A place that is very dear to me stands before the wrecking ball. I learned the sad news last week that the historic Christ Memorial Reformed Episcopal Church and former seminary building complex in West Philadelphia will be demolished in May.
Anyone who has only seen a photograph of this grand old building (or complex of buildings) would be sad to hear this news. But for me, it is very personal. Many of the most important moments of my life are tied to this place—some sweet, some bitter.
This is where I first lived in the mid-1980s after leaving home at 18 to attend seminary “first” (that is, before college). It is where I unexpectantly and uncontrollably wept for an hour in my seminary dorm room after watching my dad drive away—an experience I acutely understood at the time to be the watershed moment I entered adulthood. It is the place I began to learn to cook and where I simultaneously learned to appreciate mom.
It is where, the following year, I felt an almost-tangible calling to pastoral ministry, while reading John Stott’s book on homiletics, Between Two Worlds. A year later, I felt particularly called to urban pastoral ministry, despite having lived for many years in the farm country of Virginia.
It is the place to which I returned, following college, and where I started a new life with my new bride, and where we began pouring our lives into the heady work of helping revive a decaying old church and neighborhood. It is where we lived for the next couple of years, for a time in the seminary sexton’s apartment, for a time in the church office and nursery, for a time in the church vestry room.
Then after renovating the abandoned row house across the street and making it our home, the church and seminary building became the view we could see from our front windows—a view I would see every day for almost five years.
This is the church in which I was ordained as a deacon in 1991. This is the place in which I figuratively cut my teeth in pastoral ministry (and also where I literally broke my nose in one-on-one basketball.) It is where I held my first ministry position—serving for nearly seven years as assistant to the rector. It is where, for better or worse, my foundational attitudes and thinking about Christian ministry were formed.
This is where I conducted my first wedding, where I first confronted death and consolation from a pastoral perspective, where I learned the practical aspects of ministry by trial and error. (And there were a lot of errors!) It is the place my sheltered faith was tested and stretched in a myriad of different ways. This is a corner where I first came face to face with the shocking ugliness of human nature and behavior—and where I was surprised to find that my own was also not beyond reproach. It is where I first witnessed emotional and mental breakdown. It is where I first encountered the hurtful betrayal of friends and the bitter disappointments of church politics.
It is also where I experienced the deep satisfaction of being part of a team, the joys of pastoring needy people, the challenges of door-to-door evangelism. It is where I first fell in love with the cultural diversity of the “big city,” amazed after a few years to be serving twenty different ethnic groups in a congregation of less than sixty.
It is a corner in which I invested a fair amount of blood, sweat and tears (literal in each case!) It is where I learned that poverty, and homelessness, and drug addiction, and gun violence are not abstracts ideas but people. It is a space in which I spent countless hours on my knees participating in the daily offices of both morning and evening prayer—a rewarding practice the church revived during my tenure there.
This is the church where I was both proud and humbled by the commitment of our youth ministry team, who labored week after week, year after year ministering to the unchurched kids of West Philly, interacting with hundreds of children and teenagers—many from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and many from very difficult circumstances. (I personally remember many faces and names of our “kingdom kids” who are by now pushing 40!) It was here that I also learned from personal experience to value catechetical training as an essential component of youth work, discipleship and Christian education.
It was in the parish hall kitchen of this church that I first learned I would be a new father. It was in this church about a year later my infant son was baptized. It is the place where I was never quite able to teach my toddler son to sit still in church (in the front row of the short pews on the organ side). Nevertheless, this is where he learned the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments before the age of four. It is also where he ended up spending the first six years of his schooling (K-5). It is where in addition to Latin and fencing and other classical disciplines, he received the foundational basis for the man he is today.
I could go on and on . . .
More than 20% of my life has been lived either within this building or in its shadow. And after I moved away from that corner, I was still associated with it in some way for more than another 20% of my life, serving on building committees and provisional vestries and as a substitute teacher for the parish school and still later as a part of a church re-planting exploration initiative.
And I guess I know the building itself like few others know it. I am personally familiar with every square inch of its physical plant—from every twist and turn of the “catacombs” below ground to the hidden attic spaces high above, and every room, corner and staircase in between. Over the years, I put in countless hours of restoration work, from scraping paint high on ladders to installing brick sidewalks to allow wheelchair access to performing pipe organ repairs (with duct tape and paper clips). I have polished the brass on the pulpit and shoveled snow off the roof.
I am one of several who have heard the mysterious flushing of the haunted toilet from a bygone era that lay disconnected from plumbing in the deep recesses beneath the parish hall. And I suppose I am one of a select few who have climbed to the highest point inside the steeple tower to view the city from the trefoil-shaped portholes there.
On top of all this, as a wanna-be-author of children’s books, I have at least three different unfinished stories at various stages on my hard-drive that feature this corner in a prominent way. This edifice is so imprinted into my soul and imagination that many of my night dreams to this day are still associated with some representation of its space.
Once upon a time, I had envisioned spending an entire lifetime of ministry at this corner, helping to restore the building and rebuild the congregation and neighborhood alike. Here my young, fresh-new-minister idealism soared with visions of what that might look like, visions of grandeur all connected to a “cathedral-like” structure. But it was also here, my pride and idealism came crashing down. In 1997 my failed marriage undercut my visions and led to the termination of my ministry.
Sadly, my pride and idealism were not all that came crashing down at that corner.
In 2004, following a severe wind and lightning storm, the 170-foot steeple tower of the late-19th-century edifice collapsed. Tons of stone came crashing down destroying the whole back corner of the massive church nave and narthex. It was the beginning of the end for the West Philadelphia icon.
Earlier that same year, a building survey had uncovered a critical problem with the structural integrity of the tower, and after the collapse, the insurance company refused to cover the extensive damage, citing that years of neglect had been the reason for the catastrophic collapse. Litigation against the insurance company was given new life a year later, however, when a credible witness reading an article about the case came forward to testify that a direct lightning strike had, in fact, played a role in the collapse.
The claim against the insurance company was ultimately successful, but the decision was made by denominational officials not to reinvest the awarded funds back into the restoration of the building. The church congregation was deemed too small to carry on the responsibility for maintaining the building, which still needed extensive restoration work far beyond repairs to the tower itself. Decision makers found it difficult to see how millions of dollars in building repairs would be a good investment for the kingdom.
The congregation was merged into another Philadelphia-area church, the building was subsequently sold to a developer, and the church has stood, more or less, derelict for 14 years. The purchaser is known for having “rescued” and salvaged other declining historic Philadelphia church properties. But it seems he has decided restoration in this case is no longer feasible, and so demolition has been scheduled.
I somehow feel the wrecking ball is poised to destroy an important piece of me. This is foolish thinking, of course. The memories I have described above are not going anywhere. It has been years since that corner in Philadelphia has been my focus. And even when it was, it was never supposed to be about me. I am afraid, though, there were times I thought too much that it was.
By admitting this, I do not mean to cast a shadow on the work of the Gospel in which I had the privilege to assist all those years. I am confident that I was doing the Lord’s work. I was devoted to serving Jesus, to preaching reconciliation through His Cross. But I was young and naïve. And I was also proud . . . in a way I know sometimes went beyond the healthy pride and satisfaction in a job well done.
We have a friend in Berlin who is a songwriter. The first line of one of her melancholic songs—my favorite, actually—is a good metaphor for what I was doing sometimes, when I should have been focused on building Christ’s Church: “I was building a cathedral.”
Christ Church Berlin does not have a magnificent edifice to capture my imagination. Not yet, at least! (I suppose, I have also recovered a certain degree of my idealism!) But pride still tries to creep into my church planting efforts here. I tend to be too enamored with appearances of success. More than that, I tend to get too discouraged when my efforts seem to be for small gain or for nothing. I must remind myself that I am not here to build cathedrals.
Part of my sadness following the steeple collapse was that so much time and vision and effort seemed to have been for nothing. But when the dust settles after a steeple falls or after a wrecking ball does its work, what has been lost? A grand specimen of human vision and architecture, for sure. Hours of intensive labor to restore a glorious asset for ministry, no doubt. A cathedral, perhaps.
But precious memories and lessons learned cannot be so easily destroyed. And, more importantly, the Church of Jesus Christ continues! It continues because, as I was reminded on Wednesday by two friends, independent from one another, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the Rock on which “the church doth stand, even when steeples are falling.” And praise God, His kingdom stands forever!
§ § §
On January 1, 2005, just five months after the collapse of the tower, I wrote a detailed article describing the collapse, the ministry of the church and school and a (now dated) prognosis. What follows is twice as long as what I have already written above, and for that reason, not for the faint of heart. But I include it below for anyone who may be interested in reading further. (I know there are many others, besides me, who also hold that West Philadelphia corner dear.)
Christ Memorial Church Steeple Collapse—January 1, 2005
An icon has been lost.
At approximately 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 3, 2004, the 170-foot stone steeple tower of Christ Memorial Reformed Episcopal Church (the “Church” or “CMC”) came crashing down, leaving a gaping hole in the southwest corner of the nave and spilling tons of rubble onto sidewalks and streets below. Firefighters and emergency personnel from nearby fire stations responded immediately, evacuating nearly 100 residents from the homeless shelter housed in the back wing of the church and combing through the debris to ensure no one was trapped.
As the dust cleared from the busy West Philadelphia intersection, it became apparent that, miraculously, no one had been injured in the collapse of the landmark structure. It is surely a testimony to Divine mercy and grace that a collapse of such magnitude on such a busy thoroughfare was not compounded by loss of life or serious injury. May Christ be praised!
The catastrophic implosion occurred just in time to be the breaking 11 o’clock news story on all the local television stations. In fact, the story received widespread coverage for some time following the incident. The initial nighttime aerial views were surreal as helicopter video footage portrayed an eerie scene of destruction, flashing lights and the bobbing search lights of rescue workers piercing the emptiness where the steeple tower should have been. For anyone who had ties to the church, it was hard footage to watch.
Even harder to view was the devastation revealed in the next morning’s sunlight. More than two-thirds of the magnificent tower had fallen. Its jagged remains protruded pathetically up through a mountain of stone the scope of which can be appreciated fully only by those who have seen it in person.
Worse, still, was the wreckage inside the historic church. The falling stone had left massive roof trusses splintered and dangling precariously over a cavernous hole that consumed a large portion of the balcony and an entire section of the of the narthex and nave. Rows of curved oak pews were shattered into oblivion. Basement furnaces were crushed like empty tin cans. And over the remaining expansive interior, a coating of dust lay thick, as if dusting had been neglected for decades. The dozens of newly installed crimson velvet pew cushions, the rich fabric of the chancel paraments, the colorful pipes of the historic tracker pipe organ, even the pages of the open lectern Bible all stood coated in the same grotesque gray-white fallout.
One need only look for a moment at the before and after pictures to understand that an icon has been lost.
The church steeple tower had been a prominent feature of the West Philadelphia skyline for nearly 120 years. Its elegant gothic revival architecture, a testimony to the grandeur of a bygone era, seemed the only timeless aspect of a constantly changing community.
The vast CMC structure, which fills the entire end of a city block, actually comprises three contiguous buildings: the Church, the Parish Hall and the Benson Hall residence facility. While only the Church building suffered direct damage from the collapse, the entities connected with all three buildings were adversely affected.
A brief history.
Benson Hall had been the original home of the Reformed Episcopal Theological Seminary. For some time following its inception in 1873, the Reformed Episcopal Church had sought a denominational seminary. In March of 1886, Bishop William Nicholson, Pastor of the Second Reformed Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, received “a confidential communication from a most generous friend proposing to set apart the sum of $200,000 for the erection of a theological seminary, a church and chapel in West Philadelphia.” (Footnote missing–probably Allen Guelzo, For the Union of Evangelical Christendom)
The most generous friend turned out to be Miss Harriet Benson of Chestnut Hill (Philadelphia), benefactress of more than 100 Philadelphia charities and dozens of mission works around the world.
Miss Benson’s proposal began to be realized within a few short months of her initial correspondence to Bishop Nicholson. The trustees of her gift purchased the property at the corner of 43rd and Chestnut Streets for a sum of $60,000 and commissioned architect, Isaac Pursell (an understudy of renowned architect, Samuel Sloan). In September and October 1886, respectively, the cornerstones of the Church and Seminary were laid. The General Council of the Reformed Episcopal Church was granted the deed to the property on May 25, 1887. Classes commenced at the newly constructed Seminary in the Fall of the same year. (The speed at which the entire project was completed in a horse and carriage era boggles the mind.)
The Theological Seminary maintained a presence in its original home for more than a century before moving to a new location in the early 1990s.
How the collapse affected the life and ministry of the Church.
In recent years, the Church had leased Benson Hall to the Lutheran Settlement House (“LSH”) who was using the former seminary dormitory/classroom facility as a shelter for displaced families—women and children. At the time of the collapse, approximately 100 residents occupied the building.
Following the collapse, LSH decided not to return to Benson Hall, despite assurances from structural engineers the facility was not affected by the collapse. Extra safety precautions—the removal of several decorative pinnacles from the building—were not successful in reversing the tenant’s decision to permanently relocate. The subsequent broken lease agreement has resulted in a significant loss of income for the Church, which is considering various options, including legal recourse.
The Parish Hall (chapel building) was occupied by Christ Academy, the CMC parish school. From the beginning, the Church had maintained a parish (“infant”) school, which had taken various shapes over the years. The school reached its numerical zenith in the mid 1980s with some 200 pupils in grades K-8, but, in 1986, a number of factors, including exorbitant building maintenance costs, contributed to the decision to close the school.
In 1996, following a ten-year period of renewal and building restoration, the Church reopened the school, establishing it on the classical model of education in which Latin is a central part of the curriculum. As a Christian and classical school, Christ Academy is a liberal arts school standing at the vanguard of the most dynamic educational movement in America today.
Under the classical model, students learn by studying the “classics” or the enduring examples of excellence of each subject. These examples represent what an educated child should know, but they also teach how a child may excel. In addition, as a Christian school, Christ Academy provides the student a comprehensive foundation upon which to build a life of faith and practice, teaching the child those things necessary to his soul’s health and salvation.
Christ Academy consists of two schools: The schola grammaticae, or grammar school (K-5), and the schola logicae, or logic school (6-8). The two schools enroll between 50 and 60 students.
The tower collapsed exactly one month before the beginning of the school year. Although, the classrooms facilities were untouched by the falling stones, school officials agreed the circumstances necessitated a move to new quarters. Arrangements were quickly made to move the Academy and the monumental task of relocating was undertaken. The move was accomplished with such efficiency that classes started on schedule.
The Church building, of course, suffered severe damage in the collapse. This is the house of worship and place of ministry for a small but devoted body of believers. The CMC family is a multi-racial congregation that reflects very well the diversity of the University City neighborhood it serves.
The loss incurred in the collapse would be a major setback to the life and ministry of any congregation. But it is especially overwhelming to a congregation that still only barely fills 5% of its building’s seating capacity. It is a loss made even more daunting because CMC has been searching for a new rector for more than a year. But, surprisingly, the spirit and resolve of the congregation have not been crushed. The vestry and building restoration committee remain dedicated to restoring the building and getting back to the work of building the Church.
Perhaps the optimism of the congregation is not surprising. The Church has survived hard times in previous decades. As recently as 1987 (the centennial of the Church), the Church and Seminary, having dwindled in both numbers and vision, made a decision to put the property up for sale. Exorbitant estimates for badly needed building restoration seemed impossible to achieve. Demolishing the building seemed the only option. But demolition costs proved exorbitant as well, and sales talks and agreements ultimately fell through.
Then in 1988, a remarkable period of renewal and growth began. A faithful but discouraged congregation numbering in the single digits and meeting in a Sunday school room began meeting again in the main sanctuary. Slowly, attendance began to increase and a renewed vision for worship and service was discovered. The Lord was still in His holy temple!
The grand old tracker pipe organ was subsequently resuscitated (literally) with wire and duct tape and returned to use in the Sunday service. A choir was reassembled behind the curved wood rail of the choir loft. The daily office was revived—both morning and evening prayer began to be read on week days, sometimes with only two or three in attendance. But where two or three are gathered . . .
Prayer was, no doubt, the foundation of great things to come in the life of the Church.
Certainly, the Spirit of God is not limited in His work by church architecture, but it cannot be denied that the people of God are affected by the aesthetics of the place in which they worship. And there is no question that the beauty and splendor of Anglican liturgical worship and music is best experienced in an edifice of matching beauty and splendor.
Christ Memorial Church with its lofty ceilings, carved wood buttresses and brilliant stained glass windows is such an edifice. The move back into the sanctuary cannot be credited solely for the subsequent growth of the parish, but it marked the beginning of a newfound respect for the beauty of sacred places. This respect carried forward in a different attitude toward the building, which for too long had been viewed as little more than a money pit.
During the next 15 years, the Church achieved significant and exciting restoration work. Large sections of the deteriorating hand-cut slate roof were replaced with new hand-cut slate. Drop ceilings and paneling—that trend of the 1970s and ’80s destructive to historical architecture—were removed. Crumbling plaster crown molding and beautiful woodwork were restored. Long forgotten glass ceilings were uncovered and repaired. Wood and slate-tile floors were refurbished. A brick handicap access sidewalk and ramp were installed. New velvet pew cushions replaced the moldy straw-filled cushions of a bygone day. Modest portions of the stained glass were repaired.
In every corner positive improvements were being made. In fact, one of the things that makes this catastrophe particularly difficult is that it seems to negate years of building restoration progress.
But lest too much attention is focused on the rejuvenation of the Church physical plant … Home Bible studies were established. Multiple youth ministries were launched, reaching dozens of unchurched children for Christ. Thanksgiving baskets were distributed to the needy. Conversational English and Bible classes impacted the lives of Internationals from all over the world. Catechetical training in Sunday School and in the homes of parishioners brought theology to life for a whole generation of young people (some of whom have gone on to take classes at the Seminary). The reestablished parish school provided an excellent educational alternative to area children, some of whose parents were former CMC Parish School pupils.
In short, the ministry of Word and Sacrament—the care of souls—was bearing new fruit in a community ripe for harvest.
New fruit continues to be harvested. One of the bright spots in this entire matter has been the way the Church has thrived in its temporary new quarters. Indeed, attendance is up!
Immediately following the tower collapse, several area Reformed Episcopal Churches extended invitations to the reeling congregation. Grace Church in Collingdale (approximately seven miles southwest of CMC) seemed to be best situated, and a temporary merger was arranged. Subsequently, Grace extended its invitation to include Christ Academy, which invitation was gladly accepted.
The resulting joint worship and ministry of two very different congregations has proven to be of mutual benefit. The vision and vigor of the Christ Memorial congregation has brought refreshing energy to the ministry of its sister parish. At the same time, Christ Memorial, receiving steady pastoral care for the first time in over a year, has found some much needed stability at Grace in this time of crisis. In October, the joint congregations presented twelve for confirmation, including ten from CMC and two from Grace.
The immediate cause of the collapse is still a matter of debate. It is clear, however, there were multiple contributing factors. A severe storm with torrential rains and high winds swept the area on the afternoon of the collapse, felling trees just blocks away. A neighbor also reported that lightning may have struck the tower during the storm. He witnessed a great flash and simultaneously heard a loud crack and believed the church was struck.
There seems to be no doubt, the storm on the afternoon of August 3rd contributed to the collapse later the same day. But the tower was in trouble prior to the storm. In fact, as early as 1983, the condition of the tower had been a concern. Studies indicated that the sandstone veneer used in the building was susceptible to water absorption and chemical decomposition. Architectural reports called for complete rebuilding of certain stone piers at the upper levels of the tower and the installation of stabilizing tie rods. Other remedial measures were also recommended to halt the active disintegration process underway.
It seems that at least some of the recommendations were undertaken at that time including the installation of tie rods, though, apparently, the recommendation to follow up and monitor the tower’s condition was never executed. Subsequent reports indicated that some of the stabilizing measures were not properly implemented. At best, the reports showed the problem had not been successfully addressed and that the tower needed further work. But, despite the serious nature of the problem, somehow the matter was forgotten.
In 2003, the Church began participating in a pilot program with Partners for Sacred Places (“Partners”), a national organization (headquartered in Philadelphia) devoted to the preservation of America’s sacred historic buildings. The program included a series of seminars aimed at training area churches in such things establishing building committees and developing fundraising drives. In addition, Partners provided seed money for comprehensive architectural surveys to be done for each church in the program.
The CMC survey brought to light again the old problem with the tower and found the disintegration process had advanced to a very serious state. In February 2004, architects advised the Church to cease using the main sanctuary and to erect a temporary fence around the tower. This was done immediately. Moreover, the Church began in earnest to establish a building restoration committee, made up of concerned patrons both from within and outside the congregation. While waiting to receive the full report and conclusions of the architects, the Church vestry and newly constituted Building Restoration Committee proceeded with plans to launch a fund raising drive. They hoped to begin the anticipated $1 million tower stabilization efforts sometime in 2005.
In July, the architect’s final report was issued, and it contained somber verbiage: “At some point, the active stone loss and instability . . . will precipitate the catastrophic collapse of the tower. It is impossible to predict exactly when this will occur, but we believe that the evidence shows that the tower is well along the way in this process.” Barely a month after they were written, these words were fulfilled.
In the aftermath of the tower’s collapse, questions have been asked about how this could have happened and whether the catastrophe could have been averted. Exacerbating the whole affair, is the fact the insurance company has denied coverage of the claim, citing Church negligence.
It is not clear how or when or by whom the ball was dropped. Perhaps, the precarious steeple tower became irrelevant when discussions about demolition of the building were pursued in the late 1980s. It seems that when talks of demolition ceased, no one remembered the primary reason those talks had become pertinent in the first place.
It is probably of little profit to point fingers. In any case, there are enough should’ves to go around among all the parties involved. The initial builders probably should’ve used better quality stone. Restoration contractors should’ve made sure they implemented repairs according to specifications. Church and Denominational officials should’ve stayed on top of the problem. Insurance companies should’ve performed due diligence.
For decades there has been perpetual confusion over who exactly is responsible for which parts of the building. The General Council of the Reformed Episcopal Church is the owner of the entire property. The Church vestry and the Seminary trustees have had various, sometimes overlapping roles in the upkeep of the building over the years.
Furthermore, the current Church vestry is a different group of individuals than it was twenty years ago. The Seminary is no longer a denominational seminary but a diocesan entity. An agreement to transfer property ownership to the Church was initiated years ago, but never completed. All these things contribute to a tangled mess not unlike the pile of rubble that used to be the steeple tower.
It is not every day a church steeple collapses in a cloud of dust. Still, according to Partners for Sacred Places, CMC could be a poster child for what is a widespread problem across the nation. Many of the nation’s historic sacred places are at risk. In Philadelphia alone, dozens of 18th and 19th century church spires and steeples stand against the city skyline. Most of them are in need of repair. The CMC congregation hopes its own disaster proves to be a wake up call to other congregations who have similar buildings.
A Christ Academy eighth grader clasping his hands together was heard to say in a wry twist of the old Sunday school rhyme, “Here’s the church . . . where’s the steeple?”
The CMC steeple, which long stood as a symbol of Christian Faith and Practice is gone. But, as the original old Sunday school rhyme reminds us, the Church is about the people, not the steeple. The steeple symbolically points the way to God, but it is the Church within the church, that is, the people who have been called to point the way to God and call sinners to the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That work must continue, steeple or not.
A number of years ago, when the (International) Organ Society visited Philadelphia, the CMC organ was on their tour list. Some 700 people filled the Church to hear the organ played. In that concert, the hymn entitled Built on a Rock was played and sung by the capacity congregation. Ironically, the first line of the hymn reads: “Built on a rock, the Church shall stand, even when steeples are falling.”
Issues connected to the CMC building remain uncertain. But one thing is certain, the Rock on whom the Church stands shall never fail. In this hope, the Church moves forward, in spite of slow progress.
Some five months after the collapse, progress is excruciatingly slow. Everything costs money, something the Church is short on. With rain pouring in, funds were borrowed early on to remove the pipe organ and thereby prevent further irreparable damage to the historic instrument. Since then, whole months passed where nothing was accomplished.
More recently, with some cooperation from the insurance company, debris has been removed from the sidewalks. Inside, the rough edges of the gaping wound have been cut away. A stabilizing scaffolding has been erected from the basement all the way to the hole in the roof some 50-60 feet above. Plans to build a temporary roof above the scaffolding are being implemented.
A committee has begun meeting to address the daunting question of what to do next. A scope of loss report must be prepared. Decisions must be made with respect to possible litigation of the claim against the insurance company. Ultimately, decisions will have to be made that affect the future, not only of the building but of the Church. Vision, often hard to come by, will need to be cultivated in every quarter.
In the meantime, the congregation remains optimistic. They have every hope to return to ministry in West Philadelphia. In fact, they are planning to begin meeting in the CMC Parish Hall again sometime early in 2005 for Sunday Evening Prayer.
If history (even our own) has demonstrated anything, it is that prayer always precedes the powerful working of the Holy Spirit. Expect God to continue doing great things in West Philadelphia!