Covenant Connections – The Faces of Kensington Ministry

Ask a few Philadelphians to talk about the bounds of the Kensington neighborhood and you have just unleashed a debate that could last hours.  This neighborhood in east Philadelphia includes West Kensington, Fishtown, Harrowgate, and Northern Liberties, although even that is arguable.  Regardless of its boundaries, our presbytery is engaged in this community through three vibrant ministries that have their own unique ways of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ with its neighbors.

Located at 418 E. Girard Avenue, The First Presbyterian Church in Kensington is located in the transitioning neighborhood of Fishtown.  Traditionally a working-class Anglo neighborhood, the area has seen an influx of young professionals.  Rev. Shawn Hyska leads traditional worship on Sunday mornings, but the congregation has also been engaging the church’s neighbors through its basketball court, a playschool group, and monthly community meals that near 90 attendees.  Rev. Hyska serves as a tent- maker; he also works full-time for the non-profit The Food Trust.  The church’s mission is to reach its neighbors in ways that are meaningful and Christ-centered.  “I want everyone who passes by along Girard Avenue to see the church dome and know not only that the church is still open, but very active in the community,” says Rev. Hyska.  “Standing up against injustice, helping those in need, but also a safe space where people can gather and be in true fellowship and solidarity with each other.”

One mile north of First Kensington sits Beacon, a community of kids, adults, and families who gather for worship at 5:00 p.m. Sunday nights.  Once a traditional congregation, Beacon has reinvented itself as a New Church Development co-pastored by Rev. Karen Rohrer and Rev. Rebecca Blake.  Monday through Wednesday afternoons, Beacon hosts an art studio where youth are welcome to this safe space to engage in various creative, expressive projects.  Part of the denomination’s 1001 Worshiping Communities, Beacon is venturing on a new way of being church that engages its neighbors in a manner that is meaningful and life-changing.  “Worship participants share their hopes during prayers of the people, visual art is used to tell stories and to pray, sermons are story-centered, songs range from traditional hymns to spirituals to bluegrass to contemporary songs,” says Rev. Blake.  “All of which tell us again the story of incarnation, forgiveness, death, and resurrection.”  There is excitement and challenge in reaching the diversity of their neighbors from life-long Anglo residents to younger folks who work in nearby Center City.  “Beacon gathers people together to share life across those differences,” claims Rev. Blake.

One mile west of Beacon on the corner of Hancock Street and Susquehanna Avenue, a solid, brick, expansive church stands proudly above West Kensington’s Norris Square Park.  Founded in 1860 as Norris Square Presbyterian Church, this prominent neighborhood center flourished when industrial business was booming.  Times have changed drastically since then and the neighborhood now endures poverty, violence and hopelessness. With vision and leadership from Rev. Adan Mairena, the presbytery’s commitment to this corner, and the movement of the Holy Spirit, West Kensington Ministry (WKM) was established in 2007.  Serving a community that is primarily Puerto Rican and endures a 50% unemployment rate, WKM seeks to be a safe place where Gospel hope is realized through worship, Christian education, and pastoral care.  Their 3:00 p.m. Sunday service in their multi-purpose room beneath the sprawling sanctuary is blessed with children shaking tambourines, youth reading scripture, and the sharing of joys and concerns as many folks struggle with grief over gunshot victims, unemployment, and health issues.  “In the midst of hard, personal struggles, people come to WKM to hear the Good News,” states Rev. Sarah Colwill, one member of WKM’s Administrative Commission.  “In the midst of deep despair, WKM is a beacon of hope, standing as a powerful witness to the resurrection that pours new life and light onto all those with whom they minister.”

Whatever bounds are declared around the Kensington neighborhood, the Presbytery of Philadelphia is present and doing vibrant ministry, shining the light of Christ that knows no bounds.  Let us give thanks and praise for the many faces of ministry in Kensington, each unique in their way of serving, yet bound together by a common mission to provide hope and safe space for all those who grace their doors and beyond.