“How can the church create a ministry that will fill in the gap for our kids?”
This was the very question leadership of the Cedar Park Presbyterian Church and their pastor, Rev. Dr. Janel Dixon, asked upon her arrival in 2013. Located at the intersection of Limekiln Pike and East Upsal Street in West Oak Lane, Cedar Park is neighbor to the Penny Packer Elementary School, one of many struggling Philadelphia public schools.
Rev. Dr. Dixon added, “Knowing what the educational system is like right now [in Philadelphia], the school itself is at a disadvantage…We felt moved that if we were going to do something that’s meaningful, perhaps it was in this context to work with children and families who need the additional support that a church can give.”
This conviction spurred Cedar Park to launch Kidz Klub in the fall of 2014. A recipient of the Presbytery’s Covenant Fund each of the last two years, Kidz Klub is a Saturday enrichment program offered to local children in kindergarten through eighth grade. The initiative promotes acpkkcademic excellence, faith formation, and good citizenship through exploration of the arts, conversations about faith, coordination of field trips, and discussions about cultural heritage and history. Given the inability of local schools to provide basic essentials to students, let alone extracurricular opportunities pertinent to social and academic development, the Kidz Klub program has graciously filled these recreational and educational gaps for a number of Penny Packer students.
The positive response to the Kidz Klub program ultimately led to the launch of a week-long version of their enrichment program from August 3-7, 2015. In partnership with Grace Presbyterian Church in Jenkintown, approximately 12 children were paired with high school, college, and adult volunteers as mentors and camp counselors. The daily schedule included conversations about race and reconciliation, math and literacy workshops, Bible study, arts and crafts, and recreational trips to bowling alleys and supporting congregations like Grace Presbyterian, which opened their gym to the students and volunteers.
Eugene Campher, ruling elder at Cedar Park Presbyterian, celebrated the ministry, “I was just watching the interactions as the week went on and, wow, the whole spirit of [the enrichment program] just grew and grew and grew…it was a great time.”
This generative spirit, rooted in collaboration and hospitality, has been critical not only to the Kidz Club, but also related initiatives birthed through the leadership of the Cedar Park Presbyterian Church. As they have remained open to the needs of their neighbors and conversant with partnering congregations and leadership in their public schools, Cedar Park has expanded their efforts of hospitality and solidarity. This past school year, after numerous conversations with the new principal of Penny Packer Elementary School, Cedar Park sponsored an African American Heritage essay contest and adopted a first and fifth grade class, providing mentoring, tutoring, and essential classroom materials for teachers and students alike. Rev. Dr. Dixon commented, “If our churches, particularly smaller churches in the city, if we are going to have a viable witness, if we are going to survive throughout this century….it’s going to take this kind of paradigm- to collaborate in ministry and witness and mission together.”
The collaborative witness and missional identity of Cedar Park has enabled their ministry not only to survive but also to thrive. Along with the Kidz Klub ministry, the outreach of Cedar Park members has extended to neighbors of all ages. In both 2014 and 2015, the faithful of this congregation received a Great Ends Grant through the Diakonos Fund to launch and sustain their Coffee Coupe. Originally coordinated as a free bread distribution, the Coffee Coupe has transformed into a “non-traditional worshipping community.” On any given Wednesday, approximately 60 neighbors venture to the church for a nutritious lunch, hospitable environment, thoughtful conversation, and brief reflections on Scripture. Much like the Kidz Klub, the Coffee Coupe ministry has been a holistic and cooperative response to the needs of their neighborhood.
Whether the Kidz Klub Enrichment Program or the mid-week Coffee Coupe, we give thanks for the intentional ministry and witness of Cedar Park Presbyterian as they respond to God’s call in Northwest Philadelphia. This vibrant and diverse congregation faithfully fills in various gaps in their community and generates hope alongside neighbors of all ages.
Please click below to listen to an extended interview with Rev. Dr. Janel Dixon and Elder Eugene Campher.