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In West Philadelphia, three congregations flow into one new church

New PC(USA) video feature shares how the Presbytery of Philadelphia guided three historic congregations to unity

Special to Presbyterian News Service 

PHILADELPHIA — Beginning in 2016, the Presbytery of Philadelphia began shepherding the congregations of three struggling churches — First African Presbyterian, Good Shepherd Presbyterian, and Calvin Presbyterian — in a process that eventually led to the formation of a new, vibrant church: New River Presbyterian Church.

First African is the oldest Black Presbyterian Church in the United States, having formed in 1807, and Good Shepherd and Calvin have long, deep roots in the community as well.

Starting as an online-only gathering during the Covid pandemic, New River celebrated its first in-person worship service on Easter Sunday 2023 and the one-year anniversary of that momentous occasion this Easter.

The Rev. Eustacia Moffett Marshall, pastor of New River Presbyterian Church, in the historic sanctuary of First African Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Plans are to renovate the sanctuary to become the worship space for New River. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“There was, I think, a kairos timing happening with the leadership at the Presbytery of Philadelphia, … noticing that these were three congregations, yes, that were dealing with decline, but also there was some sparks of life and the desire to want to grow,” New River’s pastor, the Rev. Eustacia Moffett Marshall, says in a new short-subject video from Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Communications.

The Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace, General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Philadelphia and Co-Moderator of the 225th General Assembly, recalls, “Part of our commitment during these first few years before Eustacia was, in an effort to honor the legacy of each group, they needed time to trust one another, to really move in beyond their words. They needed to feel secure in their new identity, to make the choice themselves.”

During this time, the Philadelphia-based Presbyterian Historical Society worked with members of the “stream” congregations that became New River to further document their histories and to start a new accession for the new church.

The New River Presbyterian Church Choir led worshipers on Easter morning, March 31, 2024. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“As the national archives of the PC(USA), the Presbyterian Historical Society holds the historic memories of congregations,” said Nancy J. Taylor, Executive Director of the Presbyterian Historical Society. “We’re thrilled we could welcome members of New River into the archives to explore the records of predecessor congregations as they move into new ways of doing ministry together.”

Marshall, Santana-Grace and members of the stream congregations talk about their journeys to this new beginning and their plans and hopes for the future in the video above or here.

This video was recorded by Alex Simon, Kristen Gaydos and Rich Copley, with still photographs by Copley, Gaydos, and courtesy of Marshall and Santana-Grace. The interviewer and story editor was Fred Tangeman, and the video was edited by Copley. Music is by JOYSPRING via iStock/Epidemic Sound. 

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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