Two churches celebrate a new home for their Advent tradition

By John W. Coleman

Mid-Town Parish UMC located in North Philadelphia for 183 years is a church at the heart of the city with the city at heart.

The small but vibrant congregation continues a remarkable legacy of outreach to its neighborhood that has provided daycare, afterschool and summer youth programs, community evangelism, Christian education and high-spirited outdoor worship and fellowship events, among other activities.

Moreover, its community outreach and networking efforts have inspired several suburban churches in the conference to come alongside Mid-Town Parish offering valuable support and missional friendship for many years.

Unusual, cross-racial immersion experiences

Those partnerships began in the 1960s when beloved, longtime pastor the Rev. Frank Kensill and his wife Winnie Kensill arranged for Mid-Town Parish children to benefit from summer exchange visits with supportive suburban churches. Families of St. Matthew’s UMC of Valley Forge, for one, welcomed Mid-Town Parish children and youth to their homes and neighborhoods during Vacation Bible School week—resulting in unusual, cross-racial immersion experiences for many.

The two churches—one white, the other black—extended their interracial, connectional relationship by annually celebrating Advent and Christmas together, taking turns in hosting the event.

But St. Matthew’s has provided the venue for most years, since Mid-Town Parish’s church building was demolished in 2005 after a fire. While worshiping weekly in a nearby, borrowed, city park community room, Mid-Town Parish’s congregation has longed to someday return to its own, rebuilt church and sanctuary.

That someday came in July, when patient, faithful members finally entered and began worshiping and doing ministry in their new home, a prefabricated modular facility, on their former site. The Oct. 12 grand opening was a jubilant celebration attended by friends, neighbors and conference leaders.

Advent celebration with longtime, visiting friends

But the Dec. 8 annual Advent celebration with longtime, visiting friends from St. Matthew’s was just as special, as Mid-Town Parish was able to host the festive gathering once again. As always, hosts and visitors joined in an afternoon of feasting and fellowship, followed by praise and prayers, worship and witnessing, and singing Christmas carols to candlelight and to the ringing of small, color-coded bells.

And each church’s pastor—the Rev. William Brawner of Mid-Town Parish—who describes his congregation as “enthusiastic, loving and joyful”—and the Rev. John Bletsch of St. Matthew’s—offered words of faith and wisdom to mark the special occasion.

Mid-Town Parish enjoys a wealth of friendships with supportive churches and individuals around the conference. This season of Advent, when we prepare to welcome Christ into our world, is a special time to celebrate that blessing, as a church with the city at heart opens its heart and its new doors to welcome a longtime friend.

Mid-Town Parish UMC is located at 700-18 W. Norris St., Philadelphia.