Northeast Times

Divine plan

The Rev. Ted Bach is hope­ful that more com­munity out­reach will bol­ster the con­greg­a­tion of his John­son Me­mori­al United Meth­od­ist Church in May­fair. JENNY SWI­GODA / TIMES PHOTO

The pas­tor of the John­son Me­mori­al United Meth­od­ist Church is hope­ful that some stra­tegic moves will lure more people to the pews of his build­ing.

Prin­ciples of faith don’t change, but how a church con­nects with people tends to ad­apt to the times.

At the John­son Me­mori­al United Meth­od­ist Church in May­fair, the con­greg­a­tion and its pas­tor have up­dated their Sunday ser­vices and have reached out to their sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hood with pro­grams for kids and meet­ing space for self-help groups and oth­er con­greg­a­tions.

The activ­ity, said its pas­tor, the Rev. Ted Bach, is based on the real­iz­a­tion that mem­ber­ship is dwind­ling as people move away or grow older — and also that there are a lot of folks in the area around the Long­shore Av­en­ue house of wor­ship who have not been in­side the church, or any church.

 “We’re try­ing to bring re­li­gion to the people,” said con­greg­a­tion mem­ber Gerry Flynn. “We’re do­ing what Christ did.”

The con­greg­a­tion num­ber at John­son Me­mori­al is low, said mem­ber Jerry Adams, who puts it at about 120. Dur­ing a Sept. 13 in­ter­view, Bach, Adams and Flynn es­tim­ated that 50 people turn out for the Sunday ser­vice. Al­though he’s un­sure of John­son Me­mori­al’s ori­gin and his­tory, Bach said the num­bers are down from the 400 to 500 who rep­res­en­ted the con­greg­a­tion’s peak some years back.

Sundays are busy for Bach. He’s also pas­tor of the Holmes­burg United Meth­od­ist Church on Frank­ford Av­en­ue, and he leads ser­vices for con­greg­ants there each week be­fore rush­ing over to John­son Me­mori­al.

For al­most a year, John­son Me­mori­al, which has nev­er been any­where but Long­shore Av­en­ue, didn’t have a pas­tor. Sunday ser­vices were led by Flynn, the church’s Christ ser­vice min­is­ter, who also is a po­lice chap­lain. Bach was ap­poin­ted to his dual role in Novem­ber 2010.  Such a long time without a pas­tor is un­usu­al for a United Meth­od­ist con­greg­a­tion, he ad­ded.

One of the big chal­lenges in sub­bing for a min­is­ter, Flynn said, is put­ting to­geth­er a weekly ser­mon, which he noted “is sup­posed to be God’s word through you.”

Be­sides not hav­ing a pas­tor for a while, John­son Me­mori­al’s con­greg­a­tion has had oth­er ad­versit­ies to over­come, Flynn and Adams said.

There were prob­lems with the build­ing. For ex­ample, an oil tank leaked and a heat­ing sys­tem had to be re­placed. Money had to be spent to bring the edu­ca­tion­al build­ing up to code so that it could house a day-care cen­ter. 

“It’s now the safest church in North­east Phil­adelphia,” Flynn said.

Re­cently, the church hired a mu­sic dir­ect­or. Now, John­son Me­mori­al has what Bach calls a “blen­ded ser­vice” — one ac­com­pan­ied by con­tem­por­ary and more tra­di­tion­al re­li­gious mu­sic. The choir has moved from the loft to be closer to con­greg­ants. A large screen is used to pro­ject the words of the songs.

The tone of ser­vices is more in­form­al, the pas­tor said, adding that he does not wear a robe ex­cept for spe­cial litur­gies.

Con­greg­a­tion mem­bers are greeted when they ar­rive, Bach said. The al­tar, which used to be as far from the pews as it could be and still be in the church, has been moved for­ward — and much closer — to the people.

To pro­mote aware­ness of the con­greg­a­tion among neigh­bor­hood res­id­ents, the church has been mak­ing it­self avail­able in sev­er­al ways. John­son Me­mori­al’s lead­er­ship re­cog­nized a neigh­bor­hood need for child care. The con­greg­a­tion has its own preschool pro­gram and also leases space in the church’s edu­ca­tion­al wing for a new day-care cen­ter. 

The church is a vot­ing place on elec­tion days.

To serve the di­verse, multi-eth­nic neigh­bor­hood, John­son Me­mori­al of­fers space to Liberi­an, Pakistani and In­di­an Chris­ti­an con­greg­a­tions.

In fact, space at the church is pretty well booked each week­day, too. Groups from Al­co­hol­ics An­onym­ous and Al-Anon to Nar­cot­ics An­onym­ous meet at John­son Me­mori­al. Zumba dance classes are held there. There’s a kids camp and a flea mar­ket too, Bach said.

“The flea mar­ket offered us an op­por­tun­ity to meet and talk to people in the neigh­bor­hood,” he ex­plained. 

The de­cision to make the church so avail­able simply re­flects a bit of mar­ket­ing — en­ti­cing more people to come to John­son Me­mori­al. “People of­ten come to a church be­cause they know some­body there,” the pas­tor said.

Are the changes and in­creased ac­cess­ib­il­ity help­ing the con­greg­a­tion’s num­bers?

“We see a few new faces,” Adams said.

Bach, Adams and Flynn real­ize that growth will take time, but they have ex­pect­a­tions. 

“We hope our con­greg­a­tion that comes to wor­ship grows by ap­prox­im­ately fifty people … and they’re mar­ried with young chil­dren,” Flynn said. “I think that’s at­tain­able.”  ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

Here’s the low­down …

What you need to know about the John­son Me­mori­al United Meth­od­ist Church:

Ad­dress: 3117 Long­shore Ave.

Ser­vices: 10:30 a.m. Sunday

Pas­tor: Rev. Ted Bach

Phone: 215-355-3591

Web site: john­son­me­mori­alumc.org

E-mail: john­son­church@ve­r­i­zon.net

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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