POWER — Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild — is determined to be plugged in to the $6 billion expansion project at Philadelphia International Airport.
And after the second of four meetings in June — with the third one scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Monday, June 18 at St. Raymond’s Catholic Church, 1350 W. Vernon Road — it’s equally apparent that elected officials are coming on board in support of POWER’s push.
POWER’s concern is that qualified minority workers will be overlooked when the more than 100,000 temporary and permanent positions open up in construction and orbiting services. The multi-billion dollar project is estimated to inject millions into the local economy over the next several decades; the expansion project itself could take 15 years to complete.
Despite opposition from United Airways and a handful of residents in Tinicum Township, Pennsylvania, the expansion project is well underway, as the city has selected the firms that will manage the logistics of the project. So there’s no time better than now to ramp up support from the community and local elected officials, POWER organizers say.
Arch Street United Methodist’s Reverend Robin Hynicka, long at the forefront of POWER’s push, said minority and economically-challenged qualified workers haven’t benefited from the array of construction jobs that have popped up downtown, saying that while these companies were able to take advantage of tax breaks, the community didn’t benefit from the jobs these work sites created.
“We must change this,” said Hynicka during a recent rally and information session at Congregation Rodeph Shalom. “As people of faith — as a city — we can no longer subsidize projects that don’t put our neighbors back to work.”
Philadelphia City Councilmen Kenyatta Johnson and Curtis Jones have supported POWER since the beginning; fellow Councilmen William Green and Mark Squilla also voiced their support for POWER’s agenda, saying they would commit publicly to working with the coalition.
POWER laid out its set of economic justice principles at its latest meeting, which include first-source hiring so that the city’s unemployed have a fair shot at landing a job; providing resources for creating an enhanced training and recruitment model; and an increase in minority participation in trade apprenticeship programs.
“The Philadelphia Airport is our biggest economic engine,” said POWER organizer and Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir/Heart of The City Rabbi Julie Greenberg. “Using that engine to address city poverty and unemployment only makes sense. Local hiring requirements at the airport can serve as a model for other large, subsidized projects in our city.”
POWER seems to be partly motivated by a similar campaign in Los Angeles. There, community organizers were able to broker the Community Benefits Agreement between the Los Angeles faith-based coalition and the city’s airport and municipal leadership. The community, City of Los Angeles and LAX agreement came in 2004, when all parties entered a legally binding agreement that addressed the $11 billion airport renovation plan there. The community coalition was granted several conditions due to the agreement, including $15 million for airport job training, establishing a firm to oversee local hiring, soundproofing area schools and residences and increasing opportunities for minority and women in the actual modernization of LAX.
“The win-win of public support for the Los Angeles Airport — in exchange for meaningful local hiring and training systems, and living wage provisions — is a model for Philadelphia,” said Reverend Mark Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church.
Leslie Tyler was looking for a sign from a higher authority.
As first lady of Mother Bethel AME Church, it was her job to determine which neighborhood school the oldest, continuously owned African-American church in the country would adopt.
There were McCall and Meredith, two schools in the changing Queen Village neighborhood that could use a hand — but schools that also have resources and solid reputations.
And then there was Nebinger Elementary, in the shadow of public housing, where 98 percent of the student body comes from homes that meet the federal guidelines for low income; and where 100 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunches.
Looking at a map, Tyler noticed that the schools — with Meredith and MaCall on one side and Nebinger on the other — were separated by Christian Street.
And the woman of God got her answer.
“I felt at ease,” Tyler, wife of Senior Pastor Mark Tyler. “People kept saying, ‘You don’t want to go to Nebinger.’ How could we, as Christians, not notice that irony? I should have known all along that this was the place for us.”
Over the summer, Tyler reached out to Nebinger principal Dr. Ralph Burnley Jr. In just his second year at the school, Burnley, who previously served as the South Region Superintendent for eight years, has made it a point to get as many outside agencies as possible working with the school.
He has developed a relationship with the Queen Village Town Watch and the Bella Vista neighborhood group. They are loosely aligned as Friends of Nebinger. As a group, which also includes Mother Bethel, they have committed to donating $10,000 to the school by the end of the school year.
“It was a no-brainer,” Burnley said of allowing Mother Bethel to adopt the school. “They were talking about buying backpacks, notebooks, pens and paper for the children. How do you say no to that? In this era, with the budget cuts that the schools are suffering from, you can’t.”
Tyler said that the 260 backpacks purchased for Nebinger were paid for by the 18 different AME churches in the city. Tyler is the president of the ministers’ wives group. It was after the donations were given that Tyler approached Burnley about adopting the school.
Mother Bethel, along with buying supplies, has begun a plan that will place Nebinger students with at least 25 adult mentors. Mother Bethel has a museum that features the church’s rich history. The museum’s curator will teach the students in the eighth grade about the church’s historic role. They will have ongoing enrichment programs involving Nebinger.
“It’s become apparent to Mother Bethel that our role is not just financial; it’s also about human resources,” Tyler said. “Our job is to stand in the gap. That’s what we are going to do.”
Burnley’s leadership at the school is one of the things that attracted the church. Before he arrived last summer, the school had been chugging along, achieving its goals of making adequate yearly progress, but Burnley noticed that the test scores had stalled.
In 2009 and 2010, standardized test scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment at Nebinger became stagnant. In reading, during those years, 58.3 and 57.8 percent of the student body scored proficient or advanced. During that same time, the math scores were 66.2 percent and 68.1 percent, respectively. In 2011, Nebinger bumped those numbers to 71.8 percent and 82.0, respectively.
The percentage of students scoring below basic at Nebinger also dropped precipitously, tumbling 5.8 percent to 12.7 in reading in 2011. Math saw a 4.1 percentage drop to 7.8.
Asked if the improvements at Nebinger could be tied to cheating, something that has been speculated at other district schools, Burnley laughs.
“Tell them to look under my fingernails,” he says. “I’ve got nothing to hide.”
When he was the regional superintendent, Burnley kept a close eye on Nebinger. He noticed that many of the students’ biggest area of weakness was reading comprehension. To that end, he plans on having the mentors focus heavily on comprehension.
“It sounds beautiful when students read, and they all can read,” says Burnley. “But the key is being able to have them tell you what it is that they have read after they have read it.”
While he is thrilled that the church has helped from the financial standpoint, it is the human manpower of the congregation that he looks most forward to utilizing. Burnley would like to see African-American athletes, entertainers, Greek organizations and others mirror the commitment of Mother Bethel.
“So many of these schools in the city could benefit from the investment,” Burnley said. “Hopefully others will see what is happening here and it will spread.”
Fresh from their debut concert at the White House, the Wilberforce University choir will be in Philadelphia on Sunday, Dec. 18 to sing Handel’s Messiah with the Mother Bethel Cathedral Choir along with the choir from Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C.
More than 100 voices will fill the historic, concert hall-like cathedral at 6 p.m. at Mother Bethel located at 419 S. Sixth St. in Philadelphia.
The Handel’s Messiah Concert is free and open to the public and overflow parking is available.
Handel’s Messiah will be lead by Mother Bethel’s classically trained music director Maestro M. Barry Currington.
Wilberforce University is currently on tour and will be performing a special concert at the White House on Friday. On their way back to Ohio, the students will stop in Philadelphia to take part in Handel’s Messiah.
Mother Bethel is also pleased to welcome the choir from Metropolitan AME Church, the AME Church’s “National Cathedral.”
Metropolitan is bringing more than 70 of its choir members. Mother Bethel has presented this free Handel’s Messiah concert every year for the past five years.
This year is expected to be the biggest in the church’s history.
Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the host church for the Philadelphia Annual Conference, a milestone accomplishment in that it’s the 196th Session. The conference theme, “Reach, Reclaim, Engage, Empower” (Luke 10:1) — the conference is scheduled to run from May 23–27, 2012, at Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 419 South 6th Street, Philadelphia, Pa.
Men and women from across Pennsylvania, and as far as California and international locations, including Bermuda, have converged in Philly to celebrate the 196th Conference Session. “I’m just praying that the Lord will bless us real good,” shared Rev. Edward M. Bailey, Lancaster, Pa. A native New Yorker, he now shepherds a Bethel AME Church in Lancaster. “I’m an African Methodist, and there’s nothing like an AME conference … the singing, the preaching, the worship experience is outstanding,” shared Bailey. He’s also very hopeful that the conference goes well because it’s the last conference for Bishop Richard Franklin Norris, the presiding bishop and Episcopal leader.
“I’m been a member of Mother Bethel since 1995,” shared Rev. Lisa R. Cross, an ordained elder at Mother Bethel AME. Cross continued in expressing her job about the conference, “This is a great conference, and my expectation is that the new vision that is being planted throughout all the churches will be instilled in the leadership (represented) here. It’s wonderful to be here at the Mother church because our heritage means more to me now than ever before; if we don’t tell the story, who’s going to tell it?” Cross is responsible for Congregational Care services.
Delores Lyons is the operations manager for Mother Bethel AME Church, and the general chair for the Philadelphia Annual Conference. According to Lyons, she hopes that the visiting conference attendees will experience, “Joy, joy, joy!” She’s been a member of Mother Bethel for over 25 years, and her expectation for the conference is for “everyone (to walk) away satisfied, satisfied, having been filled with the Spirit and renewed to go forward to evangelize for Christ.”
Rev. Dr. Mark Tyler, senior pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church, shared this about the 196th conference, “Well, this is a bit overwhelming, obviously, but it is a great honor to be standing in the historic steps of Richard and Sarah Allen (the church founders). To think, 196 years ago, the AME Church began holding annual conferences; the first was in Baltimore; a year later, it was in Philadelphia. So, we’re the second oldest annual conference in the entire world — and now, there are annual conferences held on five continents.”
For more information about the conference, or Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, call 215-925-0616.
In honor of the “196th Session of the Philadelphia Annual Conference: Reach, Reclaim, Engage, Empower,” various African Methodist Episcopal churches gathered for the common cause to connect and inspire through empowering worship experiences.
With a lot of preparation and support from surrounding AME churches, the historic Mother Bethel AME Church in South Philadelphia hosted the conference this year.
“We partnered with people in the community and we worked with other churches,” said first lady of Mother Bethel Leslie Tyler. “We really worked our AME network; that’s where AME comes in handy because you never really do things by yourself — we just thank God we are not by ourselves.”
Mother Bethel worked with other churches to provide adequate parking space for guests and to supply the use of vans. In addition, they partnered with Ms. Tootsie’s Soul Food Café, to provide catering and to have guests eat at the restaurant.
The conference kicked off with a “Women in Ministry” event last Sunday, followed by the “Evangelism” event on Monday and a “missionaries” event on Tuesday where people gathered from New York, D.C. and other surrounding cities.
“We elected a new president, Connie Smith; … Florence Smith was the outstanding president,” Tyler said.
Wednesday was the official opening ceremony at Mother Bethel and Rev. Ronald Sparks from Monumental AME Church delivered the annual sermon.
“The turnout has exceeded expectations and the opening service was spirit filled,” Tyler said. “It was a very inspirational message that captured the frustrations and hopes of his peers and all of those gathered — it kind of sets the tone for the annual conference.”
The Rev. Edward M. Bailey from Lancaster and the Rev. Paul J. Thomas of Union AME Church located at 1614 Jefferson St., were enthused to participate in the annual conference and to attend the lay organization event held Thursday night at Mother Bethel.
The AME Church lay organization is a group consisting of members and community leaders, who inspire the youth, encourage financial support of the Church’s programs and share a common appreciation for the history and principles of African Methodism.
“It is also the night that we raise money for our colleges that belong to the AME Church,” Bailey said. “Each church will come together and give a donation towards a college fund for the African Methodist church.”
Thomas believes this conference is much needed in our community.
These conferences are important because it helps members know what the churches are doing and where they stand,” he said.
Following the lay organization event, Friday’s events were dedicated to Christian education along with Saturday, which was dedicated to the Young People’s Division (YPD). Former Gov. Ed Rendell stopped by the conference on Friday.
Sunday’s closing ceremonies located at First Episcopal District headquarters at
3801 Market St. consisted of the reading of resolutions, closing worships and the appointment of churches.
“Each year pastors are assigned to their church,” Tyler said. “Bishop Richard Franklin Norris appoints the pastor to a church.”
The conference is also an opportunity for vendors from all over to sell merchandise in what Mother Bethel names the “Blacksmith shop.”
The conference was an opportunity for people to reconnect, network and worship together.
“When you are working out there so often you think you’re all by yourself, it’s good to come and be reaffirmed that what you’re doing is what God called us to do,” Bailey said.
The “196th Session of the Philadelphia Annual Conference: Reach, Reclaim, Engage, Empower,” hosted by Mother Bethel AME Church, will be held next week, May 23 to May 27. The historic Mother Bethel AME church, located at 419 Richard Allen Ave. has an expected attendance of more than 5,000 people.
The meeting will be held by Bishop Richard Franklin Norris, presiding bishop over the First Episcopal District of the AME Church. All events are to be held at Mother Bethel excluding the Young People’s Division to be held at AME Union 1614 West Jefferson St. and the closing ceremonies, to be held at First Episcopal District Headquarters 3801 Market St.
The annual conference meets at different churches every year and Mother Bethel Church, is enthused to host the conference this year. According to Leslie M. Tyler, public relations director at Mother Bethel, the church last hosted the conference in 2008.
“The Annual Conference is always an exciting time for the AME Church,” said Rev. Dr. Mark Kelly Tyler, Mother’s Bethel’s 52nd pastor and conference host. “This is the most important annual meeting for local congregations to report on work that’s been done but also share visions of things to come — it’s a time to rekindle old friendships, make new friends and become inspired by powerful worship experiences.”
All evening workshop services start around 7 p.m. and are free and open to the public. For more information and a list to a full schedule, contact Mother Bethel at (215) 925-0616 or visit www.motherbethel.org.
Two local congregations started by founders of the U.S Black Church movement are scheduled to fellowship together for a joint service Sunday.
Mother Bethel AME Church congregation will worship at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas at 10 a.m.
Bishop Richard Allen and Absalom Jones walked out of St. George’s United Methodist Church in 1787 because of racial discrimination. Their exodus started what has become known as the Black Church Movement in America.
Allen started Mother Bethel AME Church and Jones started the first African-American Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. The two congregations are now uniting for the first time as St. Thomas celebrates its anniversary.
“St. Thomas is celebrating our 219th anniversary on Sunday. So, I thought it would be a good idea if the two churches would come together and worship, and I invited Dr. Tyler to come and be with us and his congregation and he graciously accepted,” said Father Martini Shaw, pastor of St. Thomas. “This would be the first time that we have record of that the two churches since the 1700s have worshiped together.”
The combined worship service is also part of the weekend observances of the 15th annual Liberation Sunday celebration marked every third Sunday in November.
The festivities will be led by members of the Richard Allen Foundation, under the direction of Mother Ernestine Henning, supervisor of missions for the AME Church's Third Episcopal District. Tyler and Shaw will be re-enacting the walkout at St. George’s.
“Dr. [Mark Kelly]Tyler will be acting as Richard Allen and I will be acting as Absalom Jones and we will actually do a re-enactment of what happened on that Sunday morning at St. George’s that ultimately gave rise to these two historic churches,” Shaw said.
Shaw hoped those in attendance would take way that both churches are still ministering to the purpose of their predecessors.
“The people will take away the fact that the dream of Absalom Jones and Richard Allen is still actively alive, the dream and the vision,” Shaw said.
The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas is located at 6361 Lancaster Ave. The pastors of Wesley AME Zion and Holsey Temple CME Church will also be on the program.
For more information on the combined worship service, contact (215) 925-0616.
Mother Bethel AME worships with African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas
The pews at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas were filled to capacity as parishioners from Mother Bethel AME Church joined them for service recently.
It was the first time that the two historic congregations joined as one in their long histories and it was in honor of St. Thomas’ 219th anniversary. Mother Bethel’s senior pastor, Rev. Mark Tyler, preached during the worship hour.
“First of all, I thought it was a tremendous opportunity to get a chance to speak at the historic African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas,” Tyler said. “Absalom Jones was such a tremendous figure, historically and otherwise so I really was just honored and overwhelmed by the invitation.”
Father Martini Shaw, senior pastor at St. Thomas, said the day was outstanding and emotional.
“One of the interesting things is that with both churches being the oldest in the city and among the nation, many of our historic churches are struggling today to stay open,” Shaw said. “We just feel very blessed that these two churches have remained not only strong and full of vitality but also still witnessing to the messages and vision of Absalom Jones and Richard Allen.”
The occasion also commemorated the 15th Annual Liberation Sunday Celebration, which recognizes when Bishop Richard Allen and Rev. Absalom Jones walked out of St. George’s United Methodist Church in 1787 because of discrimination. Their departures started the Black church movement in America as Allen formed Mother Bethel and Jones started St. Thomas. Their modern day successors portrayed the two religious leaders in a reenactment.
Tyler described it as a gripping moment for him.
“It’s something to preach about it,” he said. “We’ve even done a documentary on it. I’ve revisited that documentary so many times, but there was really something about doing that reenactment that morning.
“Here I am sitting across from Father Shaw who is the spiritual descendent of Absalom Jones and the custodian of his ministry, and here I am in the same position for Richard Allen and we’re recreating but we’re in that space,” he added. “It was really just a powerful moment, moreso than we probably thought when we casually walked in.”
Shaw said he felt the same.
“It really brought tears to my eyes to actually play the role of Absalom on that day and to be in the African-American hearts and shoes and what they must have felt that morning at St. George’s ad from that day of sadness and disappointment, what greatness came from what happened that day,” he said. “The birth of two very strong churches that even after 219 years are still strong and actively involved in ministry today.”
Sharon Coleman, part of the historical society at Mother Bethel, was one of the many congregants who attended the service at St. Thomas. It was her first Episcopalian service but that did not distract from the purpose of the day.
“I took out of it that even though we’re in different denominations, we still worship one God,” Coleman said.
“I felt that this was a time to reflect on that and to see how far the denominations have come over the years.”
Historically, African Americans have worn large, colorfully adorned church hats as part of their “Sunday Best” — a saying that dates back to their ancestors when dressing up for church was one of the few opportunities African Americans had to remove domestic aprons and house dresses.
These drab garments were replaced by bright colors, fancy shoes and elaborate hats that would stand out in a crowd. Style and sophistication would rule on Sundays when African-American women went to church. The annual tea at Mother Bethel embraced this tradition at one of the annual, premiere events in Philadelphia. On Saturday, more than 150 African-American women and young girls donned church hats, lace gloves, and pearls. Men and young boys wore tuxedos, bow ties for Mother Bethel AME Church’s annual tea “Pearls of Wisdom.”
The formal tea, held at the church, 419 S. 6th St., and featured three courses: bread, savory, and sweets with food presentations. There were performances by local pianist and vocalist Dena Underwood; dramatic readings by comedian Najwah Abdul Sabur; and singing and dancing by the Mother Bethel teenagers and youth. There was a “Hat Promenade” featuring all of the women in attendance sporting their fancy chapeaus.