city to be filled with booths like this.”