Rejoice in the Lord always;
again I will say, Rejoice!

Philippians 4:4

It was with great joy that the Presbytery of Philadelphia gathered at Salt and Light/The Common Place on July 29th. As our preacher for the day, the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis, Co-Moderator of the 225th General Assembly, reminded us in her sermon of the importance of holding onto and sharing the joy we have in Jesus. Elders, pastors & guests found this to be an inspirational gathering that left them with a sense of excitement and filled with joy for what the Lord is doing.

Prior to the start of the meeting, we had three pre-presbytery conversations.  A “Mid-Term Check-in” with Co-Moderators of the 225th General Assembly, the Revs. Shavon Starling-Louis and Ruth Faith Santana-Grace reflected upon some of their key experiences from the past year. We also had the opportunity to engage in conversation with the PC(USA)’s Regional Liaison for East Central Africa, the Rev. Paula Cooper, who was formed in the faith at our own Holy Trinity-Bethlehem Presbyterian Church.  She spoke about how we might make connections and build bridges with our Christian siblings in Zambia, Malawi, Uganda & Kenya.  Lastly, in preparation for our stated meeting, the Rev. Wonjae Choi and Elder Vijay Aggarwal, co-chairs of the Commission on Financial Management, presented “A Financial Vision for Ministry: Proposed 2024 Presbytery Budget.”

We were ushered into worship with song and praise by the Salt and Light music team.  The Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis’s sermon “Rejoice Always” encouraged us to take notice of the glimpses of joy that surround us and to hold fast to the one who sustains us in all things. In our “Invitation to Gratitude & Expressions of Joy,” everyone came forward to place sticky notes sharing, “What brings you joy?” upon a painting of a butterfly reminding us of God’s gift of joy in our lives.

Upon the conclusion of worship, we transitioned into the business of the church, with Moderator Elder Zandra Maffett leading our time together. After being welcomed by the Rev. Cean James, Senior Pastor at Salt and Light and the Rev. Christopher Holland, Executive Pastor at Salt and Light and the Executive Director of The Common Place, Moderator Elder Zandra Maffett reflected on the heaviness of the prayer vigil Salt and Light/The Common Place had hosted in response to the mass shooting of July 3rd, but also the jubilant celebration of ministry found in the retirement of the Rev. Dr. Ethelyn Taylor earlier this month. Other highlights of the meeting included: honoring the witness of Trinity United Presbyterian Church of Clifton Heights as we approved the Administrative Commission’s report on their closure led by Elder Ken McKeown; the Examination for Ordination of Mina Choi, under the care of Doylestown Presbyterian Church, who upon being approved was prayed over by the Rev. Dr. John Willingham; and the approval of the proposed 2024 Operating Budget as presented by the Rev. Wonjae Choi & Elder Vijay Aggarwal as well as honoring those churches who have partnered in giving to the shared mission.

Executive Presbyter, the Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace, opened her report by reflecting joyfully upon her mountain-top experience preaching at the Montreat Youth Conference. She invited the PC(USA)’s Regional Liaison for Eastern Central Africa, the Rev. Paula Cooper to share about her ministry and then led the assembly in offering up prayers and blessings on the eve of Rev. Cooper’s return to Zambia.

The leadership team of the Rev. Kevin Porter, the Rev. Sarah Colwill, the Rev. Brenton Thompson, and Jim Wagner, joined the Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace as they shared about the many exciting things happening in the life of the presbytery: the first Small Church Pastoral Compensation Grants being awarded; Cultivating Enough in the Care of Clergy welcoming their fourth cohort of pastors; the incoming class of seminary interns with the Princeton Partnership; the introduction of “Thriving on the Vine: Strengthening the Branches” the upcoming smaller church summit on November 18th; October 28th’s “Fall Fest” equipping event whose focus is our Public Witness and Response Ministry; and the debut of our Public Witness and Response text alert system.

The Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace then invited the Rev. Brenton Thompson, Director of Congregational Resourcing to share and celebrate the 1st wave of the 2023’s Covenant Fund Grant Recipients. Representatives from Beacon, the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Gwynedd Square Presbyterian Church, and Marple Presbyterian Church came forward to receive their awards as we acknowledged the ways they are authentically and creatively reaching out to their community.

With the playing of “Miriam’s Song” and the waving of colorful streamers at the end of her Executive Presbyter Report, the Rev. Ruth Faith Santan-Grace invited the gathered assembly to live into the joy that surrounds us and to celebrate all that God has done and is doing in our midst!

As our energetic and spirit-filled meeting ended, Vice-Moderator Elder Jim Ballengee offered thanks to Salt and Light/The Common Place for their hospitality in hosting our meeting.  He also invited the body to spend time in fellowship for lunch followed by the opportunity to participate in a prayer walk of solidarity with the community. This was our faithful response to the tragic mass shooting of July 3rd that took the lives of five community members a block from the church. He then adjourned us in prayer and blessed the coming meal.

We invite you to browse through the following resources, videos and links from our meeting.

Meeting Highlights

1st Wave Covenant Fund Awards

The full video of the Meeting:

Meeting Resources:

One of our pre-Presbytery’s featured Revs. Shavon Starling-Louis & Ruth Faith Santana-Grace (GA225 Co-Moderators) in conversation with attendees and Fred Tangeman (OGA). Recorded by Kristen Gaydos (Presbyterian Historical Society):