The Office of Urban & Metro Ministries is strengthening its capacity to re-invigorate urban ministry and to be a relevant source of information and support to urban congregations.
The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference includes some of the most historic population centers in the country, including Philadelphia, Chester and Reading. Since its founding in 1784, the Conference and its predecessors have been fully committed to working in ministry in each of our urban centers.
In the 21st Century, an “urban center” is often identified by characteristics such as economics, population, racial diversity, and transportation. Using those characteristics and additional assessment tools the Conference Urban Commission continues to assess urban ministry and has identified large urban centers within the Conference boundaries and the smaller urban communities connected to those centers.
The 5 large urban centers with greater than 50,000 people and the Conference districts where they are located are:
- Philadelphia – Central & East Districts
- Allentown – Northeast District
- Bethlehem – Northeast District
- Reading – Central District
- Lancaster – Southwest District
There are smaller urban areas with population between 35,000 and 50,000 which are often related geographically and culturally to these larger centers including:
- Upper Darby, Norristown, and Chester relating to Philadelphia
- Easton and Hazelton relating to Allentown/Bethlehem
- Pottstown relating to Reading
- Lebanon and Pottsville relating to Lancaster
Philadelphia and Lancaster Initiatives
Beginning in 2012, the Urban Commission has invested energy and finances in working with Partners for Sacred Places a nationally-known, non-sectarian, nonprofit focused on building the capacity of congregations to better serve their communities. This pilot program identified 12 congregations along Philadelphia’s Broad Street corridor from South to North Philadelphia in Philadelphia – what has been nicknamed, “Avenue of the Spirit” to coincide with the City’s thriving “Avenue of the Arts.” In Lancaster, the initiative identified 8 congregations in a cohort designed to re-establish the vibrancy of our presence in that vital city.
These 20 congregations, representing a range of sizes and situations, and varying opportunities, were invited to be in partnership with the Commission and Partners for multi-staged assessment and development. These congregations were given access to assessment resources, professional consultation, and internal as well as external dialogue on issues they are facing. In 2015, the congregations successfully completing the initial stages received one-time incentive grants from the Urban Commission.
The Commission understands this pilot program as one which may be replicated in other urban areas and it is considering the necessity and feasibility of expanding this opportunity.