Thursday, July 31, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

'Missionairies' from Jenkintown plant two Philly churches

A trio of worshipers enters New Life Presbyterian Church on East Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia. (Matthew Hall/Staff Photographer)
A trio of worshipers enters New Life Presbyterian Church on East Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia. (Matthew Hall/Staff Photographer)
A trio of worshipers enters New Life Presbyterian Church on East Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia. (Matthew Hall/Staff Photographer) Gallery: 'Missionairies' from Jenkintown plant two Philly churches

IN 1983, New Life Presbyterian Church in Jenkintown sent a group of about 125 "missionaries" - adults and children - into Philadelphia. Their assignment? To "plant" a branch of the church where it would be most needed.

Now that offshoot, New Life Church-Philadelphia on Roosevelt Boulevard near Rising Sun, has a congregation that is 300-strong. It serves community members in many ways, offering services like after-school care and free Bible camp for a week each summer.

It has even spawned its own "daughter" church, sending 100 missionaries about five miles north to establish Northeast Community Church.

"We believe in the model of trying to plant churches instead of just grow, grow, grow," explained Senior Pastor John Julien.

Where we worship: The church is at 425 E. Roosevelt Boulevard, making it easily accessible by bus - the R and the 8 stop nearby - or by car.

The church campus, built beginning in 1929, was once a synagogue. (Fun fact: Larry Fine of "Three Stooges" fame was bar mitzvahed here.)

Many decades later, as the synagogue found its membership shrinking, it sold its Hebrew school to an office supply company. New Life purchased that space in 1985. In 1990, when the synagogue closed, New Life purchased its sanctuary building, too.

If you go: Sunday services begin at 11 a.m. Child care is provided. Sunday school - for adults, teens and children - begins at 9:30 a.m., followed by coffee and conversation at 10:30 a.m.

The church regularly draws about 250 people. Most live within two miles of the church, coming from the nearby Olney and Hunting Park neighborhoods.

What we believe: In following Jesus. "This is the heart and soul and guts of what we're about," Julien said. The church belongs to the Presbyterian Church in America.

"We tell people it doesn't matter what you've done or where you've been. There's forgiveness and restoration and renewal. That's what God does. That's his specialty."

For the past few years, New Life has hosted a weekly meeting called "Celebrate Recovery." Anyone with any sort of addiction issue - drugs, alcohol, anger, gambling - is welcome to come and share his or her struggles.

Something that might surprise people: The extent of the church's community outreach.

Congregants stock a food pantry for anyone in need, and many church members work at a nearby health clinic that provides discounted services.

"I'm often inspired by a lot of people in our church," Julien said. "They could be living somewhere else, doing the same thing for a lot more money, but they're here because they have a calling.

"Everybody is on a mission, so to speak."

Missionaries to the neighborhood: The church has a handful of deacons who oversee what they call the "mercy ministry." Church members donate money to the Deacons' Fund, and anyone in need - churchgoer or not - can ask a deacon for aid.

Most commonly given? A grocery store gift card.

Missionaries further afield: Associate Pastor Suler Acosta and a small group of church members hit the streets to minister to people who congregate under the Frankford El.

"There's a lot of addiction over there. We talk to them to see if there's anything we can do to help," Julien said. "If people are ready and have hit bottom, there are things you can do, like get them to rehab. If it's winter, you can take them warm food and try to keep people alive."

Missionaries abroad: Church members often travel outside the U.S. to do good works, like teaching English as a second language or running a sports camp. As you read this, Julien is teaching in Chile.

"We want to be a global church," he said. "You can get so inward and only focused on what's going on with you and what's around you, but it's a big world out there."

Big moral issue we're grappling with: Several church members are working to stop sex trafficking.

"A lot of Philadelphians are surprised that this is an issue," Julien said. It came to the church's attention a few years ago through a church member who worked with abused women. Other congregants joined her.

"It's not something we talk about all the time," Julien said. "But we do say that where there is injustice and we become aware of it, we must act. It does become, 'What would Jesus do?' "

Words of hope: "There are a lot of people who have lost hope for themselves or for the people they love. We believe God can change anybody.

"He can change an individual. He can change a marriage. He can change a family.

"We're all going to suffer in life," Julien said. "No one gets through unscathed. But you're not alone."

NATALIE POMPILIO natalie@nataliepompilio.com
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