By Rosy Robson, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
There are two questions that I often come back to when I think about the Church:
- How are churches involved in mission, beyond writing checks and giving money to worthy causes?
- In the Church’s next chapter, where and what is the balance between traditional, mainline congregations and new, innovative church developments?
I started to find some answers to these questions in last week’s visits to Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware.
First, I met up with Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle in southwest Philadelphia at the Common Place. Aisha is both the Associate Pastor for Mission at Wayne Presbyterian Church and the Organizing Pastor at the Common Place. Wayne Presbyterian Church (located 15 miles outside of Philly) is one of those churches that goes beyond check writing in their mission efforts. They have a rich history filled with relationships and partnerships with non-profit ministries and other churches. One such partnership is with New Spirit Community Church, a congregation in southwest Philly that was struggling to keep their doors open and who decided to start a new chapter in their own story by agreeing to become a “nesting congregation” in what became the Common Place. Fast forward a few years, and the Common Place exists as a sort of co-work space, only the organizations within it are faith-based ministries. New Spirit Community Church is still housed there, along with additional space for Cornerstone Christian Academy, which is located next door. In addition, the Common Place houses CityLights Network. It is indeed a “sacred place to do life together,” that serves the community through “faith, education, and support.” Wayne Presbyterian Church supports the Common Place, not only through financial support, but through sharing one of their pastors with the Common Place. While Wayne Presbyterian Church is not interested in re-locating to southwest Philly, they are interested in supporting and serving their neighbors who are there.
Later on in the week, I continued to see this embodied mission and traditional-new balance as I sat down with Rev. Nate Phillips and Rev. Edwin Estevez. Nate recently published a book called “Do Something Else: The Road Ahead for the Mainline Church,” and in his introduction he writes, “…the church cannot do everything. But it can do something. For a long time, it’s done the same thing. Perhaps it’s time for it to do something else.” Nate and Edwin’s stories illustrate the ways the church is doing something else. Nate serves as one of the co-pastors at Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, DE, a large, historic church with a wealth of resources. Perhaps at first glance, Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church looks like a typical, traditional mainline church. However, they’re doing something else that is far from typical and traditional. Using their resources, Nate and Red Clay Creek Presbyterian are supporting others, like Edwin, who are stepping out and telling God’s story in new, innovative and creative ways. Edwin is the organizing pastor for Riverfront Church, a new worshipping community in a bustling neighborhood of Wilmington. Riverfront Church, a community of “fun, faith, and service,” is developing and growing through dinner church services in a wine shop, outdoor worship services in public parks, and fun fellowship and service opportunities. The relationship between both Nate and Edwin, and their church communities, has allowed ideas and inspiration to come to life as they minister to the larger Wilmington community.
In an article from Faith and Leadership earlier this year, Gretchen E. Ziegenhals writes, “Innovative ideas- and innovative colleagues- can present challenges when budgets are tight, staff is shrinking, time is short and traditions run deep. But wise senior leaders cultivate a mindset of experimentation, identify and develop emerging, creative leaders, and seed an institutional culture in which innovative ideas are welcomed and explored.” My trip to Philadelphia and Wilmington was full of innovative ideas and creative colleagues. Senior leaders and congregations support these innovative efforts and the leaders behind them, and together the old and the new are daring to experiment and do something else as they live out and tell God’s story in their communities.