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.

Teaching Churches and a Teaching Presbytery: Year One of the Ministry and Leadership Incubator

Rev. Greg Klimovitz || May 6, 2016


Our call to teach and equip the saints for new forms of ministry is critical for the work and witness of the church in the twenty-first century. This was the impetus for the 2015 launch of the Presbytery of Philadelphia’s Ministry and Leadership Incubator. Along with an eight-week training series for ordained church officers, workshops on creative models for stewardship, and seminars that provide space for dreaming about new initiatives, the Presbytery piloted a new partnership with the Department of Field Education at Princeton Theological Seminary.

In what is known as the Seminary Cohort of the Ministry and Leadership Incubator, six seminarians are sent two-by-two into three of our smaller congregations uniquely poised for intentional ministry yet limited in resources. “We believe that by encouraging a team of students to work together at one church, that congregation might experience the gift of new insights and energy,” remarked Executive Presbyter, Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace. “As our churches and gifted pastors serve as mentors to these future leaders preparing for ministry, our presbytery will also live into our call to support our congregations.”

Over the last nine months, seminarians have served at Cedar Park Presbyterian Church (Rev. Dr. T. Janel Dixon), Olivet-Covenant Presbyterian Church (Rev. Linda Jaymes), and Christ’s Presbyterian Church (Rev. David Sanchez). The seminarians have engaged in everything from worship liturgy to preaching at local revivals, neighborhood food distribution programs to visits with those who are home-bound. Jennifer Shin, who served at Christ’s Presbyterian, even engaged local church members as they navigate life as immigrants in the United States. Shin commented, “Because Christ’s is such a small congregation, I had the opportunity to actually sit down with each of the members and have one-on-one interaction, to hear their personal [and] powerful stories about how God has been working in their lives by having to move around from different places. It was empowering for me to hear about and see how God is working outside the U.S. God is everywhere.” These pastoral conversations not only empowered Jennifer, but also members of this South Philly church as they were invited to share weekly testimonies within Sunday morning worship services.

While these tangible ministry experiences and opportunities to hone skills related to preaching and teaching are invaluable, the uniqueness of the Seminary Cohort lay within an emphasis on collaboration. “One of my favorite highlights has been having Jarad as a partner,” noted Charles Sadler, who served at Cedar Park. “I think that’s one of the best things this program has to offer- the partnering of people together.” Jarad Legard, who served alongside Charles Sadler, added, “It would be rather difficult to do this by yourself; you can reflect with a partner because you are experiencing the same thing, but they’ll have a different perspective which will lead to a deeper reflection.”

These deep reflections ultimately framed the conversations within the program’s leadership lab, monthly gatherings of the full cohort alongside presbytery staff for the purpose of processing ministry experiences, sharing unique challenges, and discerning how the Spirit is stirring new possibilities in their varied contexts. The questions raised in the first semester framed three 90-minute conversations in the second semester, each on a particular topic of interest addressed by local ministry leaders. A running thread throughout these discussions was an emphasis on the inability to do ministry in isolation and the necessity of networks of support and collaboration. This was something Rev. David Sanchez considered an added benefit of the program for solo pastors, “To have a partner in ministry was exciting. Jennifer and I were able to feed off of one another and see the needs of the members and share what we saw. Sometimes you can’t see the needs that are right in front of you because you are so busy fixing toilets, picking up the trash in front of your building and repairing electrical sockets, all the while neglecting the precious gifts God has given you in the church- like the people who matter most.”

When the program drew to a close this April, the call for cooperative ministry and the celebration of the gifts of God’s people bore real fruit. At the seminarian’s request, the full cohort invited Presbytery leadership, Princeton field education leadership, pastors and congregants from each church to a collaborative worship service where seminarians led in liturgy, music, and proclamation of the Word. “Here is our hope,” proposed Luis Quinones-Roman, who served at Olivet-Covenant and preached in worship. “That throughout our present time and condition the Spirit of God is still moving in our lives. [The Spirit] is not done with us.”

While the pilot year of the Seminary Partnership has concluded, the Spirit is certainly not done with our teaching churches in our teaching presbytery alongside our local seminary. Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace assured, “As our presbytery moves into a shared future, the Ministry and Leadership Incubator is our overall framework for equipping our leaders and considering creative partnerships alongside our congregations. The Seminary Partnership is simply one of these intentional models.” This fall we will receive a new cohort of six to serve at Church on the Mall, Ivyland, and First Presbyterian Church of Olney. We look forward to how the Spirit will incubate fresh ideas for being the church in these places and beyond.

Click here for a web post by Princeton Seminary on our partnership.

Presbytery Partners with Creative New Congregational Ministries: Covenant Fund Grant Program

By Rev. Greg Klimovitz


When churches and related ministries in the Greater Philadelphia region dream about new initiatives in their communities, the Presbytery of Philadelphia aims to be a primary partner of empowerment. This is the framework in which the Covenant Fund grant program has existed since 2008.

The Covenant Fund was inaugurated nearly ten years ago, after the sale of the former Church of the Covenant building in Bala Cynwyd. While many assumed assets would be rolled into either capital funds or the regular operating budget, leadership of the Presbytery of Philadelphia knew our call was to birth resurrection hope out of narratives of decline and closure. “With the proceeds of over $2 million from the sale, the Trustees of the Presbytery saw an opportunity to support areas beyond bricks & mortar,” said Larry Davis, Business Administrator of the Presbytery of Philadelphia. “Our call as a presbytery is to walk alongside our congregations and ministries, strengthening and equipping them to further this witness both individually and collectively as the Body of Christ.”

As a primary partner in mission and ministry, the Covenant Fund annually makes available to our churches upwards of $25,000 to each applicant who outlines a faithful, intentional, sustainable, and creative new ministry possibility within their neighborhood. Executive Presbyter, Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace, noted, “The Covenant Fund Grants not only serves a particular congregation and ministry but also encourages others to think in new ways about where God might be calling them at this time and place in their history.” Since 2009, the Covenant Fund has awarded 113 grants to 65 unique initiatives totaling over $1.35 million. These ministries have ranged from preschools for low-income families to ESL programs in neighborhoods of new arrivals, mentoring programs for young black males in West Philadelphia to worshipping communities alongside people experiencing homelessness, art studios for children to social enterprises. As ministry leaders, congregants, pastors, and local neighbors collaborate together to embody the Good News of Jesus Christ in ways not previously considered, these unique initiatives exemplify the central theme and theological underpin of the Covenant Fund- cast your net to the other side of the boat (John 21:3-6).

Rev. Bill Caraher, moderator of the Commission on Resources and Communications (CRC) that oversees the promotion and organization of the program, commented, “Effective ministry in our changing contexts often calls for thinking creatively and attempting a ‘new thing,’ not just for the sake of novelty but rather for a more effective incarnation the Gospel.”

Diane Fitch, who served as moderator of CRC in 2015 and has been a part of the grant application review process, added, “The Covenant Fund has allowed our churches to live out the gospel in new and exciting ways…to reach beyond their own walls, trusting that God will bless them as they seek to bless others.”

In the midst of numerous conversations about the form, function, and relevance of mid-council ministry in the twenty-first century, the Covenant Fund is a reminder that our call is to collaborate and equip the faithful of our nearly 130 churches and worshipping communities. As our Presbytery continues to steward the resources we have been given and our creative ministry leaders leverage innovative witnesses to what it truly means to be the church, we celebrate the reality that our mission is intricately woven within the fabric of our congregations. We give thanks for the faithful saints gathered and scattered throughout the Greater Philadelphia region and look forward to the possibilities ahead as together we launch yet another Covenant Fund grant program.

Kirkwood Camp: Moving from Neighbors to Partners with the Presbytery of Lehigh

by Rev. Greg Klimovitz

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Local neighbors are frequently the most effective partners for creative ministry initiatives. This has been a learned and generative truth for the leadership of Kirkwood Camp ever since merging with Camp Brainerd of Lehigh Presbytery in 2015. Previously located a mere five miles apart, the two camps forged a new future together after the sale of Brainerd in 2014. As the neighboring presbyteries of Philadelphia and Lehigh fused together their resources and commitments pertaining to local camping ministry, crafted a temporary leadership team to walk through the transition, and elected a unified Board of Directors of equal representation, a new era of possibilities was leveraged in East Stroudsburg.

Rev. Ruth Santana- Grace, Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Philadelphia commented, “What makes this partnership exciting is it gives two distinct presbyteries the unique opportunity to consider together how to rebirth and shape Christian camping in a way that will be relevant to our present and future reality; to continue to transform young hearts and minds as a people of faith.”

Rev. Ruth Ann Christopher, co-chair of the Board of Directors and minister member in the Lehigh Presbytery, added, “To be able to stand up and tell a group of people how these two presbyteries came together, how we are equal partners, how we are excited, how it has been successful, I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said, ‘that is so hopeful.’”

The renewed energy that now envelops Kirkwood has enabled the camp, previously slowed by strained finances and regularly deferred maintenance, to move away from narratives of limitation towards revitalized dreams for shared ministry in this sacred space. Since 2015, Kirkwood Camp has repainted various buildings, renovated a women’s restroom, replaced surface flooring in Stroup House, drained and dredged the swimming pond, added new sand to the waterfront beach, and broke ground on two new sixteen-bed cabins to be opened by mid-June. As a symbol of Camp Brainerd’s ministry legacy, church partners also relocated the beloved Brainerd Bell, Circle of Swings, and the Gorman Roof Chapel, complete with a cross made of wood from Camp Brainerd benches now embedded into the ground of its new home.

In the partnership’s first summer camping season, registration numbers also increased to 350 overnight camper weeks and 110 day camper weeks. Young people gathered from across both presbyteries to engage in fellowship, worship, recreational activities, and leadership development opportunities as they escaped their regular rhythms and centered on the presence of God alive and well at camp. As Rev. Carter Lester, co-chair of the Board of Directors and minister member of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, noted, “[Camp] becomes a liminal space and a place where they are able to encounter things and experience a deeper level of community and, in many ways, a deeper way of experiencing faith and God through prayer.”

While increased enrollment and various projects have underscored the reframed narrative of the Kirkwood Camp, the recent addition of Tommy Campbell as camp director has served as another critical witness to the new season of ministry and leadership. Campbell brings with him strong experience in both Christian camping ministry and business management along with a love for the Gospel and passion for leadership development. “The uniqueness of camp is that it is the good soil Jesus talks about in Matthew [13:8]. We give kids the opportunity to listen to God’s voice and what God is telling them to do.” Campbell remarked. “We are doing what we can to make sure this is the best camp that can be a centerpiece for [the ministry of] both presbyteries.”

As Kirkwood Camp continues to move forward as a partnership between the neighboring presbyteries of Lehigh and Philadelphia, their shared hopes, dreams, and resources will enable the camp to thrive as a vital ministry alongside both the 180 collective churches and 18 million local residents within a 90 mile radius. “[We are in] pretty much unchartered waters and we have found synergy by coming together,” Rev. Lester stated. “We don’t have a full vision yet, but we’re on the right path.” While Kirkwood’s vision forward may not be fully developed, one thing is clear- the two presbyteries are able to do far more together than they could have ever done alone. Thanks be to God for the faithful and evolving ministry of Kirkwood Camp.

Click here for the latest news on camp registration and volunteer work weeks.

Watch the video recap from Summer Camp 2015:

 

Presbytery Leadership Reflects on Our Courageous Call

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A Year of Conversations on Race, Bias, and Privilege: Presbytery Leadership Reflects on Our Courageous Call

Edited, Rev. Greg Klimovitz

In the latter portion of 2015, the Presbytery’s Leadership Collegium took a courageous step and announced the next twelve months as, “A Year of Conversations on Race, Bias, and Privilege.” Aware of the pervasive –isms that continue to plague both church and society, this intentional move by Presbytery leadership is an embrace of the church’s call as each of us “labors for the abolition of all racial discrimination and ministers to those injured by it.” (Confession of 1967, 9.44).

Assured such work hinges on God’s act of reconciliation in Jesus Christ and the movement of God’s Spirit throughout every age, representation of our leadership recently sat down for an informal dialogue on the pressing realities pertinent to race, bias, and privilege. Those present were: Rev. Bill Teague (Moderator), Rev. Dr. T. Janel Dixon (Vice Moderator and Co-Moderator of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus), Rev. Ethelyn Taylor (Co-Moderator of National Black Presbyterian Caucus), Rev. Ruth Santa-Grace (Executive Presbyter), and Rev. Kevin Porter (Stated Clerk). The abbreviated transcript of the discussion is below, a reminder that we venture into this critical conversation together.

Aware this is both a critical and delicate conversation, what makes us reluctant to engage one another in regards to race, bias, and privilege?

Janel: People don’t want to be made to feel guilty for something their ancestors have done. And that’s real…. To talk about what has been done, the injustices and the discriminatory practices and those kinds of things- and want to have to deal with it and try to understand what your place is in all of that- it’s very delicate.

Ethelyn: We are taking a peak under the rug; we want [the truth] to come out but we don’t know how to let it out because we don’t want to offend anyone…The church as a whole needs to be talking about [race, bias, and privilege]. The church has to take a lead. And that’s the one thing the church doesn’t feel comfortable talking about…People are afraid; it’s the guilt feeling and not wanting people to think, “I am a racist.”

Ruth: Speaking from my perspective as a Latina, I have made an observation- entering the conversation on race and privilege is difficult for all, in part because of the complexities already mentioned. But I have also observed that for those of us of color, there are many times we get tired of being object lessons. That is a weight that is often difficult to carry. It requires that we become articulate, thoughtful, calm – when there are times when our hearts are crying in pain because of how we treat one another. It makes the temptation not to engage a real and present danger.

Kevin: On an emotional level, either feeling bad about oneself or making another feel bad; whether that’s guilt, anger, fear, and all those emotional things. There’s also an accountability piece that could have ramifications with regard to money, power, access, and the legacy factor when those things are compounded over generations…It leads to questions as to what would repair the past if it could be? Some may [also] feel as though it has been fixed. When you have that basic dichotomy, those who feel at its core [the brokenness of the past] has been fixed, let’s move on and those who say, “no, it hasn’t because of A, B, C, and D,” is that irreconcilable? If it is, then to what degree can we still be connected and unified?

Ruth: The magnitude of it is as such that we are all hesitant because, ‘to what end?“ It hasn’t been fixed for centuries and centuries. But there’s a theological conviction-we have to figure out how we are called to model the uncomfortable conversations. We all feel vulnerable or exhausted or tired; we’ve been in these conversations for eternity. But we are called against that exhaustion with the hope of making some movement…The church in this country has always been at the tail end of the issues; there have been very few movements when the church has has taken the lead. There have been individuals who have; but the church becomes a microcosm of the reality….We have absolutely contributed to the silence, to the fear, or to the anxiety of the conversation. On the other hand, there are historical places where the church has moved to be a prophetic presence, albeit late, but nonetheless, a prophetic voice that says, “if not us, then who?”

Bill: A time to keep silence, and a time to speak. All good conversations, but particularly conversations like this, require the keeping of silence while the other is given the time to speak. As a one who has inherent advantages in our particular world, the conversation on race, bias, and privilege asks that I begin with a time to keep silence while others are given a time to speak; others who do not have the same inherent advantages I have.

[Those of us in this conversation] are friends who were willing to tell stories that are not always easy to tell. I must be willing to listen, to listen well and to listen long, even when it is not easy to listen. Part of my reluctance and hesitance to engage in this conversation, then, is rooted in the reality that I will have to listen better and longer than I want to listen. Yes, the time to speak will come as the conversation continues, but the first words I speak will likely be the words of questions that ask for more stories that will open more windows to more understanding.

As we engage one another over the course of the next year, what are your hopes and even the most grandiose aspirations for these conversations?

Janel: Just getting people in the room to talk to one another [and] that whole building relationships piece. We can’t be friends unless you know something about me. Not only that, in order for us to really and truly be friends, I need to value you and you need to value me. It’s not enough that I see you and know that you exist. I have to value you; you must become important. That’s where we must begin. The mere fact that we are able to come into the room and have the conversation is a beautiful sign of hope and resurrection possibilities. We come to it from that perspective…to model the life and teachings of Jesus.

Ruth: We all understand, systemically, we can’t turn the world upside down; but I do believe that with our conviction we can cross the boundaries. The question for me is, how do we create the conditions whereby we encourage people not to solve it, but to get them to talk to someone they normally wouldn’t? How do we expand our cozy corners by crossing over and speaking to someone, in this case, of a different color or race?

Ethelyn: We’re all made in the image and likeness of Christ, but how do we say that to one another [and] to make them feel that you are really our brother and sister in Christ? How do we get to that point?

Ruth: Precisely. The absence of knowledge, the absence of humanizing someone, leads to terrorism on the other extreme. The absence of humanization allows us to characterize the other. This is precisely what gives terrorists the ability to do what they do to humanity – they dehumanize the other. So our call is to humanize the other in the image of God, in its fullness, not in its brokenness.

Kevin: The thing that’s great about the reality of the folks who are committed Christians having this conversation, it’s not just having Christ in the room but it’s Christ in the center. Just to build on what Ruth had to say about the image of God, it’s also the brokenness that creates the humility. To the degree that in a particular conversation on the macro, I can present as the one to whom the injustice has been done. I have to be, if I’m honest, equally aware of the ways that I am being unjust to others. What connects us at the foundational level is, “I am a sinner saved by grace.” Sin is causing death and disease; it’s causing all kinds of things. If we want to talk about a particular –ism, we turn the page and the players jump from the persecuted to the persecutor with a different-ism. What I would hope is that folks would recognize we have created a forum and a space and the table for the truth telling and listening to be done.

Ruth: One of the things I was thinking about is the baggage I carry because of the journey. We all carry baggage around fear, resentment – because of past experiences. My hope is that by engaging one another and by having these conversations in meaningful ways, there might be a day when those emotions will not accompany us into the room automatically?

Ethelyn: Over the years, I have seen this Presbytery change. Even for me, being the moderator at one time, I’ve seen our presbytery change for the better. The more we get people to be able to just sit and share their stories and nobody is making a judgment call. We all have stories that not only we can tell, [but also] we have stories that we would like to tell but we are afraid because of whatever reason… I really have hope for who we are, to role model not just among us but for [the broader world and community]. How much are we as individuals willing to risk so that the truth can set all of us free to some point?

Bill: Continuing the theme, I hope that we will be willing to take the time that this conversation requires. For me it begins with time to keep silence as friends like Kevin, Janel, Ruth and Ethelyn speak. In time I will begin to speak, questions first, but then to tell my own stories, and then, as we linger together, we may begin to challenge, confront, and encourage one another. Would that someone listening in on our conversations might notice how our speaking and our silence was filled with faith, hope, and love.

Aware that the nature of these conversations is organic and a growing edge, what are some ways people throughout our Presbytery can be a part of these conversations in the days ahead?

Bill: Show up. Show up to regional meetings and presbytery meetings and pre-presbytery meetings. Show up and be intentional. For those of us who have known advantages that are ours because of race and ethnicity, be intentional about beginning with a time to keep silence and to listen. For those of us who do not share those same advantages, be intentional about taking time to speak, telling stories, even stories that are hard to tell.

I am a reluctant presbytery moderator for a number of reasons, among them the reality of a full schedule and- I don’t have time for this. But as Christ has called me to take time and find time for participation in the life of the presbytery, he has blessed me with unexpected friendships with Kevin, Janel, Ruth, and Ethelyn, among others. It is a joy –sometimes a hard joy – to hear the stories they tell. It is a joy to know that they will want to hear my story, as well.

Ruth: [My hope is] we get through 2016 and we have learned not just how to have a conversation, but that we can model for other regions. That would be my grandiose hope. I think Philadelphia is particularly poised in part because of its complex 300 year history, but also because of where and how we stand today. Who we are because of whose we are can define how we respond to the pain of what is going on all around us in our nation and abroad. I believe our willingness to engage in these courageous conversation speaks to our spirit. I trust above all, that God’s Spirit is with us.
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As the Presbytery of Philadelphia rallies behind these critical conversations on race, bias, and privilege, we are reminded such work is at the core of what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ who has given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). Stay tuned for more opportunities to be engaged. Until then, may we all commit to move the conversation forward one step at a time and one relationship at a time, as we all draw nearer to the day when God makes all things new and right.