1996: New Spirit Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA
In March 1852 the Church Extension Committee of the Presbytery of Philadelphia approved a petition requesting organization as The Westminster Presbyterian Church and was located at the corner of Broad and Fitzwater Streets in 1856. As members to move to West Philadelphia, the Presbytery granted Westminster's request to relocate in West Philadelphia in 1906, by way of a merger with Greenway Presbyterian Church.
In 1858 Abby and William C. Longstreth founded The Greenway Sabbath School to teach and nurture the children of Southwest Philadelphia. When the neighborhood realized the need for an established church, Rev. Henry E. Thomas became the first pastor of the Greenway Presbyterian Church. This faith community merged with Westminster Presbyterian Church in 1906, and the new congregation found a home in the heart of Southwest Philadelphia.
The merged congregation grew quickly into one of the largest Presbyterian churches in West Philadelphia and membership reached a high of 1,671 in 1960. Over the years Westminster sent out hundreds of missionaries and ministers, including Rev. H. George Vorsheim who, on a missionary trip to Japan, led the lead pilot who bombed Pearl Harbor, to the Lord. Vacation Bible School started in the 1920's and continued well into the 2000's.
1815, Second Associate Reformed/Ninth
In 1822, when the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Church merged with the PCUSA, the Second Associate Reformed Church became part of the Second Presbytery of Philadelphia, and was renamed Ninth Presbyterian. In 1841, Ninth members dedicated a new building at the corner of Sixteenth and Sansom where it remained until 1911 when it relocated to Fifty-Seventh Street and Washington Avenue. Ninth Church grew in membership at its new location until about 1950.
New Spirit is formed
By the mid 1990's three long-standing churches in West Philadelphia had difficulty being self-supporting so two of those churches: Ninth Presbyterian ( 57th and Washington Ave), and Westminster Presbyterian (58th and Chester Ave) merged and became New Spirit Presbyterian Church housed in the Westminster building. Two historically Bible-teaching, Gospel- preaching churches merged membership, talents, organizations, musical abilities, furniture and memorabilia. Everyone enjoyed warm Christian Fellowship and a big glorious adult choir, youth choir, bell choir, men's gospel choir, musicians, and special concerts. There was youth group (Camp Fire Kids), children and adult Sunday School classes, Women's Circle, Annual Sunday School Picnic near Ocean City, NJ, Bible Studies, Women's Day, a card ministry, and a dedicated group of Elders and Deacons.
For over a century, Westminster — and then New Spirit Community Church, faithfully served this ever-changing neighborhood on the corner of 58th Street and Chester Avenue. However, in 2012 the building that had sheltered this community since 1910 was in disrepair and the future of this congregation’s ministry was uncertain.
In 2013, as New Spirit was discerning its future, Wayne Presbyterian church was also discerning new ways to continue their long term relationships in the neighborhood through their CityLights ministry. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Wayne Presbyterian Church said ‘yes’ to caring for the building and the ministries within it, and New Spirit Community Church said ‘yes’ to a new way of being as a nesting congregation. The building is now called The Common Place — a sacred space to do life together that serves the children and families of Southwest Philadelphia through faith, education, and support. The Common Place is still home to New Spirit Community Church. God will continue to proclaim this story of preservation, renewal and hope.
In 2016, several churches in Southwest Philly joined New Spirit to hold a big Vacation Bible School with classes for all ages. Christopher Holland who was serving as a lay pastor was ordained March 2017. The bountiful blessings go on and on at 5736 Chester Ave., beyond our wildest expectations! To God be the Glory!!!!
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.