by Rev. Greg Klimovitz
What do God’s dreams for redemption and restorative justice look like along the Avenue of the Arts in Center City, Philadelphia? For Broad Street Ministry (BSM), a worshipping community and faith-based not-for-profit nested in the old Chambers Wylie Memorial Presbyterian Church, these visions hinge on bridging the divide between the rich and the poor and neighbors marked as first and last by social norms. “We have dreams of making this a more just community,” affirmed Mike Dahl, Executive Director since 2016, “How can we build where everyone is well fed in all aspects of their lives? We dream of that future and know it can exist.” When you walk through the large red doors of Broad Street Ministry and encounter the people there, you cannot help but believe the same.
While Broad Street Ministry has existed since 2005, the last few years have marked a new season of leadership. In addition to Mike Dahl’s arrival, the Rev. Laura Colee joined in 2018 as lead pastor of their worshipping community. Dahl and Colee both affirm the vital services they provide and radical hospitality they offer are intentional extensions of their identity as a Matthew 25 worshipping community. “There is something about us doing communion every week,” noted Rev. Colee. “[In our congregation] there are a lot of teachers, social workers, and lawyers. By doing communion every week, we are giving people that nourishment, the strength to get up every morning and keep doing this [justice] work. I love the way the worshipping community is able to fuel this important work, not only in this space, but throughout the city and surrounding area.”
As the bread and cup have fueled Broad Street Ministry, they have continued to experiment with fresh offerings of love and generosity alongside those more familiar with neglect and scarcity. In 2019, they gathered and scattered from the sacred table to extend over 71,000 free, five-star meals to guests who experience food insecurity. Additionally, Broad Street has partnered with the Philadelphia Orchestra to provide free musical jam sessions to their guests, distributed clothing to those in need of new threads for job interviews or to stay warm during the cold months, and offered mail and identification services to over 3,200 individuals in need of either an address or documentation so they can apply for a job, receive benefits, or register to vote. BSM also hosts a city-approved overnight cafe to Philadelphians experiencing homelessness. Located a block away from the “Gayborhood,” a section of the city known for LGBTQIA+ friendly residences, businesses, and entertainment, many who find sanctuary in the cafe identify as queer or transgender and may not be safe in other local shelter systems. All of this, in addition to the numerous partnerships with local businesses and churches that help to make it happen, is an extension of their identity as an open, affirming, and hopeful worshipping community. “[We hold] a fundamentally optimistic view. There is a belief in redemption,” said Mike Dahl. “With all the odds that are stacked against us and all the systems that are broken and everything that seems to be going wrong, there is one thing that you have to rely on to keep that going and that is faith.”
In 2017, this collective faith also spurred the launch of a new initiative and the hiring of a specialist to facilitate vital services for those who were either re-entering society after a period of incarceration or recently charged with a crime and in need of just consul. A grant recipient of our Presbytery’s 300th Anniversary Mission Campaign, this effort has allowed those who call Broad Street Ministry home to find access to all of the services noted above along with connections to legal assistance, leadership development, and vocational training through the endless networks and people associated with BSM. The dollars received enabled this program to move from an initial pilot to a stable and growing service. “We have always been a place where people would come when they get out [of prison] because they needed clothing or they needed a meal or they didn’t have anywhere else as an address,” noted Mike Dahl. “The question was, ‘what contribution were we going to make?’”
Since 2018, Broad Street has reported that their contributions have assisted their guests as they have avoided roughly 335 months of potential prison time, or the equivalent of 28 years of incarceration, through the reduction of recidivism, awareness of personal rights, access to legal consul, and more. In this way they have worked towards restorative justice and the dismantling of the prison pipeline, both key emphases of our Presbytery’s 300th Anniversary year of celebration and public witness. Rev. Colee added, “We have also largely been in conversation with the city itself about how we care for the residents and our neighbors, especially the folks who sometimes people want to sweep under the rug and say, ‘they are not our neighbors.’”
We continually give thanks for the work and witness of Broad Street Ministry. Their outreach alongside their neighbors on the Avenue of the Arts continues to draw us closer to God’s dreams for a more just and whole world. “I don’t think all churches have to look like us,” said Rev. Colee. “I think we are fulfilling a unique kind of space…We are just part of the that larger body and fulfilling a very particular need. I am grateful for that.” We, as a network of churches scattered throughout Greater Philadelphia, are grateful, too.
Listen to the PresbySpeak Podcast episode on iTunes here or SoundCloud below.
By Rev. Greg Klimovitz
How can a congregation embody solidarity and non-anxious presence in the midst of increased cultural polarity and fear? For the faithful of Gladwyne Presbyterian Church (GPC), their answer has resided in a commitment to local interfaith engagement. A congregation whose membership hovers around 100, this Lower Merion church recently enhanced explorations of the diverse religious traditions in their community so to love their neighbor as themselves. “The spirit of understanding other traditions is part of the DNA of GPC,” remarked Rev. Todd Stavrakos, pastor of GPC since 2006, “By our intentional study of different traditions we are beginning to realize God is calling us to work in different ways and to run counter to how society seems to be more and more stratified- what many of us talk about as people living in silos.”
As the saints of Gladwyne have refused to silo their witness, they have strengthened collaborations with the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Philadelphia and developed significant relationships with local religious communities. These connections have led to a series of interfaith engagements where they not only host conversations with the likes of Jewish rabbis and Muslim imams, but also are welcomed into the sacred spaces of their neighbors at Hindu temples or Buddhist and Baha’i centers. Along the way, Rev. Margaret Somerville, associate pastor at Gladwyne, has asked the congregation, “Can we be bold enough to step outside of our space of wanting to welcome and invite and go out and engage and be in the space and share worship and practices with people of other traditions?” The affirmative response has led GPC disciples, including youth in confirmation, to learn alongside and share with their interfaith siblings and see the image of God reflected in those so often misunderstood and characterized. Participants in Advent and Lenten series have even pushed through initial apprehensions and enriched their love for their Christian faith and contemplative practices. “I think some people who begin to get involved in interfaith engagement as Christians are scared at first that they are not supposed to talk about Jesus. That has proven to be absolutely the opposite,” added Rev. Somerville. “People from other traditions are open as we are trying to be [open]. They want to hear about why we are following the way of Jesus Christ and who Jesus is as our Lord and Savior…They want to hear about why that is the truth for us. That’s a beautiful thing.”
In addition to the impact of interfaith engagement on GPC discipleship, beauty has been found in the mutual trust established with local religious communities that enhanced how GPC responds to tragedy and local concerns. This was evident after last year’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Two days before the tragedy, GPC engaged in a series of contemplative practices facilitated by Harold Messinger, Cantor of Beth Am Israel. Over the course of twenty minutes, they meditated and chanted the Hebrew word, chesed, or “loving-kindness.” This discipline and the presence of Messinger left such an imprint on participants that, when news broke about Tree of Life, they responded with the same loving-kindness towards their neighbor and headed to Beth Am Israel to sing and pray with their Jewish siblings. “If anybody asks me what I want to see as an outcome of our interfaith work, that is what I want to see. That we can be in solidarity with others in their times of need and their moments of need,” said Rev. Stavrakos. “And I know that they will be there in our moments of need as well. And that’s really what this is about.”
This embodiment of loving-kindness did not end there. Recently, GPC applied for and received a Great Ends Grant through the Presbytery for a summer initiative, Lower Merion Summer Café, which pulled together collective resources of the interfaith community as response to the pervasive food insecurity that plagues Lower Merion. Aware that over 900 children are on subsidized lunch programs, this venture provided daily food and nutrition to these families during the summer gap in assistance programs. This combined effort underscored that, while there may be differences among them, the interfaith community holds common beliefs that no child should be left hungry and the alleviation of local inequities requires combined efforts of churches, synagogues, mosques, and other faith centers. As Rev. Stavrakos added, “If the church is serious about actually addressing the needs of God’s children in our communities, the best avenue to do it is through interfaith work.”
As our congregations gathered and scattered throughout Greater Philadelphia continue to discern how God is calling them to love their neighbor as themselves, the witness of Gladwyne is an invitation to consider revitalized interfaith engagement. This work will not only enhance the discipleship and Christian formation of a congregation, but also become a renewed avenue for local collaborations as a church lives into the mission of God. As Rev. Stavrakos reminds us, “We cannot proclaim the gospel if we are remaining in silos. We have to be out and about and engaging.” Thanks be to God for how the faithful of Gladwyne Presbyterian Church have indeed been out and about, linking arms in solidarity with their interfaith neighbors.
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TMT Memorial Presbyterian Church Residency and 1001 New Worshipping Communities
by Rev. Greg Klimovitz
How can a congregation envision ministry of empathy alongside neighbors all-too-familiar with isolation and neglect? This has been the framing question for the Rev. Dr. Carroll Jenkins at Thomas M Thomas Memorial Presbyterian Church (TMT) in Chester. The last of five Presbyterian congregations in this three-mile urban center alongside the Delaware River, TMT has recently re-established their commitment to intentional community engagement as incarnations of the gospel. “We are really trying to identify people who have particular needs and out of those needs there is a spiritual thirst. As we can identify that, we can help them find the spiritual resources that will strengthen them and help them to go forward,” remarked Rev. Dr. Jenkins. “We [have begun] to talk about how we can improve the quality of life within the community.”
Once a primary hub for industry and business, Chester is no longer primarily known for its production, vibrancy, or vocational opportunity. Major corporations have closed, political interests have shifted to the suburbs, resources for the public school system have been slow to come by, and employment has been on a steady decline. All of this has contributed to a strong sense of abandonment felt by local residents. This is where TMT has discerned and renewed a call to subvert the narrative of despair and envision ministry of solidarity and support alongside the good people of their beloved city. “We were not sure what we were going to grab onto as an interest area,” added Rev. Dr. Jenkins. “[We knew] this was something we needed to think about- how do we bring people together without saying you got to come and worship in this place?”
The openness to new possibilities ultimately led TMT, in collaboration with the Presbytery of Philadelphia, to pilot a residency program through the 1001 New Worshipping Communities (NWC) movement of the PCUSA. Launched in July 2018, TMT welcomed Kearni Warren to facilitate a venture in contextual engagement with their neighborhood. A child of Chester and proven entrepreneur from a lineage of small business owners, educators, and Presbyterian ministers, Kearni has a natural ability for collaboration and vision casting. As Warren and Rev. Dr. Jenkins dreamed together and spoke with local residents, they sensed a call to facilitate the beginnings of a new ministry of empowerment alongside caregivers. This is something Kearni Warren knows much about, as she served as the primary caregiver for her mother, the late Rev. Bernice Warren, in her fight against cancer. “Caregivers for a long time have been a forgotten community [and] there have been stereotypes about caregivers,” said Warren. “Up until recently, the face of caregivers has changed. It is no longer that person whom we think is working at a nursing home or who may be uneducated and doesn’t possess a lot of skills. Today caregivers are professional people who have either quit their jobs to take care of mom or dad or grandmother or they are professional people who are trying to juggle their work while providing care for a family member.”
This budding initiative, known as the Caregiver Society, not only extends community to those who care for the terminally ill, but also those who nurture Alzheimer patients and adults with special needs, second-time-around grandparents raising grandchildren whose parents are incarcerated, individuals who walk alongside family and friends battling addiction, and more. As caregivers expend themselves for the sake of another, self-care and support networks are vital, “So for me to be able to provide a sense of community where we can all come together to express what we are going through so that we do not feel alone [and] to offer spiritual guidance, that is the core of what the Caregiver Society is about,” added Warren, whose residency was recently extended for a second-year. “[We are] forming a community where we can go to each other, count on each other for support, whichever way that may come.” This support ranges from vision board parties that foster clarity of vocation and personal ambition, conversations with experts in a variety of professional fields, and spiritual formation practices to center the mind and spirit wearied from the on-going self-offering to loved ones. One caregiver shared with Warren, “I have never been a part of something so big.”
In many ways, the identified demographic of caregivers has become a gateway to serve those in Chester most vulnerable to poverty, unemployment, grief, and loss. As the residency program of TMT has shifted their leadership’s emphasis from filling church pews alone, they have linked arms with those who humbly live into the gospel beyond their congregational walls as embodiments of the church of Jesus Christ. “The commitment of Christ is that you allow Christ’s Spirit in you,” commented Rev. Dr. Jenkins. “You have to allow the church to be in you, not something you are going to, but something that you are already a part of every day. It doesn’t make any difference where you are. You become Christ in the flesh.”
We give thanks for the way the faithful of TMT and the Caregiver Society are indeed Christ in the flesh alongside those who provide compassion and care to their most vulnerable neighbors. Their witness serves as a reminder that faithful ministry often occurs as we simply come alongside those in our communities who already model what love and generosity look like beyond our church buildings. May our eyes and ears be open to these messengers of hope, even as we strengthen their mind, bodies, and spirits for their good and faithful work. In so doing, we just may shift individual and cultural narratives away from despair and towards the bigness of God’s wide welcome and affirmation of belonging.
by Rev. Greg Klimovitz
How can a church engage the intergenerational landscape of their changing neighborhood? This is a common question asked by congregations throughout our Presbytery and around the country. For the faithful of Old Pine Presbyterian Church in Old City, the answers are not as complicated and glitzy as what many might imagine. A congregation that recently celebrated its 250th anniversary, maintains a cemetery with 285 Revolutionary War soldiers buried on its grounds, and shares property with the Presbyterian Historical Society, this historical faith community has also embraced a steady influx of young families and individuals and doubled membership in the last seven years. “For people who know our physical presence in the neighborhood, our history is one of the things that stands out,” commented Rev. Jason Ferris, pastor of Old Pine since 2012. “But as you get to know us a little better, hopefully you’ll see that we are a very authentic congregation that is trying to live the gospel in a way that is authentic to our experience and directed to people who live in this area.”
Rather than fall to the (false) assumption that more contemporary music, high-energy instrumentation, and the manufacturing of a particular spiritual experience will lure in a younger demographic, Old Pine has invested their energies in hospitality, education, community engagement, social impact, and traditional worship that merges thoughtful preaching with liturgical depth. “I think what is working at Old Pine is making the gospel relevant again. We don’t do anything too fancy,” Rev. Ferris added. “We really believe [the gospel] changes lives. We really believe it is totally relevant to contemporary life; that it gives us something that the secular world doesn’t. And that we haven’t outgrown our need for Jesus Christ and the life that he gives us.”
One of the ways Old Pine has affirmed this belief has been through the addition of Rev. Rebecca Blake, who also serves as the organizing pastor of the Beacon Church, to serve as Pastor for Christian Education. In addition to writing a localized curriculum to nurture spiritual formation and discipleship across generational lines, Rev. Blake has added pastoral support to ensure younger members who walk through the door of the church feel welcomed, affirmed, and empowered to use their gifts and passions for the cause of Christ. “When you have people who are doing what they are meant to do for the benefit of other people and God, that is when you start to see people responding,” Rev. Blake remarked. “Those are the things that bring people alive and invite those in the pew into their vocation and their sense of call. That, I think, is really profound.”
As Old Pine has continued to grow in both diversity and size, storytelling has played a pivotal role in its ministry. This has included creative and intentional engagement with technology. While the worship is traditional, media including film, photography, and digital media have played a pivotal role in its community formation. One example has been through the “Humans of Old Pine Project,” an adaptation of the popular Humans of New York digital photo series that went viral in 2010. Rev. Ferris, who has a professional background as a documentary filmmaker, initiated a series of portraits of both church members and the low-income seniors who are served at Old Pine’s weekly meal program. The result was a sacred collection of testimonies that deepened human connections across generational lines. “These guests are now a part of our lives in a new way because we know something about them. It is not just handing somebody a meal and never learning their name and never learning their story,” Rev. Ferris said. “These tools really can take us into new areas of church life. They just have to be used deliberately and you have to keep that goal in mind. We are using this tool because we want to tell a story and connect with someone in a deeper way. It is not just using it because it looks cool. That, to me, is not a healthy way of using media. You have to use it more authentically.” In essence, “Humans of Old Pine” reinforced the theological foundation that, in Jesus, all belong and each individual narrative is a part of the fuller mosaic called the body of Christ.
As Old Pine continues to enhance its witness alongside younger residents in Old City, the congregation offers a faithful reminder that what counts is incarnational connection across generational lines. While the things of worship and the methods of ministry matter, what ultimately attracts those in search of belonging is the intersection of the story of God with the diversity of human experiences and the opportunity to live out vocational interests for the common good. “We do not try to promote ourselves very much. We just try to be an authentic community and the word has gotten out,” Rev. Ferris added. “We are practicing a kind of community life that is really needed but is not as available as it used to be in the outside world.”
May the ministry of this historic congregation continue to be a beacon of hope to all our churches scattered throughout Greater Philadelphia. May it nudge our congregations from the city to the suburbs towards a similar authenticity and welcome that invites people of all generations to participate in expressions of the gospel near and far.
Last Wednesday, six seminarians from Princeton Theological Seminary serving in our Ministry and Leadership Incubator capped off the year with a moving worship service. “Imagination is the key to innovation,” Nii Abrahams proclaimed as a part of his sermon on Revelation 6. “Imagination is the ability to look beyond the reality of your circumstances and believe something better is possible. It is being able to envision an alternate reality and then having the courage to live as though that reality has already taken hold.” This is the mark of our discipleship as those who profess to follow Jesus. This is also the essence of the Ministry and Leadership Incubator as we cultivate (or incubate) the faithful and prophetic imagination necessary for the revitalization of congregational witness in church and community. Over the course of the last academic year, these six students have been paired up in three of our congregations. In addition to their engagement with the varied contexts surrounding their church, intentional and focused supervision by gifted pastors, and charge to explore new ministry possibilities, they also convened as a full cohort for six focused conversations facilitated by local practitioners and presbytery staff. Along the way, present and future church leaders wrestled with what it means to embody the gospel in our time and place, especially alongside those most vulnerable in our congregations and broader neighborhoods. This year, seminarians were able to plant the seeds for grief share initiatives, Friday night intergenerational fellowships, Bible studies, neighborhood service opportunities, and explorations of race, bias, and privilege related to the work and witness of the local church. We give thanks for the way these students invested into the life of our churches and modeled the best of what community can look like. Their ministry among us assures us once again that God’s Spirit continues to call and send people into this imaginative work for the sake of the world.
Cedar Park Presbyterian Church, Rev. Dr. Janel Dixon
Tyler Brinks grew up in Commerce Township, Michigan, and attended Hope College in Holland, Michigan. He graduated with a BA in Business with minors in Communications and American Ethnic Studies. A second-year student at Princeton, Tyler loves running, coffee, and listening to podcasts.
Mariana Thomas was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago and received her BA in Cross-Cultural Communication with a minor in History at Hope College. Currently a third-year student at Princeton, Mariana has been an active member of Princeton’s Association of Black Seminarians, including acting as Moderator in 2017-2018 and is an avid traveler.
New Spirit Presbyterian Church, Rev. Christopher Holland
Nii Addo Abrahams is a Missouri native with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Religious Studies. A former childcare director and summer camp staff manager, Nii is passionate about spiritual and leadership development for children, teens, and young adults. He is a second-year M.Div. student at Princeton.
Emmanuel Castillo was born in a small town south of Houston. After undergraduate studies at both Texas A & M and Southwestern Assemblies of God University, where he graduated with a B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies, Emmanuel is now a second-year student at Princeton.
Forest Grove Presbyterian Church, Rev. Su Fall
Nate Brantingham has a background in entrepreneurship and ﬁnance with a passion for teaching and startups. He is a published poet and has degrees in software project management and psychology. He currently works remotely as a Chief Financial Data Analyst and has no idea what he wants to do when he “grows up.” Nate is a second-year M.Div. student at Princeton.
Will Myers, originally from the Midwest, graduated from Wartburg College in 2017 with a Bachelors in Peace and Justice Studies. He is in his ﬁrst summer at Princeton Theological Seminary where he is in the Master of Divinity program.