Friday, February 26
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Presbytery of Philadelphia
Worshiping community's after-school program helps bullied teen find peace
No Longer ‘The Quiet, Withdrawn One,’ Thanks to Art, Storytelling Studio
For 15-year-old Chris Omelchuk, Beacon—a new church development under the umbrella of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a designated 1001 New Worshiping Community—has been a godsend. Growing up in a post-industrial neighborhood in Philadelphia, Chris was struggling in middle school with issues of bullying. He was being teased and made fun of, being told things like “you’re a fruit.” Then he discovered Beacon’s after-school program.
“It kept me from being drawn in by the instigators who wanted me to fight them," he says.
Thanks in part to two years of participating in Beacon’s Studio art—and storytelling—focused program and hanging out with kids in the neighborhood during summer months at Beacon, Chris is in a much better place.
“Beacon has helped tremendously,” he says.
What Beacon does with students in the Studio is a sort of group art therapy session, but with an artist and pastor as teacher. There’s a broader benefit too: students get to make something next to another person in their neighborhood, with opportunities to bond through storytelling.
“I’ve seen this work in all kinds of populations, across all kind of demographics,” says Beacon’s co-director, the Rev. Rebecca Blake. “By making something beautiful and knowing the person next to them, they leave here feeling empowered.”
Chris credits Beacon and his parents for helping him better understand his homework and, as an extension, what was going on in the classroom. As a result he’s no longer the quiet, withdrawn one in the back.
“I’m much more comfortable speaking in public, so I’m upfront now,” he says, with a soft laughter that conveys a sense of wonder. “I used to be really jittery, but Beacon helped me overcome fear, by working on my social skills.”
Beacon began as a New Church Development in 2012, creatively using the space of what was Beacon Presbyterian Church—a mission church started in the 1870s. In 2010 the Presbytery of Philadelphia approached the original church, which was struggling to keep its doors open, to allow a new ministry to be formed. Grounded in the arts, the new Beacon would create an alternative way of doing mission and worship in a neighborhood facing rising unemployment rates from industry leaving.
With creative approaches to programming, worship and sustainability, Beacon has fully utilized its front yard as a community space.
That yard has become a connecting place, welcoming neighbors of all backgrounds and classes, young, old, rich and poor into a community where their stories are heard—and faithful caring for one another happens.
“Our vision for Beacon was to be good news to the surrounding community, regardless if they ever joined us in worship,” says the Rev. Karen Rohrer, Beacon co-director.
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Loving Lord, we pray for young disciples who go in Jesus’ name, carrying your love and compassion to others. Give your blessing to every heart and hand that reaches out to the world with your gracious presence. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.