1947: Bethel Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA
Bethel was found on November 2, 1947 by the Rev. Robert Lee Maffett, Sr. He surveyed the area of 19th and York Streets and determined there was a need for a ministry to minister to the needs of this community. The first worship service of this new ministry was held on November 2, 1947. The church was officially organized on June 27, 1948. There were 78 adult members and five children.
The history of this church reflects the spirit of its founder he was very talented and God’s servant to this community. Under his supervision and the support of the men of Bethel, they dug out and built a multipurpose room, kitchen, gymnasium, and lavatories on the lower level of the church building.
From the start, the driving compulsion of Bethel church has been its work with community outreach. Bethel is defined as a missional church. It is small in membership, but has a big heart of serving and caring for its community.
Bethel’s mission statement: Our purpose is to do God’s work, meeting people where they are and loving them in all the things we do. Our goal is to be a “Beacon of Light” where if one is hurt we all hurt and if one is happy we all are happy!
Bethel had a community outreach center designed to help children. For 30 years, the Center was directed by Rev Herbert L McClain. The Center provided the community with scouting (girls and boys), block committees, Model cities meetings, afterschool programs, food help, and other community resources.
Once again in 2012 the mission programs at Bethel were revived. As times, have again changed our congregation has decreased and the needs became more prevalent. We started with a weekly food bag program. It sometimes has fed as many as 161 families in a week. As we commenced to build relationships with the community, we found many areas of needs and concerns that we could help address.
During the winter months after people would await the services of the weekly food bag program in the cold for an hour or two, we offered a hot cup of soup. Then we collaborated with a city agency to provide a sit down home style meal. This was especially for the homeless and the neighbors who were unable to cook meals. We went further to build programs for the youth in the community starting with the Y.E.S. (Youth Empowerment Saturday’s) program. This youth group was created to be a safe haven for them to come and have discussions about challenging issue they face. These discussions are followed by games, snack, movies and more.
We then decided to revamp our youth summer camp for the neighborhood kids. This gave them an opportunity to be productive during the summer months, while teaching them the word of God. Just recently in 2016 we began an afterschool program where we serve those students who are in need of academic help. The kids come to get homework help, tutoring and mentorship to help guide them through their academic careers now and in the future.
During the midst of developing our mission program we found a severe need to address the seniors in the community. Many seniors were living alone without a support system, family, inadequate food supplies and other various issues. By partnering with P.C.A., Share, Gateway Health, A.A.R.P. and other local agencies we are able to help the seniors daily.
This brief history was recently updated as a part of the Presbytery of Philadelphia’s 300th Anniversary Year of Celebration and Witness. The story of the congregations throughout the Presbytery were revised to remind us of our past even as we live into the present and move towards God’s promised future. Read more about the 300th Anniversary: www.presbyphl.org/300th-Anniversary.