Historic Solid Rock UMC in Philadelphia (at 199 E. Tabor Road) has a new pastor, but it’s restoring its old, more familiar name, St. James UMC, just as the church is striving to restore its mission as a growing, vital institution in its growing community.
Solid Rock/St. James’ energetic young pastor, John Brice, is getting a lot of help, although he could use a lot more. He received an outpouring of neighborly assistance on Saturday, June 25. That’s when more than two dozen clergy and laity from across the East District showed up to help clean, make repairs and spruce up a still-sturdy church that has seen better days.
“I witnessed an exceptional group of believers in the body of Christ, both women and men from different backgrounds, sacrificing and humbling themselves to serve and volunteer in our district’s One Church at a Time mission project,” said Brice. “After 200 years of service and making disciples in the Olney community, our commitment to carrying the torch and being a pillar to the next generation is clearly evident.”
The new pastor is grateful for the collaborative efforts of “selfless pastors and laity who see the hidden potential and possibilities here.”
“Whether it was painting, weed whacking, lawn mowing, cleaning and organizing the sanctuary, or fellowshipping over the ‘gourmet’ Domino’s pizza,” he said, “our overall mission project was a blessing. Collectively, we accomplished our goals through Christ, making it a memorable event for me and the people of the Olney community.”
The district’s clergy had discussed being able to see “one of our urban churches as a place where we can be engaged in mission work,” said the Rev. Tracy Bass, East District Superintendent. “This is an opportunity to live out our connectionalism by coming together to ensure that the mission of the Church is carried out in places that reach people beyond our time and space constraints.”
“Like many of our urban buildings, this one is aged, requiring regular and expensive maintenance and incurring huge utility costs,” Bass explained. “The congregation is small (less than 20), but the community is thriving with hard working families and a growing population of children under 14 years of age. The church is surviving because of the current leasing contract with the School District of Philadelphia. Over 300 elementary school children are in and out of the church building on any given weekday.”
Though small in membership, the church has been involved in various ministries, including an emergency food bank and clothing ministry. The church feeds 30-40 families each month, with the number reaching 80 during the winter.
The plan of revitalization includes building ministries around family and community needs, as well as building coalitions and partnerships. Further church development means new staffing, revamping worship with musicians, and creating a more welcoming aesthetics.
“As part of the district’s One Church at a Time mission project,” said Bass, who meets weekly with a planning team, “we are seeking painters, plumbers, electricians, cleaning volunteers, lawn care help, and volunteers for other various tasks.”
The labor force that turned out on June 25 was a good start. It included hard-working pastors and members of Fallsington, Calvary, Good Shepherd, Lighthouse Fellowship and Janes Memorial churches. Since then other churches from around the district have stepped in to lend a hand and survey the church and parsonage for additional work.
“Hearing comments and responses from the community speaks volumes to our hospitality and hearts,” wrote Brice, who longs to see God breathe new life through St. James/Solid Rock into what many may have considered “dried bones.”
“We have built relationships and are encouraging those in this community who have thrown in the towel. But there is still much work to be done and many more resources needed.”