Church Safety as Witness of Hospitality and Love of Neighbor: Elkins Park Presbyterian Church

By Rev. Greg Klimovitz

Listen to the Conversation Here 

When church buildings are utilized as public gathering spaces, congregations are afforded tremendous opportunities to engage their local communities. This openness also increases the need for regular conversations about safety and the readiness to respond to potential emergency situations. Over the last year, the faithful of Elkins Park Presbyterian Church have recognized the urgency of these conversations and committed to ensure their space cultivates not only hospitality and welcome in Abington Township, but also an environment of responsibility and sanctuary for congregants and visitors alike.

The intentionality of the Elkins Park Presbyterian Church (EPPC), located a block away from a public school, fire department, and Second Alarmers Rescue Squad, has led to their designation as the emergency evacuation site for local schools, coordination of situational awareness and CPR trainings, full-scale inspections of their building for safety and accessibility, and even the conduction of a fire drill at the end of worship this past Pentecost. Each of these measures was pursued in light of Elkins Park’s theological commitment to love their neighbors as themselves. “If you are going to come here as a new worshiper, you want to feel safe, that you could bring your children. If you are an ailing adult or your spouse is in a wheelchair, you do not want to feel that the space is unwelcoming,” remarked Rev. Cynthia Betz-Bogoly, pastor of EPPC and certified EMT. “It is this combination of safety and welcome- our conversations [as a congregation] are often that way. How is this safe, efficient, appropriate, and shows hospitality?”

As the leadership continued to affirm their desire to be open to their neighbors, EPPC also recognized the variable risks that could jeopardize this intentional balance of safety and welcome. Many of the risks they encountered were related to their physical structure and required greater knowledge about a potential evacuation of the premises in the event of an emergency. This was especially important to the EPPC congregation, as many of their members and visitors have physical disabilities. In efforts to be hospitable to all God’s children, Rev. Betz-Bogoly contacted the local police department for a free inspection of their property and the development of a comprehensive report related to their building’s ease of access, egress, and other safety measures. The findings led to both minor and more involved enhancements to their physical space that enabled their witness both to congregation and the broader community to be more inclusive and responsible.

In addition to the safety of their physical building, EPPC also became increasingly aware of how all congregations are vulnerable to intruders due to being an intersection point for varied relationships among congregants, families, local residents, employees, and other patrons on their premises. As a church that hosts community programs, a daycare, and serves as an election polling place, EPPC was moved to tap into the relationships they have with local school administrators and first responders, some who are church members, to empower, equip, and educate leaders to recognize and respond to potential threats. While there is a temptation for congregations to be on the offensive related to these security measures, Rev. Betz Bogoly noted how local law enforcement urged the congregation instead to develop discernment tools to be situationally aware. “Houses of worship should not be equipped to go to battle,” Rev. Betz-Bogoly remarked. “They are to be aware [and] to be hospitable.”

This approach of responsible awareness has led to thoughtful trainings of ushers, greeters, program leaders, and members of session in efforts to increase their collective ability to recognize and respond to potential dangers in both low and highly trafficked occasions. “I have always thought of our church facilities as a place for worship and fellowship,” added Phyllis Sharman, ruling elder and property chairperson at EPPC. “Now I also think about how I can keep people safe when they are here.” These situational awareness trainings have also helped to reduce potential responses to visitors and circumstances out of angst, ignorance, prejudice, and implicit bias, further testaments to EPPC’s commitment to safety and hospitality. “If I am supposed to care for the people of God, then part of that caring is ensuring that the place that I am inviting them to worship, fellowship, and study is safe and not of danger to them,” added Rev. Betz-Bogoly. “It is a place that is not only physically safe, but also that feels socially and culturally safe and is a place where they would want others to come.”

As our congregations continue to open their places of worship and recreational facilities to the public, the witness of Elkins Park Presbyterian Church reminds us of the call to safety as an extension of hospitality. Our willingness to prepare for potential emergencies in our highly trafficked premises and assure our most sacred spaces are accessible to all proclaims the good news that in the church everyone is welcome and their lives valued. In this way, the church is able to offer a more holistic invitation not only to members of the congregation, but also and especially local neighbors in search of safe space to worship, play, and participate in the life of the faith community.

Practical Steps for Churches to Improve Safety and Awareness as Suggested by EPPC: 

  1. Annual planned fire drills as part of worship
  2. Annual walks through the building and property by session and relevant church leadership to explore safety measures
  3. Contact local police department and inquire about free building inspections for safety and security
  4. Develop a list of church members who are trained in varied emergency responses who could be contacted in the event of an emergency. Make public to leadership.
  5. Develop intentional relationships with local schools, emergency responders, and public officials to make church available in the event of an emergency within the community.
  6. Host situational awareness trainings, CPR trainings, and other pertinent educational opportunities to equip and empower congregational and community leaders.
  7. Frame safety and security as an extension of our commitment to the gospel and care and concern for our neighbors, especially those most vulnerable in the event of an emergency.

Other Resources:
https://presbyphl.org/leadership/commissions/finance/cfm-workshops-resources/
https://www.presbyterianmission.org/legal-resources/emergency-plans/
https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/33007

Listen to the story here:

 

Clean Water and the Ministry of Reconciliation: Local Congregations Partner with Living Waters for the World


Rev. Greg Klimovitz || May 4, 2018

An estimated 2.1 billion people worldwide lack access to clean water [1]. Whether in remote international communities or urban and rural U.S. neighborhoods, the inability to attain this basic human need is one of the greatest tragedies of our day. Aware of this broken reality, the faithful of Lower Providence and First Presbyterian Church in Ambler have each partnered with Living Waters for the World, a ministry of the PCUSA’s Synod of Living Waters, to provide filtration systems alongside congregations in developing nations.

Since 2008, Lower Providence Presbyterian Church (LPPC) has collaborated with Living Waters to install nine total systems in Kenya, India, and Cuba. This ministry partnership began when Kary and Nanette LaFors, members of the LPPC Serving Committee, prayerfully walked alongside the leadership of their congregation and discerned a call to live into biblical story of God’s reconciliation of both people and land. “It’s a relational ministry, which drew me to it, because it talks about reconciliation,” remarked Nanette LaFors. “God made the world good and he wants us to have a good life. That is a part of it- we want to restore [human life and creation] to being good.” After attending Clean Water U, an exploratory training program offered by Living Waters and initially funded through grants of the Presbyterian Women, they identified partners in international congregations and linked ecumenical arms with churches from Washington to Conshohocken to work towards God’s mission of reconciliation.

As Lower Providence has equipped their leaders and empowered international hosts to maintain and freely distribute this newly-purified water, the health of individuals and local relationships have been transformed. Even more, violence and crime, some that targeted the church, has been reduced. Kary LaFors recalled stories shared when they returned to their partner congregation in Holguin, Cuba following a 2017 hurricane, “After the clean water systems were installed, nobody was throwing rocks at the church, people from the community- not members of the congregation- come and help and clean up around the church, and the crime rates dropped.” This is a testament to the kind of reconciliation that can occur when God’s people intercede on behalf of those who lack access to a vital necessity for human life and flourishing.

In addition to Lower Providence, the First Presbyterian Church of Ambler has also leveraged a new Living Waters partnership in Haiti. After a 2016 Lenten book study, The Hole in Our Gospel, the Ambler Church earmarked for this initiative the balance of their capital campaign and was awarded a Covenant Fund through the Presbytery. Since then, they have sent and provided supplemental funding for 25 members to install and manage their first filtration system alongside Haitian neighbors. A representation of the church will return for a second install in May of this year. “You look at all the social and cultural issues in Haiti and they are hard to address,” remarked Rev. Ryan Balsan, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Ambler. “But when you go there, work with Haitian people, and you address the needs in a particular community, you find that you are part of the answer. I believe it is part of God’s answer to the brokenness of the world.”

While tempting for congregations to reduce mission to international, short-term experiences, the Living Waters partnerships of these two congregations has also had a reverse impact. Their intentional collaborations have empowered church members to engage their immediate contexts with intentional embodiments of the gospel. Whether through collaborations with interfaith networks to combat local poverty or the purchase and rehabilitation of homes that benefit families in economic transitions, these congregations are tirelessly working to address the needs of their near and distant neighbors. This is what Rev. Balsan refers to as a positive missional feedback loop, “[By] responding to God’s call to respond to the needs of people throughout the world, our eyes have been opened not only to the needs there, but also the needs here.” The same holds true for the saints of Lower Providence. “Mission has been an incredible unifying force in who we are as people of faith. That has been critical,” said Rev. Ted Mingle, pastor of Lower Providence Presbyterian Church. “We come together through mission through Jesus Christ in reaching our local community and our global community.”

As churches from around our Presbytery continue to discern God’s call to participate in the reconciliation of the world, we give thanks for the local and international witness of First Presbyterian Church of Ambler and Lower Providence Presbyterian Church. Their collective efforts to provide vulnerable communities access to clean water are glimpses into what is possible when we live into our discipleship as followers of Jesus, who is the Living Water of both body and spirit.

[1] http://www.who.int/en/news-room/detail/12-07-2017-2-1-billion-people-lack-safe-drinking-water-at-home-more-than-twice-as-many-lack-safe-sanitation

You can listen to the interviews here:

Part 1:

Part 2:

 

 

Partnering with the Seminary and Local Church for Revitalized Gospel Witness: Ministry and Leadership Incubator 2018

A First Place of Welcome: Transitional Housing Ministry for Refugees at Ardmore Presbyterian Church

Rev. Greg Klimovitz | January 27, 2018

What is the church called to do in a time when there are an estimated 61 million refugees around the world?  How are we to respond when distant neighbors made in God’s image flee homelands ravished by war, engulfed by pervasive poverty, and overwhelmed by oppressive regimes?

Since February of 2017, the faithful of Ardmore Presbyterian Church have facilitated a transitional house and hospitality initiative known as First Place. A recent Covenant Fund grant recipient of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, First Place is one of two approved Philadelphia residences that provides a fully-furnished apartment and community of support for the first thirty days of a refugee’s resettlement. Over the course of the last year, federal government agencies have referred to First Place 28 refugees from Sudan, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Guatemala, and Honduras. “We are kind of the initial caregiving people, the people who show the initial welcoming to the folks who come in,” remarked Rev. Sturgis Poorman, Parish Associate at Ardmore and Coordinator of First Place. “We try to show Christ’s love to the folks that come in, whoever they are.”

Ardmore Presbyterian Church has over a century’s worth of history of extending welcome to refugees, whether to new arrivals from Italy in the early 1900’s or refugees from Hungary in the aftermath of World War II.  Initially funded by a bequest from the June Reid Estate, First Place builds upon their tenured witness of hospitality with a commitment to love those who flee contexts of oppression and seek refuge in the Ardmore community. The ministry also exists as a unifying mission for a congregation with a broad range of socio-political convictions. “There is no dissension, as far as I can tell, around the whole First Place,” noted Mary Ann Blair, member of the First Place Task Force. “It’s a uniting theme in the congregation and among the ruling elders of the church.”

This spirit of unity around a topic that often evokes polarized disagreements is largely due to the relational nature of the ministry that moves the refugee crisis from controversial and abstract issue to real people with names, faces, and stories. Ardmore has even hosted families with young children, with whom they can relate in a unique way. “I think [the launch of First Place] speaks to the realization of ‘who is my neighbor?’” remarked Rev. James Hodsden, Pastor of the Ardmore Presbyterian Church. “I think the congregation has been willing to jump behind it and be supportive because your neighbor is someone who is right there…People are willing to show hospitality to someone who is right in front of them.”

As the congregation has welcomed these distant neighbors now right in front of them, they have begun to share resources and foster community alongside diverse friends at the beginnings of a fresh start in a new country. “What is sort of exciting about First Place,” said Rev. Hodsden, “is that each family and each person that comes through is dealing with a different set of circumstances. We might discover that there is this person in the congregation would be a great resource for this particular [guest at First Place]. And the next person that comes in, this person over here in the congregation has wonderful resources that could help.”

Aware that each refugee receives a one-time government benefit of only $925, youth and adult members of the church have generously provided for various needs ranging from bikes to breakfast, networks for prospective employment to an all-utilities paid apartment. First Place has also partnered with a consortium of churches in Wayne to connect one teenager with a local family who has embraced him as their own as he completes his education at Radnor High School. “These folks are not just numbers. They have names,” Rev. Poorman shared as he read through a litany of those who have been guests at First Place.

In the midst of this global refugee crisis, we give thanks for the witness of First Place and the saints of Ardmore Presbyterian Church. Their faithfulness has modeled the teachings of Jesus with generosity and grace to their named neighbors from distant lands. As congregations and worshipping communities scattered throughout our presbytery likewise wrestle with the complexities of the ongoing refugee crisis, may we also dare to embody a common understanding of Jesus’ call to love the strangers among us. May we do so in a manner that transcends the polarization of politics and seeks the unifying mission of welcome to those longing for refuge and a new place to call home. After all, this just may be what it means to be the people of God in such a time as this.

Listen below to an audio interview:

Church as Playful and Prophetic: Ministry at The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill

New Doors Open to New Neighbors: Arch Street Presbyterian Church’s Ministry in the Shadows of a Corporate Giant

by Rev. Greg Klimovitz

What opportunities is the Spirit exposing when the neighborhood around your congregation rapidly changes and shifts the cultural landscape surrounding your sanctuary? This is a question churches must ask to ensure their ministry is both faithful and relevant.

But what is a congregation called to do when this question is raised because the newest neighbor in town is a Fortune 50 corporation who has constructed a skyscraper next door?

This is the unique challenge leadership of Arch Street Presbyterian Church has faced since 2008, when Comcast first opened the doors to their state-of-the-art, high-rise corporate complex a mere sidewalk-width away from their 162 year-old church. While many may have been tempted to collapse in the shadows of this entrepreneurial giant, possibly digging in their heels to prepare for battle, leadership of Arch Street instead adapted their witness and rediscovered holy opportunities for renewed community formation on their block of Center City.

“What are you prepared to do and how are you prepared to behave and how are you prepared to pivot in a way that takes into account these potential threats and not get defensive and not be paralyzed by fear,” Rev. Bill Golderer, pastor of the Arch Street Presbyterian Church, has asked with regularity. “[We must] recognize that what is being asked of you is to figure out what faithfulness means inside what could be understood as a threat.”

One way Arch Street figured out faithfulness has been through literally pivoting their witness and flipping their historical main entrance along 18th and Arch Streets to the newly formed terrace in the back that connects skyscraper and sanctuary. As Arch Street has become more of a loading and unloading zone, with minimal foot traffic and less visibility for the church, the congregation carved out new openings with three doors in the wall of their St. David’s Chapel. While the quaint chapel at the building’s south side remains an open worship space, it now has expanded functionality for varied formative gatherings and fellowship opportunities accessible to those who may never have previously set foot into the church. This project, officially dedicated on Monday, increases the probability that employees who come in and out of the Comcast Center, locals who rest in the plaza’s green space, and others who pass by in their pedestrianizing can find their way into what God is doing in this faith community. “We’re trying to figure out again how we can be a blessing on this corner in the future,” commented Rev. Mike Pulsifer (HR), who previously served as moderator of an Administrative Commission to Arch Street and now calls this congregation his home.

The new entrances attest to Arch Street’s refusal to fear the giant and instead to bless with welcome and unhinged hospitality those the giant draws to their shared corner. This redemptive posture has been assumed as they have recognized that along with their new corporate neighbor comes an influx of fresh cultivators of God’s dreams for a world made right and whole again. As Rev Golderer added, “There are believers all in these buildings. They’re everywhere…This church’s space is [now] a convening space to surface the agents of the invisible church who are kingdom workers, on their terms not ours. We are not here to turn them into pledging units but to help organize, coalesce, and unleash their capacity in the world.”

Arch Street Presbyterian Church, much like other congregations throughout the Presbytery of Philadelphia, has regularly wrestled with questions related to inherited real estate, property management, budget constraints, membership fluctuation, and an evolving community context. Along the way, the faithful have returned again and again to their central call to be the Church of Jesus Christ right where they are with whatever assets they possess- including the ability to install new doors. Their leadership has released grips on tired models of ministry and covenanted to the exploration of new metrics of fidelity, ecumenical partnerships for resurrection possibilities, and a willingness to take costly risks for the sake of the Gospel. In so doing, Arch Street has not only become agile enough to flip their building one-hundred-and-eighty degrees, but also opened a preschool for children of families across socio-economic divides, hosted world-renown choral benefit concerts, facilitated public discussions with local officials on issues facing their city, engaged in interfaith bridge building, and even forged a relationship with this global corporation whose employees just may become cultivated companions in genuine expressions of neighborly love. All of this is the work of a church that, nearly a decade ago, dwindled to only a handful of members uncertain about their future.

As our congregations continue to ask questions about relevance within evolving community contexts, may the witness of Arch Street Presbyterian Church serve as invitation to carve new openings for faithful witness. Where there are supposed threats to the work of the Spirit and the movement of God’s people, may the faithful choose not to collapse in the shadows of giants and instead construct new entrances for ministry partnerships. When what once were gateways to sacred spaces are no longer trafficked by our neighbors, may the church be willing to pivot and reconfigure in such a way that extends hospitality and welcome to new residents gathering around us. When tempted to be paralyzed in fear about the future or to dig our heels into protecting and preserving what always has been, may we hear the call of Christ to be willing to loose our grips and expend everything for the hope of the gospel. After all, the call of the church is to point to the person and work of Jesus Christ whose kingdom doors are always open to whomever seeks entry.

New doors at the grand opening.

Comcast Center is to the far right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio Excerpts from Interview with Rev. Bill Golderer and Rev. Mike Pulsifer (HR). 

Read more about Arch Street Presbyterian Church’s recent project in an article by The Inquirer last November: http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20161127_Venerable_Arch_St__church_embraces_the_busy_environs_its_corporate_neighbor_creates.html

Bearing One Another’s Burdens in Bucks County: Ministry Alongside Families Battling Addiction

Rev. Greg Klimovitz

In 2012, The Presbyterian Church of Deep Run lost one of their youngest members, Anna Straw, to a heroine overdose. She was 19 years old. The tragic death of one of their own was a wake-up call to the congregation to view addiction no longer as an abstract issue, but as a very real disease being battled by members of their communities, families, and churches. Even more, the passing of Anna Straw awakened within the faithful a holy empathy and desire to bear the burdens (Galatians 6:2) alongside families in their congregation and surrounding neighborhood whose loved ones battled addiction.

“After Anna’s death, we could no longer say this is a problem ‘out there,’” remarked Rev. Kris Schondelmeyer, pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Deep Run. “This very much is a problem right here in the midst of our own community, indeed right here in the midst of our own faith community.”

In the middle of their grief, the saints of this Bucks County church rallied alongside Anna Straw’s parents and inaugurated the Anna Straw Initiative. A separate 501c(3) partnership with The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania (CSP), this initiative offers a PRO-ACT Family Education Program and monthly support group to those whose loved ones battle addiction, strive towards recovery, and grieve in the wake of tragic death. The Anna Straw Initiative ultimately provides safe space and community on a monthly basis for those who frequently experience shame and isolation. “Jesus intentionally reached out to those who were sick, those who were struggling, those who were vulnerable,” added Rev. Schondelmeyer. “We are providing safe and sacred space for vulnerable people who are struggling with a loved one’s addiction while we offer the compassionate hands of Christ [and] teach them about this terrible, chronic disease.”

The Presbyterian Church of Deep Run is not alone in their efforts to extend the compassion of Christ alongside families strained by addiction and loss. Thompson Memorial and Doylestown Presbyterian Churches also have developed programs in partnership with CSP in light of their own experiences with the loss of church members to the devastating realities of addiction. In 2016, after an elder from each congregation witnessed children die from alcoholism, the two congregations began to collaborate and host support networks for families, alternating as hosts each month. Similar to the outreach of Deep Run, trained leaders of Thompson Memorial and Doylestown facilitate small groups and form intentional community alongside those who often feel alone and afraid. “This illness often brings with it shame to the family,” commented Rev. Keith Roberts, Associate Pastor of Doylestown Presbyterian Church. “We want to offer a place where honest reflection takes place yet where no judgment is made of others…Our churches hope to continue opening doors of understanding as we seek to share the hope of the Gospel with those who battle the disease of addiction and their families who love them.”

The reality of drug addiction, whether to opioids or alcohol, heroine or numerous others, has made headlines in local and national news in recent days. The stories of those battling this nation-wide epidemic have also underscored addiction’s ability to transcend race, class, and geographical location. As Rev. Schondelmeyer added, “Addiction is in your church. It is in the lives of the families you serve.” The same is true for the shame associated with and deeply felt by those battling the disease and their families. This despair leaves many to wonder, is anyone willing to help shoulder the weight we have carried alone for too long? Is there even a place for us in this house of worship?

The witness of these three Bucks County churches affirms that in Christ’s church all belong and in the communion of saints all can find healing, hope, and companions to aid in burden bearing. As congregations throughout the Presbytery of Philadelphia become increasingly aware of the broad impact of addiction on our church members and local neighbors, the ministry of Deep Run, Doylestown, and Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church serves as an invitation to imagine new ways to extend solidarity, love, and welcome. We give thanks for their ministry and continue to pray for all who wrestle with addiction and related loss, assured the day is coming when sorrow and death will be no more.

*On November 8, 2017, the Anniversary of Anna Straw’s death, the Presbyterian Church of Deep Run, in partnership with the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission, will host a community forum on addiction and recovery. All are invited. More details: http://pcdeeprun.org/anna-straw-initiative/

Moving from Other to Neighbor: Wallingford & Swarthmore Urban-Suburban Partnership with FUSE

Rev. Greg Klimovitz | September 21, 2017

And who is my neighbor?

This was the preface to one of Jesus’ most prophetic parables that cut through first-century religious, cultural, and ethnic divisions that continue to challenge us today.

This question also frames Swarthmore and Wallingford Presbyterian Church’s partnership with the Fellowship of Urban and Suburban Engagement (FUSE). An interfaith and ecumenical network in Delaware County and the City of Chester, FUSE bridges the gap between urban and suburban communities through the nurturing of cross-cultural relationships. In a time of increased polarizations and awareness of personal and systemic biases and privileges, members of Swarthmore and Wallingford have linked arms with FUSE to affirm their commitment to the beloved community that transcends race, religion, class, and social location. Along the way, they have nurtured relationships that transform strangers into valued neighbors.

Recently, the two congregations partnered with FUSE to fund One-to-One Coffee Conversations.  A 2016 Dream Tank for Ministry Innovation grant recipient of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, this initiative provides gift cards to pairs of FUSE participants from different backgrounds for raw and honest conversations at a local coffee shop or mutually agreed upon restaurant. The distributed gift cards eliminate potential financial barriers, prohibit one person from becoming beholden to the other, and foster a level of equality vital for truthful storytelling that dismantles prejudice and elevates love of neighbor. “If we are willing to engage that space together and have the ability to be on equal ground there and begin to talk about all the other things, we begin to develop empathy for one another,” commented Rev. Sarah Cooper-Searight, Associate Pastor of Swarthmore Presbyterian Church. “Our empathy is what leads us to genuinely caring about one another…and when you genuinely care about someone then you genuinely want to do something to work towards change.”

What has been critical for these conversations, of which there have close to twenty person-to-person first-time meet ups since receiving the grant, has been the freedom to be open and risk vulnerability. Clyde Killebrew, member of the FUSE steering committee and Executive Administrator of Making a Change Group, added, “A lot of people are really curious about things they don’t understand. [They] really would ask if they felt they were not going to offend or be ostracized or punished because they said something that didn’t come out quite the way that it should have.” This permission to ask the tough and unrefined questions in safe and gracious spaces is central to the vision of FUSE.  “We talk about trying to expand the fences,” added Bonnie Breit, member of Congregation Ohev Shalom and the FUSE steering committee, “recognizing that there are differences but trying to find ways to get people to learn from each other.”

As Wallingford and Swarthmore congregants have expanded their fences and participated in various FUSE-sponsored events, they have deconstructed assumptions and affirmed the value of those who live just across the urban-suburban divide. “FUSE invites and encourages its members to tear down barriers,” noted Rev. Francois Lacroix of Wallingford Presbyterian Church, “[FUSE encourages us] to get out of our ‘silos’, to actually walk with others, to get to know the other as brother and sister.”

In addition to these formative conversations, FUSE participants have worked together on local community restoration efforts, to include park clean up days and care for local community gardens. These ventures are more than token service projects. Instead, they are affirmations of what is possible when strangers become collaborative neighbors and share resources to improve the communities they both love. Even more, they embody the same neighbor love wrapped within Jesus’ ancient parable. “The gospel is written all over this,” said Rev. Cooper-Searight. “If this is not the work to which I am called I don’t know what is. This is how I worship God and glorify God.”

As our congregations ponder their local call in such a time as this, there is much to glean from the witness of Swarthmore and Wallingford’s commitment to FUSE. They have affirmed that if we are to work to undo the effects of racism and slow the impact of our biases and varied privileges, it begins with a commitment to view the other as neighbor. This will require a willingness to invest in new community partnerships and holistic relationships of grace. Only then can we begin to work towards the kind of change in our neighborhoods that mirror God’s dreams for a world made whole, right, and good again.

Related Links

Listen to an Audio Recording here:

 

 

 

Vocational Discernment, Search for Meaning, and Campus Ministry: The Christian Association at UPenn

by Rev. Greg Klimovitz

Vocational discernment is one of the great calls of the Christian church, stewarding the varied talents, ideas, questions, and resources of the faithful into meaningful extensions of the gospel. In many ways, this is the critical work of The Christian Association campus ministry at the University of Pennsylvania. A validated ministry within the Presbytery of Philadelphia, The CA serves alongside college students and those of the millennial generation and younger who are at a critical juncture in their lives yet frequently absent from our mainline congregations. “It’s a time when they are exposed to new ideas, asking huge questions, and away from their home congregation and the church they grew up in,” said Rev. Megan LeCluyse, campus minister, “I think we really need campus ministry to be there to help them navigate what all this means.”

One of the ways The Christian Association has been present alongside college students in their vocational discernment and search for meaning has been through their Dana How Scholars and Mentoring Program. A partnership with UPenn’s chapter of Upward Bound, twenty-plus college students work with over thirty local high school students from at-risk Philadelphia neighborhoods as they pursue college admissions and futures alternative to those that may lead to incarceration. Many of the mentors have come from similar communities and are eager to give back to young people as they extend solidarity and affirm their own potential for good. A real praxis in extending the love and grace of Christ, the relationships developed in the mentoring program taps into the empathy, compassion, and social-conscience of college students zealous to love and serve alongside their more vulnerable neighbors. Many of these students, along with others connected with The Christian Association, have gone on to related graduate degrees, work in the not-for-profit world, enrolled in seminary programs, and become active in local congregations post-graduation.

In a year where our Presbytery highlights the need to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, The Christian Association’s mentoring program also serves as one way our ministries are subverting the system and empowering the next generation. “Having these relationships with people who can model for you what this can look like, who also look like you, is a powerful witness,” added Rev. LeCluyse. “It is always powerful to be able to see somebody who looks like you doing something, being that relationally, or gender, or sexuality, breaking through barriers to have someone showing you what it could look like.”

The 126-year-old legacy of The Christian Association is one that hinges on faith formation, inclusivity, hospitality, and advocacy. In addition to the Dana How Scholars and Mentoring Program, which features a retreat to their camp founded over forty-years ago on the premise of racial integration, The Christian Association hosts Queer Christian Fellowship. As individuals who identify as LGBTQI+ wrestle with their sexuality and faith, The Christian Association provides a safe and hospitable environment for those who may otherwise feel isolated from the church yet have their own vocational and faith formation questions. The CA also coordinates weekly dinners open to all UPenn students, which is attended by a diverse representation of theological, racial, economic, and other backgrounds. In these sacred spaces, college students are nurtured for both their present and future work and witness in the world and assured they have value in church and society.

“Many, myself included, talk about the CA being like a family,” remarked Scott, a student at UPenn. “It’s a community of love and respect. The CA further follows it’s value of love through this community, offering an open ear and an open heart to those that need help and support.”

The witness of The Christian Association invites us to consider how our churches and related ministries can walk alongside younger generations in their faith formation, vocational discernment, and search for meaningful contributions to the world. Even more, we are challenged to ensure those who venture from our congregations to college campuses near and far find communities of nurture and support at this pivotal moment in their lives. In so doing, we live into our baptismal vows that covenant to love and support young disciples as they gather and scatter from the sacred waters and into whatever areas of vocational service the Spirit calls them.

Listen to the podcast:

Co-Workers in Peacemaking and Education from Pottstown to India: Mission Partnerships of First Presbyterian Church in Pottstown

by Rev. Greg Klimovitz, Associate Presbyter

For over twenty years, the education of children has been a local and international mission focus for First Presbyterian Church in Pottstown. “What part could we play in God’s dreams for the world?” Rev. Kerry Lester, Co-Pastor of First Presbyterian, recalls the mission committee asking. “We started locally and adopted the local [Barth] Elementary School and worked with the leadership there.”

Barth Elementary, located within walking distance of First Presbyterian Church, was not only where some of the congregation’s children attended, but also where a few members taught. After intentional conversations with both faculty and administration, the church and school forged a unique partnership. Guided by the mantra, one child for one hour, the saints of Pottstown committed to serving as after-school tutors, volunteers in leadership development programs, and coordinators of community gardens. Each of these areas of service was a direct response to the needs and assets of both school and church. Barbara Longstreth, chair of the mission committee, commented, “We work with not for. We work alongside.”

As their collaboration strengthened, the public school and congregation birthed the Barth Elementary Peacemaker Award. For the past 15 years, over the course of the school year, fifth grade students learn about past and present peacemakers, related attributes, and where peacemaking efforts are needed in their schools and communities. At the end of the year, students nominate a boy and girl peer to be acknowledged as Peacemaker-of-the-Year. The school and church then host a school-wide assembly, open to their families, and announce the peer-selected recipients, each presented a $100 Savings Bond. In a community where the majority of the students qualify for assisted lunches, this award both celebrates the present witness of the child and makes a small investment in their future.

“It’s an incredible use of resources,” noted Rev. Carter Lester, co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church. “They’re looking at what the qualities of peacemaking are and inviting kids and families into the program.”

The intentionality of this congregation’s resourced efforts extends beyond their immediate neighbors and to impoverished communities in India. Since 2001 and through connections with the Medical Benevolence Foundation, Pottstown has embraced Reeta and Hari Rao as medical mission partners in Uttarakhand, India. Co-Directors of the Society for Nurture, Education, and Health Advancement (SNEHA), Reeta and Hari Rao work alongside underprivileged women and children in poor communities of Dehradun. SNEHA, Hindi for “God’s love,” affords those often-denied access the opportunity to attend school, participate in vocational trainings, and receive essential healthcare services. Pottstown’s partnership with SNEHA has allowed the organization to provide school supplies, textbooks, and uniforms to over 1150 students attending their academy, nutrition to malnourished children, rebuild facilities after severe flooding, leverage small businesses through entrepreneurial women, and engage in spiritual formation in an interfaith context.

This past summer, Pottstown also funded a Pennsylvania furlough for Reeta and Hari Rao. The church walked alongside the Co-Directors of SNEHA as they shared their witness and vital ministry stories not only with the faithful of First Presbyterian Church, but also prospective and current mission partners in the area. “The exposure visit to FPC Pottstown was a great eye opener for us, as we could bring back man new ideas to share here with our teachers and school children to implement in SNEHA,” said Reeta Rao. “SNEHA is working among the neediest slum community in the town…It would not be possible to educate so many children without the help and external support from churches and individuals.”
The witness of First Presbyterian Church in Pottstown reaffirms what it means to be co-workers for the gospel. As the faithful of this congregation have remained open to intentional relationships of empowerment and sustainability, God’s Spirit has extended their reach from Barth Elementary School to distressed regions of India. Even more, their commitment to the education and health care of children has proclaimed the good news of God’s love to those whom Jesus said the kingdom belongs.

As the Presbytery of Philadelphia celebrates our 300th Anniversary, we join alongside our churches and varied ministries that elevate the education of children in body, mind, and spirit. We give thanks for the varied ways our churches rally around their own local and international ministry partners who share such a bold conviction.

300th Anniversary Campaign    Link on the Medical Benevolence Foundation    SNEHA and Pottstown Album