A church grows in Bridesburg

Cur­rently un­der renov­a­tion, the non-de­nom­in­a­tion­al Chris­ti­an Realife Church will soon open its doors to the com­munity.

A soon to be sac­red space: Pas­tor Rob Burns of Realife Church in Brides­burg, in­side the church’s new build­ing, cur­rently un­der renov­a­tion. SAM NE­W­HOUSE / STAR PHOTO

Neigh­bors strolling on Rich­mond Street in Brides­burg re­cently might have seen work go­ing on in­side the former ma­sonry ware­house at the corner of Bucki­us Street. Teams of vo­lun­teers in­side are work­ing to in­stall new in­su­la­tion, con­struct stair­cases and nail wooden frames to­geth­er in­side.

This pro­ject is soon to be the new home of Brides­burg’s Realife Church, a non-de­nom­in­a­tion­al Chris­ti­an church based out of the former Realife Caf&ea­cute; right across the street.

“We think this new place will serve us great,” said Rob Burns, a Realife pas­tor, in­side the build­ing, cur­rently un­der renov­a­tion. 

With its zon­ing ap­provals for re­li­gious as­sembly us­age at the new loc­a­tion hav­ing been gran­ted over the sum­mer, Realife Church will be­gin hold­ing weekly ser­vices there as soon as its team of church mem­bers and vo­lun­teers can fin­ish fix­ing up the build­ing.

But in his­tor­ic­ally Pol­ish-Cath­ol­ic Brides­burg, not a lot of neigh­bors know much about the new church next door. The first ques­tion asked by a lot of loc­als who Star talked to about Realife Church was, “What de­nom­in­a­tion is it?” 

“If you don’t con­nect with a Cath­ol­ic church in Brides­burg, there’s not really a lot of op­tions,” ob­served Bri­an Weber, a pas­tor from Grace Point church in Bucks County, who has known Burns for years.

But with the up­com­ing open­ing of the new build­ing, Realife Church may be­come more prom­in­ent in the loc­al com­munity. They will be chan­ging their name to Soma Phil­adelphia, ac­cord­ing to Burns, as part of the na­tion­wide Soma fam­ily of churches.

“I’m very ex­cited about the fact that the church will be in the com­munity with a vis­ible build­ing and a vis­ible place,” said church mem­ber and Brides­burg res­id­ent Kileeo Wideman. “As a church, we are still fig­ur­ing out what it means to be us, and to be a new young church in this very old neigh­bor­hood that has such rich his­tory and her­it­age.”

Burns, a res­id­ent of Brides­burg and fath­er of four, said that while the neigh­bor­hood has a repu­ta­tion of be­ing pop­u­lated by mostly older folks, there are many young fam­il­ies there too – and more are com­ing.

As far as his min­istry, his mes­sage is: keep it simple.

“We just keep it ba­sic — try­ing to help people, and serving the com­munity,” Burns said of the church’s mis­sion. “We look at the life of Je­sus, and that’s what he spent a lot of his time do­ing.” 

Burns got star­ted in Phil­adelphia by run­ning a win­dow com­pany in North Phil­adelphia. Burns opened up the Realife Caf&ea­cute; in Brides­burg as a fully op­er­a­tion­al cof­fee shop, but also as a place for kids and teens, away from home or school, to just hang out, in­stead of be­ing on the street.

“That’s how it all got star­ted, just kids hav­ing cook­ies and co­coa,” Wideman re­called.

Realife Caf&ea­cute; was open for three years. Then it was turned in­to a thrift shop for two years.

Slowly, Burns, who has a de­gree from Phil­adelphia Bib­lic­al Uni­versity — now known as Cairn Uni­versity — real­ized, while con­nect­ing with the Brides­burg com­munity through the caf&ea­cute; and thrift shop, that spread­ing a Chris­ti­an mes­sage was the work he most wanted to do.

“What we be­lieve helps people is faith. We were do­ing com­munity ser­vice work. We de­cided, why not be a church?” Burns said.

As a com­munity hub, Realife is the meet­ing place of the Brides­burg Civic As­so­ci­ation; it’s also a meet­ing point for the sum­mer ser­vice trips in the city that Weber or­gan­izes. However, it is not a large enough space for the cur­rent size of the con­greg­a­tion – about 100 fam­il­ies — and the church holds its weekly ser­vices at Rich­mond Hall, in Port Rich­mond. That’s why the new build­ing be­came ne­ces­sary.

Burns said he hopes the lar­ger meet­ing space will al­low the church to provide more com­munity ser­vice pro­jects to the com­munity, as that is a large part of the church’s mis­sion.

In re­cent years, Realife has worked with Weber to host Grace Point’s weeklong “kids’ camp” of ser­vice activ­it­ies, which took place this year in Ju­ly. As part of one pro­ject, the Grace Point kids cleaned, cleared and re-land­scaped the en­tire back­yard of a West Kens­ing­ton homeown­er.

Oth­er ser­vice pro­jects Realife Church has led in­clude re­paint­ing the wrought-iron fence be­hind the Brides­burg Re­cre­ation Cen­ter, which is still a work in pro­gress. Also this sum­mer, they hos­ted their first-ever bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment at the re­cre­ation cen­ter.

“They’ve had 40 or more kids here some­times,” said Jack­ie De­S­anc­tis, a vo­lun­teer at the Brides­burg Rec. “If they know we need something done, he says ‘Just give me a call,” she said of Burns.

Realife also sponsored Christ­mas gifts for kids at­tend­ing Brides­burg Ele­ment­ary School in re­cent years, and has done ser­vice pro­jects ser­vice at the Brides­burg Boys and Girls Club.

“They have helped with some of our clean-up days and they’ve done odds and ends tasks over the years,” said Mare Toner, dir­ect­or of the Boys and Girls Club.

As Burns put it, “We just will go to any or­gan­iz­a­tion and ask, ‘What do you need? What can we do?’”

With that kind of vo­lun­teer ser­vice re­cord, des­pite their un­usu­al caf&ea­cute; loc­a­tion, Realife – or as it will soon be known, Soma Phil­adelphia – might have a very bright fu­ture in Brides­burg.

“Our church ex­ists so that every man, wo­man and child will have an op­por­tun­ity to hear and re­spond to the gos­pel,” Burns said. “It’s whatever we can do to help.”

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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