At its most recent Northwest Regional Meeting, the Spirit swept into the basement of the Oxford Church with joyous praise, the piddling of small feet, rhythmic drums, and colorful singing. Over twenty members of Central Presbyterian Church of Norristown were leading us in worship. This immigrant congregation, hailing primarily from Mexico and Latin America and led by Rev. Gadiel Gomez, has been prayerfully following God’s lead in how to be a faithful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to and with Spanish-speaking people in Norristown. As the Latino/a population rose and continues to rise in Norristown, a dilemma emerged: how to be church with and for this population that is often transitory and unable to support a church building and staff.
In the early 2000’s, Central, an English-speaking congregation at the time, had the vision to reach out to the growing immigrant population. They welcomed Rev. Gomez-Savaria to their staff to minister to their Spanish-speaking neighbors. Over the next decade, the overwhelming expense of the building and the challenge of language and cultural barriers proved unsustainable. The Central church building was sold, with most of the English-speaking congregants joining nearby congregations. With the aid of an Administrative Commission and Rev. Gomez, the prayers and dreams of the presbytery, and the openness of a nearby church, the immigrant congregants retained the name Central Presbyterian Church and took root in First Presbyterian Church of Norristown. The two congregations currently share worship space; First, Norristown worships in the morning, with Central holding services in the afternoon.
Led by Interim Pastor, Rev. William Caraher, First, Norristown uses its building for many outreach services including a 200-student literacy program run by the Literacy Council of Norristown and a GED program led by the Salvation Army. Even so, the session of First, Norristown felt led by the Spirit to open its building to the ministry and mission of Central. While language and cultural barriers make joint worship and other programs a challenge, both Rev. Gomez and Rev. Caraher faithfully lead their respect flocks to serve the differing needs of their neighborhood.
Both worshipping communities average 80 in worship and have exciting new ministries emerging. Central has a circle of 16 homes where small group Bible studies are held throughout the week. First, Norristown recently began a Wednesday evening contemporary worship experience led by its young couples. Named “The 6-10” because of Norristown’s area code, Matthew 6:10 has developed as their theme: “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Their praise band is comprised of musicians discovered via Craigslist.
United in its mission to preach the Gospel and its purpose to be relevant in Norristown, both First and Central are a witness to how such ministry can be dually fulfilled in the one church building that sits at 113 East Airy Street. Maintaining their respective cultures, languages, and worship styles, together these Presbyterians are a strong witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ amid the diversity that blesses the streets of Norristown.