An essential part of our congregation’s identity is its foundation in mission. From the beginning, members of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church were especially committed to sending and supporting mission workers around the world to teach and heal and share the Gospel. But it in the 1960s, the church significantly expanded its mission paradigm and considered what it would mean to give and work in mission in underserved areas of Philadelphia.
Session records describe an intentional effort on the part of Dr. David Watermulder to be in open and thoughtful conversations with African American clergy from Philadelphia so that the leaders of this church could better understand the ways that our culture and institutions disenfranchised people of color.
This is from the minutes of the Session on April 13, 1964:
Elder Baker recommended for the Personnel Committee that the Department of Outreach and its work be reorganized, with our Minister of Outreach designated to serve specifically as our “City Parish Minister,” whose work will be largely in the city under the supervision of the Director of Urban Work of the Presbytery and the Senior Minister of our Church, and that the total cost of this work be included in the benevolence budget of our church. On motion, the Session voted to make this change.
The Moderator presented the Rev. Bryant George, Assistant Executive Secretary in the Department of Strategy of the Board of National Missions, and Elder Hattersley introduced the Rev. Shelton Waters, Vice President of the Philadelphia Council of Churches and Minister of the First African Church at 42nd and Girard Avenue in West Philadelphia.
The Revs. George and Waters were the invited guests of the Session for a frank and thorough-going consideration of today's racial problems. At the conclusion of an extended discussion, extreme appreciation was extended to both our guests for coming - as well as for their spirit of helpfulness.
More than 30 years later, BMPC leadership and the Session, inspired by the vision of Dr. Eugene Bay to recommit and reimagine the ways this congregation intentionally engaged in mission in West Philadelphia, launched the “Urban-Suburban Partnership.” This is from the fall of 1997:
As part of its 125th anniversary celebration, Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, in all aspects of its life, undertakes a journey in faith with the peoples of West Philadelphia, expecting that our mutual ministry will lead us all to a better place.
- To reaffirm and build upon BMPC’s longstanding commitment to urban ministry.
- To develop a fresh way of engaging in urban ministry, which is consonant with the realities of our times.
- To be a community of faith which grows spiritually as a result of creating authentic partnerships across geographic, racial and socio-economic boundaries.
After studying how the Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia engages in urban ministry, we see three key themes BMPC needs to accentuate:
- Instead of DOING FOR others, we will do everything in partnership WITH them.
- As a community of faith, we minister to others in a way that enables us to absorb the spiritual lessons offered to us by those we serve.
- Individually and collectively, we affirm that love freely given expands and grows, but when horded and packaged in material form, it contracts and loses its potency.
In this 150th Anniversary year, we celebrate all the relationships built, lives impacted, communities shaped, and organizations created over the past 25 years because of the commitment, time and funding invested in this partnership.
Organizations birthed out of this program still thrive today. The Other Carpenter, which assisted residents with home repairs, made a significant impact on the lives of homeowners in West Philadelphia. That work continues to be done by Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia because of funding from BMPC.
West Philadelphia Alliance for Children continues to reopen school libraries in West Philadelphia, encouraging literacy and reading for young children and families. The West Philadelphia Children’s Choir, which eventually became Singing City Children’s Choir, carries on the mission to share a love and commitment to the arts for children and families in the West Philadelphia community. The Urban Suburban Book Group continues to thrive today as a living embodiment of the relationships envisioned when this initiative first began.
This Sunday we are privileged to welcome to our pulpit and to our adult education hour the Rev. Eustacia Moffett Marshall, pastor of New River Presbyterian Church in West Philadelphia. New River is a merger of three historical churches in that community: First African, Calvin and Good Shepherd.
As we celebrate not only our 150 years of mission work, but our 25-year commitment to West Philadelphia, we once again rely on our relationships and partnerships to help us understand how God is calling the church at large and our congregation to respond to the concerns as well as the hopes and visions of our fellow Presbyterians in Philadelphia.
Rev. Marshall will share with us the exciting journey that has brought New River to where it is today, as well as their vision for this next moment of ministry in West Philadelphia. As a recipient of a $50,000 150th Anniversary Grant from BMPC this summer, New River is positioned both to help us value and celebrate our past in mission, while also leading us intentionally and faithful into this next moment in urban ministry as a church.
I especially hope that all of you who have given your time and energy to working and building relationships as a part of the Urban Suburban Partnership will come celebrate with us this Sunday, and even more importantly, hear how we are being called in this next moment.