It is time for church communications to move into the 21st century. One might say that this is gospel according to app creator Lasana Hotep, who along with his partners Alonzo Jones and James Lewis designed the new MyClickUrban.
This app will help churches members with similar interests reach out to each other and even provide information on recreational spots where the faithful can meet up.
MyClickUrban takes the legwork out of finding those church, cultural, educational, and grassroots events or healthy, exotic or ethnic cuisine for the most fastidious young (and not so young) professional looking for upliftment off the mainstream and popular paths. One only has to do one click to find what one needs, according to Hotep.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been home or have been traveling and looking for something to do,” Hotep said. “Then I find out that there was a program given by an independent author, an artist had a showing or there was a spiritually uplifting program nearby. I was right in the area and didn’t go to the lecture because I didn’t know it was happening. This app allows you do find out what is going on by searching eight categories.”
The iOS 5.1 or later app is being offered at no cost. Users can find and post everything from a concert at the Philadelphia megachurch like the Enon Tabernacle or Sharon Baptist church or a guest lecture by a well-known pastor, at a seminary like the Urban Theological Institute or a college campus.
The app was created back in December of last year. The co-founders initially targeted a couple of pilot cities before launching in Philadelphia recently. It is now available to also track events on the East Coast in New York, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Miami. In the Midwest the cities are Chicago and Detroit. In the Southwest and West Coast are Dallas, Houston, Phoenix and Los Angeles.
“One of the things people really love is the family events,” Hotep said. “People are always looking for educational and cultural things that the entire family can enjoy. It really goes across the board.”
Jones said that MyClickUrban is a way to network. “Though we specialize in mobile technology in the virtual realm, we’re social entrepreneurs equally excited about providing a platform for human interaction. People can exchange ideas and network interests at the events as well as via Facebook, Twitter and MCU, we’re about using urban events as a source of engagement and empowerment for our communities,” Jones said.
“We are very happy with the visuals,” said Lewis, who is the designer of the site itself. “My goals were to create an aesthetically pleasing experience and for users to use aesthetic to reflect the communities we’re targeting. All the feedback says mission accomplished.”
Hotep insisted that this is the wave of the future even for church members. “It is just a wonderful tool,” Hotep said. “You can even use it to form a conference network. It’s very direct and easy to use, so I would urge Philadelphia to give it a try.” For information go to Facebook at MyClickUrban or non-subscription based keyword myclickurban to short code 33233 on a smartphone.
Masjidullah is expanding its tentacles in Northwest Philadelphia now that the ink has dried on the deed of their new facility. Through a joint initiative between the mosque, United Bank and other community partners Masjidullah purchased the West Oak Lane Church of God building recently. The property, originally a Jewish synagogue, is located at the corner of Washington Lane and Limekiln Pike.
Masjidullah paused from the renovations at their new house of worship to hold a pre-Ramadan banquet recently. This event, like the purchase of the West Oak Lane property, embraced the entire Northwest Philadelphia area and cut across religious lines in the predominantly African American neighborhood. The evening’s honoree was the Rev. Alyn Waller, senior pastor of the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, located at 2300 W. Cheltenham Ave. just minutes away form Masjidullah’s new home.
“We are really moving beyond labels like I am Muslim and you are Christian,” said Michael Rashid, who has became a Masjidullah member when he relocated to Philadelphia 16 years ago. “We have to. When the school district was closing schools they didn’t ask if students were Muslim or Christian. When our children are going to prison it doesn’t matter if some are Muslim and others are Christian. There are issues we must all address.
“Northwest Philadelphia, until now, has not had much interaction. That’s why we were excited that Rev. Waller accepted our invitation. He was not there to convert us and we were not there to convert him. He may have converted some because by the end of his speech clapping and chanting, ‘Preach, Black man, preach,’” Rashid said.
Imam Mikal Shabazz, who serves the mosque in a role comparable to a Christian church’s senior pastor, said there is much excitement as West Oak Lane gains not only a new house of worship, but a new day care center, school and community center. He said they are targeting the campus to be completed by the fall. They will then rent out the current Masjidullah building located at 7700 Ogontz Ave.
The renovations for the $1 million building are costly. The recent pre-Ramadan fundraiser did raise $90,000 towards that bill. Both Rashid and Shabazz felt that donations raised at the gala exceeded their expectations. In fact they even had an overflow crowd of more than 700 at 3801 Market St. Some came in from Washington, D.C. Baltimore, New Jersey, Maryland and other parts of Pennsylvania.
“We will now be able to have the capacity to do programs we could not do before,” Shabazz said. “We do plan to continue to work with people of faith in the community. We know that as an Abrahamic faith we have much in common with our Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters. We want this to be a place that exemplifies that, and a place we can all come together to form alliances to address issues that concern the community.”
Rashid concurred. He said that he is looking forward to Masjidullah having an expanded role in working cooperatively with public, charter and independent schools in the Northwest as well. “I think one of our biggest roles will be is being of service to the kids because we believe in education first,” Rashid said.
Catalyst for Change Church has grown from a small gathering of 25 members to more than 700 in five years largely due to the vision of the Rev. Keon A. Gerow. An alumnus of Morehouse College and the Princeton Theological Seminary, this Baltimore native knows how to merge the traditional and the contemporary as well as to bring the upscale Powelton Village dwellers and the home-grown Mantua folks together for praise under one roof.
This will be evident when the non-denominational flow of worship puts Gerow in the pulpit on Sunday, July 14. He will be continuing his sermon series, “The 50 Shades of Grace.” One may find his interjecting his own journey from nearly dropping out of Morehouse to turning around his wayward ways and becoming founder of a contemporary church that is very much a member of the Church of God in Christ denomination.
“We are a church that loves Jesus and our members are [benefactors] of grace,” Gerow said. “We are a church filled with more than 65 percent of members who, before coming here, were unchurched or had very little church experience. For most this is the first time they have become a church member. For some the only time they were in church was when someone died, but now they find that this is a place of love.
“We are special because we have so many different people. They come from the Main Line and Mantua. Someone with a Ph.D. sits next to someone with a GED. We have entrepreneurs sitting next to the teenage mother, but they [are] all worshiping together. Whether they are white or Black, we know that we are all Christians so there is no judgment or castigation.”
Gerow grew up in a Muslim environment since his mother was a devout member of the Nation of Islam. He and his brother were the rebel teens who frustrated his mother. She decided to punish her sons by making them attend church every Sunday. The brothers would take the change she gave them for the offering plate right to the corner store to “buy donuts and Doritos,” he said. At church Gerow would not avidly pay attention, but those early Christian seeds were planted.
After graduating from high school he wanted to follow in the footsteps of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was excited to be accepted to King’s Alma Mater, Morehouse in preparation for a career as an attorney. But, as a 19-year-old Morehouse freshman Gerow realized that Spelman College was close to Morehouse. His philandering led him to earn the distinction of finishing his first two semesters with a 1.3 and 1.4 GPA and was told to pack his bags to return to Maryland.
“That was when God called me,” Gerow said. “God told me that I had a purpose. It was not partying, drinking and women or even becoming a lawyer. It came right before my sophomore year, while I was home on academic probation. It moved me to write the president of Morehouse a five-page letter begging to get back in. I returned to college to graduate with honors.”
In fact, when Gerow decided to attend seminary he was accepted by three Ivy League institutions — Harvard, Yale and Princeton. He chose the latter and earned his M.Div. degree in 2006. While studying in New Jersey he grew to love the Delaware Valley area. So, upon graduation he decided to stay. He then became associate pastor of the Mount Airy Church of God in Christ in West Oak Lane. Two years later he founded Catalyst for Change and the church moved to its present location in 2011.
With this relocation Catalyst for Change has been able to draw a diverse membership that includes those who live in the predominantly white Powelton Village. “We say that we bring together the middle class white privilege with the poor Black community. So, we have two divergent coming together without any stress,” Gerow said.
Since most of the congregation have the comparability of having little or no prior church experience Gerow said that through the sermons, special events and weekly Bible study many are progressing from being spiritual babes who “only drink the milk of the Word” to those who can digest “the meat of the Word,” he said. So by six months of membership most members can find basic books of the Bible, like Genesis, and have memorized verses like John 3:16. As time goes on they grow and learn deeper theological concepts.
This is the case even in the current sermon series on grace. Though these congregants became aware that not only do all have some grief, shame or guilt about something, but that forgiveness and reconciliation are key for Christians. Gerow is quick to point out that the hardest person to forgive is often oneself.
“It is really a disservice to hold on to resentment even if one was wronged,” Gerow said. “Sometimes the individual has gone on with their life. Grace allows us to see that forgiveness is freeing us to our future. If we don’t forgive we are holding ourselves back. We have to live in today and let go of yesterday to thrive.”
The life lessons from Gerow’s next series called “Cheaters: Love, Lie and Lust” often draws the most consistent church crowds and visitors. This series will kick off at the morning worship service on Sunday, July 28. It will address issues like domestic violence, infidelity, sexual molestation, and even how one can be single and sexy while being saved and living a holy lifestyle. Thus, Gerow insisted that there is something for married couples, divorcees, widows and the never married.
“It’s important that we discuss the real issues that are impacting even the church,” Gerow said. “Not letting your child go to the bathroom alone, even at church, because there may be a pedophile lurking outside the bathroom is real. Just because people come to church doesn’t mean that domestic violence is not going on at home.
“It’s not an oxymoron to say that you can be single, sassy and sophisticated and even sexy while being a Christian. Sometimes a woman reaches 40-years-old and her biological clock is ticking and she wants to get married and get pregnant. She can be single and sexy even though she hasn’t found her spouse. So, we provide for everyone to help their relationships grow, to find relationships and to prosper,” Gerow said.
The needs of the younger generation are also addressed at Catalyst for Change. The Children’s Church is held simultaneously with the adult 10 a.m. Sunday worship service. Teenagers take on the roles like junior deacon, junior trustee and ushers. There they learn the leadership skills that can easily translate into having similar roles in the main church or even in the business world. “We truly use the gifting of each young person so that they are primed to be among the 21st Century global leaders,” Gerow said.
This summer Catalyst for Change will host its Annual Youth Conference. Gerow hopes that teachers, mentors and parents will join a full house of adolescent and young adults during the three-day event. This will be held at the church from August 23 to 25. For more information visit achangeiscoming.org.
Faith Community United for a Healthier Germantown is an umbrella nonprofit with a unique mission. They share a collaborative vision to ensure that faith-based groups in Northwest Philadelphia are just as vigorous in their health as they are with their faith. Faith United co-chairs Hildegard Freeman and Brother Saddiq Jabbar Garner have plans for the organization to grow this summer.
Currently, Faith United consists of eight organizations — St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Holsey Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Germantown Quality of Life Program, At You Services, Northwest Human Services Parkside Recovery, Teen Challenge, Community Enrichment Fitness Network and the Germantown Friends School.
“We just had 600 people out of our 6th Annual Smart Health Fest,” Freeman said. “We were able to motivate the community and show them how these eight places of worship can benefit them. We took them out in Vernon Park where they got information on health, saw demonstrations, and received the message that faith based communities care about health and well being, too.”
Garner said that there is much work for Faith United in just the Germantown area. There are 46,000 residents living in East and West Germantown, according to Garner. This is the target audience for the Faith United groups as it holds planning sessions during July and August for their activities for its 2013-14 cycle.
“It’s important to be proactive when it comes to dealing with health issues in the neighborhoods, including violence,” Garner said. “Many people don’t think about conflict resolution as being vital to having healthy communities. It has to be part of the health awareness equation for families and individuals in our communities if we are to have a health future. That’s why the resources we are providing through faith groups are important.”
Sherry Hill, the founder of Community Enrichment Fitness Network, said that the Faith United member groups worked cooperatively in pulling together the recent Smart Fest. It was held in Vernon Park, 5800 Germantown Ave. on June 22 and was sponsored by Faith United and the Gateway Health Plan.
The day included health information disseminated, medical screenings, food demonstrations, and some even engaged in outdoor exercise despite the hot temperatures. Faith United also presented awards to Philadelphia Police Department Commissioner Charles Ramsey, Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross, State Rep. Steven Kinsey, and Dr. Margo Turner, a local emergency room physician and community activist.
“Everything was just fantastic,” Hill said. “I believe that the more we do this that it just gets better and better. This is because people are getting more conscious about their health. They realize it’s important as people of faith to address our spiritual needs but addressing those other needs helps to insure we are spiritually strong.”
St. Therese of the Child Jesus Roman Catholic Church in East Mount Airy held its final Mass on June 30. For the predominantly African American parish this will be an emotional final service as their parish will merge, along with the St. Madeline-Sophie Church, with the Holy Cross Church in West Mount Airy. The new parish is called Holy Cross.
The church’s new pastor is the Rev. William Grogan. He recently announced that though the St. Therese parish no longer exists it will still be a worship site. This means that, for now, there will continue to be a 5 p.m. vigil Mass on Saturdays. Sunday Mass will be held at Holy Cross at 10 a.m.
Prior to the final St. Therese Mass, the Rev. Monsignor David H. Benz told the parish that they will be “going out with a bang.” Benz hosted a church family picnic. All members, former members and the surrounding Northwest Philadelphia community were invited to the gathering held on the grounds of the church located on Upsal Street between Anderson and Ardleigh streets. The picnic was held immediately following the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass.
The farewell festivities came on the heels of a Town Hall Meeting held at the church on June 19. For more than two hours the church sanctuary was filled with emotional, angry and inquiring church members who wanted to know the details of the dissolving of St. Therese and the merger with Holy Cross. On hand were Benz and Grogan.
“I am deeply disturbed that they are putting us into a church that is need of repair and doesn’t have air conditioning or parking,” said Barbara Ann Fields, the director of religious education at St. Therese. “We have a new roof, upgraded our air conditioning system and have a beautiful church. We have a huge parking lot and our church is beautiful. I think they should come here if we merge.”
Kathryn Hall has been a member of St. Therese since 1948. She readily admitted that she is angry. “I live near here, less than a quarter of a mile. I don’t walk well because of diabetes, but now I have to go five miles,” she said.
“I am heartbroken,” said Pauline Johnson, who has attended St. Therese for more than 50 years. “I was stunned that they would ask us to leave this beautiful edifice. I don’t know what I am going to do because I am not going to Holy Cross.”
Chief Buffy Red Feather, a Black Cherokee Indian and a member of the Cherokee Federation, said that she was concerned about retaining the St. Therese tradition of hosting a Native American Mass each year. She said that she has been a member of the parish since 1969. “It’s a really sad day, but I am still Catholic. I heard that the other parish has nice people so I will go,” she said.
Feather received her wish as Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput announced that this St. Therese tradition will continue. This year’s Mass of Thanksgiving for St. Kateri Tekakwitha will be held at the Cathedral Basilica, 18th Street and the Parkway, on July 14 at 6:30 p.m.