At a time when the economic and social challenges continue to plague our cities, it is important that the church, through our congregations and the Presbytery of Philadelphia, seek new ways to bring Gospel hope to places where despair and hopelessness reside. It is important that we support church and ministry models that embrace social entrepreneurship and embody the Gospel message by engaging in ministries that are innovative, relevant, and incarnational.
In 2005 the Chambers-Wylie Memorial Presbyterian Church building sat on South Broad Street in Philadelphia, shuttered and forlorn. Yet in the shadows of this darkened building, a bustling and vibrant arts scene was springing up along Broad Street. The pastors of Bryn Mawr, First Philadelphia, Old Pine, First Germantown, Chestnut Hill, and Wayne had a vision for a ministry with and for this lively arts community. Led by Rev. Bill Golderer, Broad Street Ministry (BSM) was born in May of that year, worshipping once monthly on Sunday evenings.
No one then could have imagined what has emerged from that once darkened building. What began with the conviction and prayerful hope of six churches and an urban pastor has grown into a ministry supported financially by sixteen congregations and the Presbytery. Monthly worship services soon became weekly. BSM began a monthly meal called “No Barriers Dinner,” referred to as “Philadelphia’s most dangerous dinner party,” which grew into community meals called “Breaking Bread” that now serve more than 1,000 guests each week.
Hospitality has always been a core value for BSM. Over the years, BSM has adapted its programs and services to meet the spiritual needs of the arts community while also meeting the spiritual and physical needs of “at risk” populations. BSM remains a “broad-minded Christian community,” with Presbyterian roots “that cherishes creativity, [and] fosters and nurtures artistic expression,” as is evident in its rollicking worship services. Its expansion has also led to the formation of a 501c(3) – which allows BSM to attract the support of many prominent Philadelphia foundations, businesses, and non-profits.
Yet ironically, BSM’s presence at Chambers-Wylie has kept it from doing even more. Since 2005 the Trustees of the Presbytery have worked with BSM’s Board to maintain the building and endorse BSM’s capital improvement initiatives, such as adding a commercial grade kitchen. As part of its commitment, the Presbytery has invested nearly $1 million, including over $500,000 in utilities and building maintenance and $279,500 in capital expenditures and grants, for BSM. Both the Trustees and the BSM Board recognized that for BSM to gain greater investment and support for its ministries, they needed to demonstrate permanency to grant-makers and philanthropic groups. In response, the Trustees and the BSM Board began exploring ways to turn over the Chambers-Wylie building to Broad Street Ministry.
As Broad Street Ministry approaches its 9th Birthday, BSM and the Presbytery prepare to celebrate another milestone. On May 20th, the Presbytery’s Trustees and Leadership Collegium will celebrate and affirm Broad Street Ministry by recommending that the Presbytery sell the Chambers-Wylie building and facilities to BSM for $1. This agreement will allow BSM to continue flourishing in response to the social and economic challenges of the inner city. And, it will allow the Presbytery to give new life to an old building, and be a witness to God’s reign on one of the now most prominent streets in Philadelphia.
As a Presbytery, we continue to be open to the power of God’s Spirit breaking into our midst and calling us forth into new ways of being and doing ministry. As a covenant community, we are committed to equipping the saints – empowering and supporting our churches – to fully exhibit the ministry of hospitality, compassion, and grace of Jesus Christ in imaginative ways.