West Kensington Ministry: A Place of Refuge and Hope for Our Youth by Rev. Sarah Colwill

“Jesus loves them, but the cards are stacked against them,” Rev. Adan Mairena remarked as he described the tension involved with being the church and place of hope in an inner city neighborhood that struggles with high rates of unemployment, crime, and violence. Living in the manse beside the church, Rev. Mairena knows firsthand the importance of being a safe place for children in the West Kensington section of Philadelphia. In a school system that lacks the quality education of their peers in wealthier areas, and the statistics showing these youth are at an increased risk to end up in the prison system, ministry to youth here is crucial. By revealing God’s love and compassion, and showing each child they matter, the Ministry hopes to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline that plagues Philadelphia neighborhoods such as this.

The Presbyterian Church has had a long witness to the hope of Jesus Christ on the corner of N. Hancock Street and W. Susquehanna Avenue. Once a bustling industrial neighborhood, the impressive church built across the street from Norris Square Park could seat over 500 people in its sanctuary. As industry left and the neighborhood became economically depressed, maintaining a traditional congregation in the sanctuary became unfeasible. But the Presbytery of Philadelphia was not ready to give up on this changing community. For the past ten years, Rev. Mairena has worked to make West Kensington Ministry a place of welcome and love. The Ministry walks alongside youth as they navigate the challenges of their neighborhood and life situations. They hold weekly worship Sunday afternoons in their downstairs hall at 3:00 p.m. which incorporates youth at all levels, from participation to worship leadership. This is a space where children are treated as important and vital to the church today, not just its hoped for future. This is a space where children experience the depth of God’s love and compassion that is for them.

West Kensington Ministry has a powerful impact on the youth in the neighborhood by being able to provide stability while maintaining flexibility. Theirs is not a cookie-cutter ministry or program that can be taken out of context. After Rev. Mairena’s arrival, the leadership discerned a need to have a safe space for teens. The homicide rate was high in the neighborhood and the church wanted to respond with something meaningful, and Open Mic Night was born. Every Friday night this event has become a staple in the community, a place of refuge and welcome.

Open Mic Night is a program for teens by teens. Trust is placed in the youth to set up the equipment and make the night a success. The event varies from week to week, depending upon the youth in attendance, the mood of the neighborhood, and the movement of the Spirit. With a seemingly innocent gathering these teens are learning leadership skills, developing confidence being in front of people, and nurturing camaraderie among themselves.

With weekly worship and Open Mic Night as stable features of the Ministry, other programs arise as need and interest comes to the surface. One of Rev. Mairena’s gifts as a leader is the capacity to take advantage of these interests, allowing an activity to meet the needs of the youth while also discerning when that program has run its due course. This flexibility allows the Spirit to meet youth right where they are, in a particular time and place in their lives. A recent event fitting this description is Thursday night youth cooking night. With an average of ten youth and a few adults, the meal is simple yet significant. Around cutting boards and stove tops is often when these kids open up and are willing to talk about what’s really going on in their lives. Rev. Mairena is committed to going deep and not staying superficial, wanting to express the depth of God’s love that reaches even into this forgotten section of Philadelphia. Over a nutritious meal, youth are being fed in both body and spirit.

Singing and cooking may seem like simple activities, but beneath these happenings flows the rich undercurrent of faith and the love of God that is infused in everything West Kensington Ministry does. “The reason we do this is because of the one we follow,” says Rev. Mairena. It may be too easy to see only despair in this struggling neighborhood, but as Christians, we are people of hope. After a decade of service to this community, Rev. Mairena claims, “I see hope in that it gives (the neighborhood youth) a vision and a sense of, this is what church is: it’s acceptance, it’s love, it’s being a part of something bigger than yourself. This gives them a place where they matter, where they are important.” As a presbytery committed to improving the lives of children, West Kensington Ministry is a living, breathing testimony to the work of the Spirit that includes every person no matter what their life circumstance.

West Kensington Ministry is one of the eight local initiatives leveraged in our campaign to raise $300,000 for 300 Years. More information available here.

The Freedom School: Dreaming Big Dreams by Rev. Sarah Colwill

Fifty urban youth from the Germantown section of Philadelphia held up their letters proudly, spelling out a message to our nation: STAND FOR CHILDREN NOT GUNS. In front of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in our nation’s capital, they were certain the helicopters flying overhead held their president, Mr. Barack Obama, and they had confidence their message was being seen. The Freedom School, a ministry of the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, brought these youth to Washington, D.C. for a field trip to educate and empower. Executive Director Eileen Jones encouraged their excitement that day, as she cherished this highlight of their program.

The Freedom School is a seven-week summer camp housed at the church, where fifty children from the neighborhood engage in reading, swimming, educational trips, and traditional camp activities. Six years ago the church contemplated ways to enrich the lives of urban children in the area. The church has had a decades-long commitment to running a summer day camp. But they yearned for something that would take the camp to the next level. They were concerned about the declining school system and the statistics showing all children experience learning loss over the summer months. The staff decided to pursue transitioning from a typical summer camp to a Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School.

The Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School seeks to enrich youths’ lives through fostering a love of reading by offering a curriculum with books that relate to the lives of these children. As part of this program, the camp’s staff were trained to use the special curriculum to have a significant impact on their campers beyond typical day care. After three years of being an official “Freedom School,” the camp has assimilated the program without its official affiliation due to its $10,000 price tag. The past three years they have modified the camp and continued its commitment to reading and encouraging social, emotional, and academic growth.

The camp wants to serve the whole family, and realizes the needs of parents, opening its doors from 7:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. for working mothers and fathers. The cost of the camp is just over $60 per week, and they don’t turn children away because of financial constraints. Through avenues such as the Presbytery’s Covenant Fund Grant, they fundraise the majority of their expenses. Ms. Jones, who serves the church as Director for Urban Ministry, and her staff, seek out grants and other creative ways to provide for these youth. The camp receives breakfast, lunch, and snacks from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, where hot meals are prepared and served onsite daily. They also hold parenting workshops, with several in particular focusing on fathers and their importance in a child’s life. One workshop brought in a trauma team from Hahnemann Hospital, where a doctor and several social workers talked about the special needs of children who witness gun violence.

The Freedom School takes weekly field trips to expand the campers’ horizons, going to places such as Lancaster’s Sight and Sound Theater. They search out cross-cultural experiences to foster a positive understanding of diversity and an appreciation for different cultures. One such trip involved a visit to The National Liberty Museum along with a similar camp that is held at an Asian charter school in Center City. After touring the museum, educators came to encourage ways to break barriers that arise from being of different cultures. The camp culminates each year with a larger trip to locations such as Washington, D. C., Baltimore, and New York City.

The energy and enthusiasm for this program is evident in Ms. Jones’ voice as she talks about the church’s commitment to helping create a vibrant Germantown valuing worship, the arts, education, and the like. The church celebrates and values diversity and the camp takes seriously its commitment to instilling these values in the campers. Ms. Jones claims, “I’m honored and humbled,” to have the privilege of following the Holy Spirit’s lead in equipping parents and strengthening these urban youth. “I love the Lord and that’s contagious,” she says when talking about the witness to Jesus Christ this camp enables. The church’s Director of Christian Education, Christian Heyer-Rivera oversees Bible study taking place three times each week.

While the Freedom School seems to have hit its stride, Ms. Jones still dreams bigger dreams. She wants to provide instructional swimming lessons, knowing inner city children are less likely to know how to swim. She is pursuing a fine arts program with a focus on art journaling projects to help youth express their thoughts and feelings through art. As fun and upbeat as the program is for these campers, she also knows the real struggles of these families and pours her heart and soul into touching them in a way that is sincere and shows the deep, deep love of God. A “rich and expansive experience” is her goal, and she and her staff seem to have placed no limits on God’s potential to keep expanding their reach.

The Philadelphia Project Preschool: Integrating Faith with Academics by Rev. Sarah Colwill

“It’s a feeling you get when you walk in the doors,” so claims Christina Platt, one of the Directors of The Philadelphia Project who is charged with running their bustling preschool. Her energy and enthusiasm around the program is palpable as she talks about the warmth both parents and students feel when they enter their doors each morning for drop-off. The preschool is housed in Roxborough Presbyterian Church, with the entryway resting in the connector between the sanctuary and the classrooms. This connection is precisely what the preschool is aspiring to strengthen. Executive Director of The Philadelphia Project (TPP) and Pastor of Roxborough Presbyterian Church, Rev. Ray Garcia claims the vision of the preschool is to bring together both quality academics and spiritual development.

Three years ago the preschool program was birthed after assessing the needs of the local Roxborough community. There was a lack of affordable, high-quality education that was faith-based, and parents were yearning for such a combination. Members of the church along with their pastor often witnessed families leaving the city for a better public school system in the suburbs. They dreamed of finding a way to have a positive influence on the Philadelphia public schools by walking alongside parents as their children approached elementary school.

Christina Platt was a member at Roxborough Presbyterian Church with a Master’s in Education who was teaching at a school in Kensington when she caught the vision for the preschool. Her mother-in-law runs a preschool in Bucks County, so with her help, Christina, Rev. Garcia, and others began to turn their dreams into reality. Christina left her job and took on the role of director, which felt like a perfect fit for her own call to serve youth both academically and spiritually.

Donna Payne is a preschool teacher with 16 years of experience, the last two being full-time at The Philadelphia Project. She is particularly drawn to this preschool because of its Christ-centered mission that maintains a high level of academic integrity. The teachers begin each day with prayer which is “essential to the start of the day,” Donna claims. The way the teachers build one another up has created a loving environment where both workers and students can thrive. The school currently enrolls 56 children ages 2 through 6, most classes being at capacity with a waiting list.

The Philadelphia Project had its genesis at Grace Presbyterian Church, where Rev. Garcia was serving as Associate Pastor. TPP’s aim was, and continues to be, a hands-on response to both the physical and spiritual needs of the community. After Grace birthed TPP it spent three years housed at Mount Airy Presbyterian Church before coming to Roxborough in 2013. They are engaged in a variety of outreach programs such as housing/construction work, a food pantry, and after-school programs. They most recently purchased a property in the heart of Germantown, with hopes of using the space to house summer volunteers who work on construction projects and share God’s love in the neighborhood.

The preschool depends upon grant monies and additional donors to keep the cost of high-quality education affordable for families in their neighborhood. As a presbytery, we are proud supporters of this program which builds up our city’s youth. They are one of the recipients of the presbytery’s Covenant Fund Grant for both 2015 and 2016, receiving $15,000 each year. As a presbytery we stand on the side of hope as we support ministries like The Philadelphia Project preschool that care for and nurture children in our city. Through our contributions, we are helping uplift students and families as they seek to grow in both faith and education.

Just a Building: The Common Place Continues to Thrive in Southwest Philadelphia by Rev. Sarah Colwill

As the Presbytery of Philadelphia launches into its 300th year of mission and ministry in this area so rich with history both within the church and in our nation, we Presbyterians stand firm in our commitment to serving Jesus Christ in ways that are faithful, realistic, practical, and transformative. This celebratory year will not only be a chance to look back and be proud, but it will give us the opportunity to renew our dedication to making this city and its surrounding area more reflective of God’s hopes and dreams for the world. To this end, we are taking on the bold endeavor of raising $300,000 to put towards existing ministries that are showing Gospel love and hope to those in need. We have identified eight different ministries that will engage in new programs and initiatives with the funds they are given. One of these eight recipients is The Common Place, which sits at 58th and Chester streets in Southwest Philadelphia.

The Common Place runs an after school program titled, “The Common Place Scholars,” which provides “a sacred place for students to do life together.” By caring for and uplifting local youth, this program is one effort to keep kids thriving in school in hopes to disrupt the “school-to-prison pipeline.” This term is used to describe the confluence of institutional and cultural factors which often act as a funnel for our urban and disadvantaged youth into the criminal justice system. By avoiding truancy and keeping students current on homework and engaged in academics, The Common Place Scholars promotes a better path towards a successful future. This program currently enrolls 45 children who come from neighboring schools. Catching up with Program Director and Assistant Executive Director, Ms. Huan Baum, we learn this program not only touches on academics, but deals with the youth’s social, emotional, and spiritual development as well. Ms. Baum, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a Master’s degree in non-profit management, was hired this past summer for her skills both in academics and in organizing such programs. With her expertise, the program hopes to be a template for after school programs throughout the city seeking to strengthen and develop our youth, particularly in poorer neighborhoods.

The program runs during school days and includes homework help, snacks, and prayer time. Throughout the week different specialists enrich the afternoon with music, art, cooking, or faith-based character development. Ms. Baum sees this program’s broad reach incorporating academics, faith, and life skills as being part of her calling to work with urban youth in a non-traditional setting outside the classroom. The Common Place allows her to help the students “in academic as well as social and emotional development without just teaching to the test.” Her vision for The Common Place is to increase enrollment to the point of overflowing.

Our Presbytery has had a rich history at this particular corner, and while names, leadership, and programming may have changed over its 100+ year existence, its commitment to serve its neighbors with the love of Jesus Christ has not. The Common Place continues to house New Spirit Community Church, a now-growing community under the leadership of soon-to-be ordained Christopher Holland. Through a creative partnership with Wayne Presbyterian Church, this corner in Southwest Philadelphia has entered yet another chapter of faithful ministry to this neighborhood. Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle serves both as the Minister for Mission at Wayne, as well as the Organizing Pastor of The Common Place. Monthly, The Common Place holds worship for its neighbors, an evening service which is “kid-led, pastor approved.”

A sign of hope for this community for the past century, the building at 58th and Chester has changed names and faces, but continues to be about the work of Jesus Christ, building up our next generation so they can feel God’s love not only through words and emotional connections, but through the tangible support of a practical program that shows these youth they matter. The old stone structure is after all, just a building. It is the movement of the Holy Spirit that makes this space a home for all of God’s children to be known, loved, and set on the right path for their future.

Planting Seeds of Hope and Community Formation: Urban Gardens at Broad Street Ministry, by Rev. Greg Klimovitz

How can a worshipping community respond to the increased disconnect with both creation and neighbor? Since the spring of 2016, Broad Street Ministry has cultivated urban gardens in various neighborhoods around Philadelphia. The harvest of these plots has resulted not only in fresh produce for meals that serve upwards of 400 guests, but also opportunities for members of the faith community to strengthen relationships as they work the earth together.

“We have become more than ever before disconnected from the land, disconnected from where our food comes from, and disconnected from one another,” remarked Rev. Samantha Evans of Broad Street Ministry. “We talk about reconciliation all the time- reconciliation with our neighbors, reconciliation among community members, and reconciliation in our city and in our world. If we are to get there, I think it starts with the land.”

An initiative birthed through a Great Ends Grant of the Presbytery and Rev. Evans’ ministry as a pastoral resident through 1001 Worshiping Communities, these urban gardens have grown into a new avenue for community formation, education, and theological reflection. Members of Broad Street Ministry and young people who participate in their youth initiative navigate the complexities of urban farming as they intersect with the pressing realities of poverty, homelessness, and pervasive hunger in Philadelphia. As much as they dig their hands into the dirt and plant seeds into the ground, they also reflect on Scripture and God’s concern for both people and creation. In the end, their collective harvest of green tomatoes, radishes, beans, cabbage, zucchini, kale, and wild onions become essential ingredients in Broad Street Ministry’s community meals open to their vulnerable neighbors. In 2016, the gardens provided nearly 320 pounds of local produce. The goal for 2017 is 1,000 pounds to strengthen their extensions of radical hospitality, stewardship of God’s earth, and assurance that God is at work in their midst.

“When we [the church] say we hope for transformation it is sometimes hard to see it,” Rev. Evans noted. “But when you plant a seed and it turns into something, it is a concrete ‘yes’ that something is happening.”

The ministry of organic, urban farming is a testament to what is possible when God’s people steward their time, talents, and collective energies to create something together. As our congregations and worshipping communities continue wrestle with new ways to foster community connections and work towards reconciliation, Broad Street Ministry dares us to consider the land as one possible starting place. After all, the kingdom of God is like the smallest of seeds.

Evening the Score: Basketball Ministry alongside Kids with Special Needs in Bryn Mawr

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Rev. Greg Klimovitz || November 4, 2016

Every Saturday for eight weeks, nearly 75 youth with various special needs along with 200-plus supportive friends, family, and members of the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church gather in their gym for Game Day. As the players enter the court, names are announced, fans wave pompoms in the air, and teammates and coaches exchange high fives in an atmosphere as electric as any sports venue. The athletes’ ages range from six to twenty and, for many, this is the first time they have been afforded an opportunity to play on a real basketball team, put on a real uniform, and play in a real game.

This is the ministry of Upward Basketball.

Launched in 2012, the Upward Basketball ministry at Bryn Mawr provides a significant witness of welcome to young people with special needs. The program draws participants from Phoenixville, Media, Springfield, Upper Merion, Villanova, Radnor, Gladwyne, Narberth, and Bryn Mawr, and surrounding areas, with registration for this season filling up in just six days. “I saw a need in the area,” commented Sarah Smith, member of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian and founding director of their Upward program. “There are so few recreational opportunities for kids with disabilities that mimic those of typical children. There might be ‘special’ programs but they are so ‘special’ they do not provide the game day experience…[At Upward] they feel like they are a part of something typical, that their neighbors, friends, and brothers and sisters get to do. We want to make it as typical as possible, not ‘less than’ at all.”

The Upward ministry at Bryn Mawr is everything but less than. While the season only lasts for two months, Upward Basketball has evolved into a year-round community for youth with special needs, their families, and those in the congregation who support this vital ministry. Upward hosts award ceremonies, organizes fellowship gatherings, facilitates tournaments, attends Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers’ games, and the athletes were even invited to scrimmage the Phoenixville Area High School boys basketball team this past spring. The goal of the games, community events, and intentional embellishments, is to provide a celebratory environment open and available to all young people regardless of their perceived limitations. “I cannot tell you how moved I was by the whole experience of Saturday morning,” remarked a parent of an Upward athlete. “Not only did I take great joy in watching Alex enjoy his first experience as part of a team, but I was in awe of the ‘veterans’ on both sides: how they cheered and encouraged one another and the newcomers.”

The impact of Upward Basketball extends beyond the athletes and their families. The whole congregation at Bryn Mawr, to include youth and adults, has embraced this transformative and inclusive ministry. Teenagers serve as coaches and announcers, adults volunteer as referees and scorekeepers, and others watch as energetic fans eager to affirm those who run up and down the court in pursuit of a basket. Bryn Mawr’s confirmation program has also incorporated a Saturday of service with Upward as a part of their holistic curriculum. Along the way, young people with special needs are valued as the whole persons they are so, when they arrive at youth group or Sunday worship, they are known by name not disability. “For me, it really is a visible expression of the kingdom of God,” remarked Rev. Kellen Smith, Associate Pastor at Bryn Mawr. “Anyone and everyone is invited to take part. As it relates to special needs, any young person with special needs is invited to come and be a part of the community. Any members of the church are invited to take part and have a meaningful role. It really is an intergenerational ministry.”

As congregations and faith-based ministries explore how to welcome and affirm the dignity of all people, Upward is a beautiful example of how athletics can serve as sacred channel to share the love of God. Even more, Upward echoes the message of Christ, who invited all to come, play, and join in the festivities of the kingdom of God. Thanks be to God for the basketball ministry at Bryn Mawr. They have truly evened the score alongside their beloved neighbors.

 

Sale of Sanctuary Leads to House Church of Hope: Trinity Presbyterian Church in Kensington

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Covenant Connections by Rev. Greg Klimovitz


Five years ago, Trinity Presbyterian’s willingness to be loosed from their historical building enabled the congregation to birth a sustained witness and oversee six transitional residences, host local recovery programs, convene conversations on peacemaking, and meet throughout the week for Bible study, prayer groups, and Sunday morning worship.

“Whacovcon_trinkt can we do to make this a safer and better community to live?” asked Commissioned Ruling Elder Roland Reeves of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Kensington. “We can’t just sit back.”

Located at the intersection of Cambria Street and Frankfurt Avenue, a corner known for increased drug activity and related violence, Trinity responded by reinventing themselves as both residential and worship community for those battling various forms of addiction. Previously gathered in their historical sanctuary a block away, Trinity sold their building, purchased a row home known to locals as the “drug house” and “shooting gallery,” and invested in critical repairs for their newly developed house church.

While the worshipping congregation of Trinity hovers around 15, their incarnation of the kingdom of God extends farther than traditional membership rolls. However, the community did not always welcome their ministry, especially as they sought to transform their block and new worship space from hostility to hope. “I’ll never forget the night I heard a knock on the door. Everybody in this community was standing at the door,” recalled Elder Reeves, who lived in the house for six months while in recovery five years ago. “They looked me in the face and said, ‘We don’t want you here. You can take your recovery programs and Jesus Christ talk; we don’t want you here. Two years later, over half those people are now involved [in our programs].”

Since that night, Elder Roland Reeves and the leadership of Trinity have continued to foster healthy relationships with their local neighbors and become a trusted sanctuary of solidarity. Their openness and hospitality has been the one constant of this Kensington church, regardless of location. “When we were across the street we didn’t turn anybody away,” remarked Clerk of Session, Cheryl Iredale. “We still have a love and affection for this community. We still want to grow and we still want to embrace anybody. We even keep our doors open during the worship service so people can see and come by and join us so we can reflect into their lives.”

Their zealous faith mirrored in a commitment to their neighborhood is why the Presbytery of Philadelphia and the Commission on Ministry have intentionally celebrated this small house church and, in July 2016, commissioned Elder Roland Reeves to shepherd this ministry. The enthusiasm by which he was endorsed assured Trinity Presbyterian that as they kept their doors open to local neighbors, their Presbytery would walk alongside them. “We honor the work of Trinity-Kensington and their response to a dramatically changed neighborhood,” remarked Elder Michael Smith, Co-Moderator of the Commission on Ministry. “Rather than joining the exodus, Roland and the congregation adapted their witness to the drastic changes and now provide a unique outpost where the church ministers alongside their neighbors in the city.”

In an era when many churches have become saddled by aging buildings and Christian witness reduced to maintenance of old structures, the collective ministry of Trinity Presbyterian reminds us of what can happen when a congregation leverages property as asset for new possibilities. As they have trusted the Spirit, Trinity has evolved into a house church of hope and declared to their neighbors there is always room for them among God’s people. We give thanks for the work and witness of Trinity and how they never cease to respond to Christ’s call right where they are and with whatever resources the Spirit has afforded them.

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Money, Mission, and Media: An Ecumenical Conversation within a New Pentecost

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Click here for a collection of resources from Money, Mission and Media

By Rev. Greg Klimovitz


In the truest sense, the recent Money, Mission, and Media event was an exercise in ecumenical networking and collaboration. A conversation imagined and developed by leadership of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod (ELCA), and the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, over 200 gathered from varied denominations to engage pertinent questions of stewardship and mission in an increasingly digital world. As Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace, Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, remarked, “This morning matters mostly because we are here together, across denominations…This conversation matters because we are indeed in a new Pentecost moment, speaking to people outside our perceived reality and comfort zones; speaking the languages of media and technology, hash-tagging, and more alongside those around us.”

The image of Pentecost ran as a common thread throughout Money, Mission, and Media. The various keynote presentations and panel discussions exposed how social networks and new technologies are likely opening broader possibilities to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ than dreamed possible by even the earliest Christians. “I want to suggest calling the time and place in which we as Christians occupy today as diaspora,” remarked Rev. Mihee Kim-Kort, one of the guest keynoters. “Diaspora becomes a radical site for integration.”

This integration occurs as churches engage social networks, websites, blogs, and various digital platforms for community formation and leverage God’s concern for our most vulnerable neighbors. In other words, the use of new media for the purpose of mission is deeply sacramental. Presbyterian Minister, Rev. Mihee Kim-Kort, added, “Participating in new media gives us occasions to enact and embody signs of grace.” This sacramental praxis is evident as leaders in the church faithfully utilize digital platforms to connect with mission partners, engage movements like #blacklivesmatter, solicit prayers through Facebook, host theological conversations on blogs, post photos of events via Instagram, and leverage stories of new initiatives through YouTube and other on-line video services.

The digital world also provides the church with holy opportunities to reimagine stewardship and our call to generosity. As a gathered and scattered people, we are invited to dream new ways to host conversations about giving wrapped in ministry narratives of hospitality, justice, and the church’s varied embodiments of the good news. “Given the consumer culture embracing all of us, the church avoids talking about money at its peril,” proposed Rev. Adam Copeland, Presbyterian Minister and Director of the Stewardship Center at Luther Seminary in Minneapolis. “New paradigms of generosity draw us closer to God and lead us to be in right relationship with money and possessions.” In a way, much like the church in the wake of Pentecost, new media helps us to hold all things in common and steward our money and message so the gospel can truly go viral- to the ends of the earth.

ruth_greg_etal_mm_m1This reality was celebrated through the event’s fishbowl conversation with local ministry practitioners. As Lutheran and Presbyterian ministers engaged the presenters, the conversation took on a real local favor and fostered solidarity and renewed possibility alongside those present. The same was true as Rev. Keith Anderson, Lutheran Pastor in Upper Dublin and author of Digital Cathedral, shared case study after case of how churches are putting into practice what was discussed throughout the day. “I appreciate the messiness of this time. Everything is in flux and up for grabs. It’s terrifying,” Rev. Anderson noted. “Yet it is completely beautiful and amazing because there is so much opportunity. Sometimes we let the fear and the anxiety and the worry get the best of us. We have to find ways to keep that at bay by surrounding ourselves with people like who are gathered here today, living into and trusting what God has in store will be done moving forward.”

This was the goal of Money, Mission, and Media from the very beginning. As scattered saints throughout the Philadelphia area gathered for this ecumenical conversation, the Spirit hovered and the echoes of Pentecost were ever-present. May we dare to trust this Spirit as we move forward, committed to be faithful stewards of God’s generosity, grace, and mission in an increasingly digital world.

Draw the Circle Wide: Youth Mission and Conversations on Race, Bias, and Privilege

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by Rev. Greg Klimovitz


Something sacred happens when the church creates space for young people to form community across various lines of division. This was evident in the summer of 2016, as the youth ministry of Abington Presbyterian Church partnered with Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church* in Baltimore. Fourteen youth from this suburban Philadelphia congregation participated with over thirty inner city Baltimore children from Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary School as part of Brown Memorial’s week-long music camp. “So many times in that week it was clear we were on holy ground- all of us reaching toward God,” said Rev. Diane Jamison Fitch, Associate Pastor at Abington Presbyterian Church.

While the rehearsals, daily programming, and end-of-week concert were central to the youths’ role as camp counselors, what was of equal value was the way the week provided a platform for young people to intersect with the realities of race, bias, and privilege. Originally scheduled for one weekend in 2015, the trip was postponed due to concerns related to the death of Freddie Gray. This year’s week-long trip raised awareness about how various social, economic, and racial injustices infringe upon the well-being of the very children with whom youth spent their week. “[At first] we felt like strangers,” said Caroline, member of the youth choir. “But through learning together and playing together, we quickly got to know one another and felt so comfortable together.”

As youth sang, colored, played, and ate meals alongside Eutaw-Marshburn kids, they also learned about the breakdown of the local public school system, budget and faculty cuts to music, arts, and education programs, lack of access to proper nutrition, and socio-economic obstacles many urban children encounter that impact learning potential. Abington youth even witnessed first-hand how the church stood in these gaps alongside their local neighbors, daring them to return home with a revitalized holy imagination. Rev. Jamison Fitch commented, “The question raised [by youth] was what can we do in our own context and our own community?”

In facilitated conversations, youth and adults brainstormed about how to engage their own local contexts. In small groups with paper and markers in hand, they listed whatever ideas came to mind about ministry and mission possibilities in Abington Township. Youth then exchanged worksheets and discussed what would be most meaningful and feasible to consider developing alongside their neighbors in their townships and school districts. “Students also raised the possibility with a sense of hopefulness and just curiosity,” noted John Sall, Director of Music Ministries at Abington. “Could we do something like this with ministry partners in this presbytery, with congregations and ministries that are happening within the Presbytery of Philadelphia, [and] with ministries that are already relationally connected with us?”

At the conclusion of the week, youth of Abington and children of Eutaw-Marshburn united their voices before local members of the community, congregation, and families of the elementary children as part of a collaborative concert. Together, they sang a selection that captured the spirit of the week and the call of the youth, “Let this be our song! Let this be our prayer. No one stands alone. Standing side by side, draw the circle, draw the circle wide!” (“Draw the Circle Wide,” by Mark Miller).

As the youth returned from their week in Baltimore, these lyrics turned liturgy framed many of their reflections. How would they draw the circle wider than their own congregation? How would they expand the circumference of God’s love in Jesus Christ to include neighbors across various socio-economic and racial lines? How could their understanding of church mission transcend a week-long trip and become a part of how they live into their call in their school districts, townships, and through presbytery partnerships?
These questions are all of our questions, too. May the whole church dare to have the same holy curiosity evident in the youth of Abington as we draw the circles of God’s kingdom wider still. In so doing, we just may encounter something very sacred in the very communities we call home. We just may encounter what it means to be called children of God.

Small Churches Host Large Expressions of Service and Hospitality

Rev. Greg Klimovitz || May 27, 2016

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What can a church, whose worship attendance hovers around 70, do to engage their local community? The faithful saints who gather at First Presbyterian Church in Springfield (Flourtown) connected with local mission partners and area churches to host over 200 neighbors for a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. Children, youth, parents, grandparents, and other adults from both the congregation and Flourtown neighborhood packed the fellowship hall as they served alongside one another to make blankets for Meals on Wheels recipients, hoagies for Whosoever Gospel Mission, greeting cards for Philabundance, and freshly-baked cookies for Welcome Church care packages. Aware the congregation’s demographic did not reflect their larger community, with only a handful of children present on any given Sunday, the MLK Day of Service enabled Flourtown to form new relationships with young families in their neighborhood while strengthening bonds with local mission partners.

“What we learned from MLK Day was that we can still provide meaningful family ministry even when we don’t have a slew of young children on our rolls,” remarked Beth Bauer, Ruling Elder and Chair of the Committee on Community Outreach. “It has been a real blessing for us to have this shift in attitude about who we are and what we can accomplish. We have been able to stop lamenting about who is not here on Sundays and think more about how we can do youth [and family] ministry in new and different ways.”

A 2015 Great Ends Grant recipient from the Presbytery of Philadelphia, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service reenergized the Flourtown congregation and shifted their narrative from perceived limitations to renewed possibilities in and around the church. Even their newly-installed pastor, Rev. Kevin Ireland, was moved by the gathering, “Being able to serve together, side by side not only with members of our church family, but other congregations, neighbors and passionate people in our community, allowed us to see all that can be done together when we show up ready to be included in what God is doing in Flourtown and beyond!”

In addition to the faithful of Flourtown, Church on the Mall in Plymouth Meeting is yet another witness of a small congregation willing to host large expressions of hospitality. While Church on the Mall’s worship attendance averages around 40, every first Friday of the month upwards of 100 congregants, local neighbors, and passer-bys gather in their worship space turned dining hall for a free meal and fellowship. A 2015 Covenant Fund grant recipient, Church on the Mall has creatively leveraged their strategic location, passion for hospitality, and commitment to their community for the purposes of an intentional and gracious ministry of welcome.

“We wanted to play to our strengths,” remarked Rev. Sarah Colwill. “We have an ideal location that is easy to get to both by bus or car. We also have a wonderful multi-purpose space that is accessible and conducive to nice large table gatherings…We wanted to use our space and our commitment to reaching out to strangers.”

As the congregation has been open to utilize their assets for thoughtful ministry, Church on the Mall has renewed their sense of purpose, call, and commitment to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. Members of the congregation have taken ownership of this ministry as they decorate, promote, serve, cater, and extend invitations to the monthly meals. Rev. Colwill added, “While always strong in their call to hospitality, this ministry has enabled [the church] to show this Christian welcome to many more people than was possible on Sunday mornings alone. This ministry has helped us to know that we are still needed in our specific time and place for the spreading of the Good News.”

In this season of Pentecost, the community ministries of Flourtown and Church on the Mall remind us the wind of God’s Spirit continues to blow in and through our smaller churches wherever they are. As our congregations open their doors, unfold tables, serve meals, weave blankets, and look for opportunities to engage local neighbors with the Good News of Jesus Christ, we give thanks for their ministry among us. Even more, we pray their witness spurs all of us to small and large expressions of service and hospitality deeply needed in the world today.