Northeast Times

Bicentennial

First Pres­by­teri­an Church of Kens­ing­ton will cel­eb­rate its 200th birth­day this week­end, com­mem­or­at­ing a long his­tory of ser­vice to pa­rish­ion­ers and the com­munity.

  • First Presbyterian Church marks 200 years this weekend. PHOTO COURTESY OF SHAWN HYSKA

  • A postcard from the 100th anniversary in 1914 shows the original steeple. PHOTO COURTESY OF SHAWN HYSKA

Rev­er­end Shawn Hyska stood at the pul­pit in front of a large pipe or­gan that is the fo­cal point of the sanc­tu­ary in­side First Pres­by­teri­an Church of Kens­ing­ton.

“My dream is for this en­tire room to be packed,” Hyska said. “So much that even the up­per bal­conies are filled with people.”

Des­pite what the church’s name im­plies, the church at 418 E. Gir­ard Ave. now resides in Fishtown, or “His­tor­ic Kens­ing­ton,” as Hyska says.

Hyska and oth­er mem­bers of his con­greg­a­tion are gear­ing up for the church’s bi­cen­ten­ni­al cel­eb­ra­tion this week­end. Al­though the earli­est re­cords of the church date to 1811, First Pres­by­teri­an was of­fi­cially gran­ted a charter from the state on March 23, 1814.

Be­sides Old Brick Meth­od­ist Church on 4th Street, which Hyska said is just over two cen­tur­ies old, First Pres­by­teri­an is per­haps the old­est church in the neigh­bor­hood.

Be­fore the cur­rent large, green cop­per dome that tops the church’s out­er façade, First Pres­by­teri­an used to have 180-foot spire that was one of the tallest points in the state. It served as a point of ref­er­ence for fish­er­men rid­ing up the Delaware River.

“It’s cer­tainly sad that we’re one of the only ones left,” Hyska said. “But it’s also a test­a­ment that we kept our doors open long enough to serve the com­munity.”

Star has covered the church’s pre­vi­ous mile­stone an­niversar­ies over the years. It pre­vi­ously re­por­ted that the church served as a place of rest and canteen dur­ing both World Wars.

Nowadays, First Pres­by­teri­an op­er­ates a food cup­board and cloth­ing closet for loc­al res­id­ents in need.

Its base­ment also hosts sev­er­al com­munity meet­ings, in­clud­ing some for the 26th Po­lice Dis­trict.

The church’s cel­eb­ra­tion will take place on Sat­urday, March 22, from noon to 4 p.m. and will fea­ture face paint­ing, a string band and free samples from loc­al res­taur­ants.

“It’s not just about our birth­day,” Hyska said. “We also want to show­case the com­munity. If it wasn’t for them, we would be noth­ing.”

The fol­low­ing day, the church’s of­fi­cial charter day, will fea­ture a spe­cial ser­vice with a per­form­ance from the Prin­ceton Theo­lo­gic­al Sem­in­ary Choir. The ser­vice will take place at 10 a.m. and is open to the en­tire com­munity.  

Church mem­ber Mi­chael Al­brecht, 53, from up­per Kens­ing­ton, has been com­ing to ser­vices for six years and has been a church eld­er for two of those years.

“It’s ex­cit­ing to be a part of something pretty awe­some,” said Al­brecht, re­fer­ring to the church’s up­com­ing birth­day cel­eb­ra­tion. “It’s a real mile­stone for us, it’s like be­ing part of his­tory.

Since mov­ing in­to Fishtown with his wife just two months ago, Hyska has be­come the church’s first pas­tor since 1992 to both live and work in the neigh­bor­hood in which he serves.

The last pas­tor to do so was the Rev. Charles R. Schafer, Jr., who served the church from 1981 to 1992.

As pas­tor, Hyska said that he hopes to bridge the gap between old and new res­id­ents.

“I hope the church can be a place where both groups can come to­geth­er,” he said. ••

You can reach at cdifiore@bsmphilly.com.

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