Kensington: Local Church Makes Communal Difference

The logo outside of the Frankford and Norris Circle of Hope
The logo outside of the Frankford and Norris Circle of Hope
The logo stands outside of the Frankford and Norris Circle of Hope

If one were to walk through the glass doors of 2007 Frankford Ave. on a Sunday afternoon, the sounds of the busy city street would be replaced with elegant voices and guitar cords. The main meeting room of the Frankford and Norris branch of Circle of Hope is full with the sound of graceful singing and rhythmic musical notes. Words of prayer and belief are expressed through the vehicle of music. An older man sitting in a padded armchair hands out an itinerary of current activities. The emotion and energy are deceiving, though. This is only sound check and a final rehearsal before the weekly Sunday night congregation meeting.

These artists are not playing for profit. These young men and women gather to share the gift of music, practice their beliefs and maybe gain a little local exposure. This is made possible through the attempts of Circle of Hope to support artists in the community. This is one of many projects that this organization initiates to help the people in their area and create a more positive surrounding.

Originating in 1996, the Kensington Circle of Hope is one of four congregation cells in the area, all, Pastor Joshua Grace said, with a shared vision to generate compassionate service.

In addition to the church services offered, Circle of Hope has direct involvement in the community. The organization helps run several committees to better the neighborhood.

Church members and neighbors help run community farms, with the oldest at Frankford and Huntington streets. The congregation also is involved with the Take Back Vacant Land Campaign, an organization that works toward helping the city better use vacant lots, with inexpensive housing or community gardens in place of the unoccupied land.

Grace is also involved with a debt annihilation committee in which members pay off debts by handling it as a community rather than just as an individual.

Resident Madeline Bates said the organization’s secular involvement is what brings its biggest impact to the community.

Circle Thrift worker folded new clothing arrivals.
A Circle Thrift worker folded new clothing arrivals.

“I have no interest in participating in a religious organization,” said Bates. “The nice thing is I’ve never felt pressured to join in. All in all, I respect that they’re trying to better and uplift the community.”

Circle of Hope also aims to provide the biggest community bridge through its thrift store, Circle Thrift. In what Grace hopes will be a connection between newcomers in the neighborhood and lifelong citizens, the store’s mission statement is to provide inexpensive clothing, jobs and community.

Circle Thrift employee and Circle of Hope member Jessica Shoffner said one of the biggest impacts of the store is the way residents feel after their shopping experience, as well as conversations that come from people from all walks of life being in a store together.

“We do our best to keep the store clean and organized,” Shoffner said.  “The place is nice, so the people walk in here and they know that they are cared for and they’re worth something.”

Shoffner said she thinks that Circle of Hope did its best to be inclusive in the neighborhood, and the organization members were overall a positive part of the community. However, she added that it was still incidentally a part of gentrification.

“Property value is going up and this is becoming a hot art district, which is really great for the neighborhood,” said Shoffner. “But in some ways it’s really bad, because it’s raising peoples taxes and pushing people out of the neighborhood, which is something we do not want to happen.”

Grace, the pastor, also acknowledged the changing neighborhood and said that residents and newcomers often had stereotypes about one another.

“There’s this displacement issue,” said Grace. “People who were there for the harder times and really made the community aren’t really able to enjoy some of the positive changes too. “

Circle of Hope worker sat at his desk working.
A Circle of Hope worker sat at his desk.

Grace said he hopes that the different community organizations that Circle of Hope offered could help both types of people feel they belong in the community.

Shoffner also remained optimistic about the future of the neighborhood and link between residents.

“The employees at Circle Thrift are amazing and really care about people,” said Shoffner. “There’s a lot of cross pollination between folks that have lived here and people who are transplants to this neighborhood.”

She added that programs like Circle Thrift are continuing to make a difference and that the store had given her opportunity to build relationships with community members that she would not have been able to otherwise.

“People here build really wonderful friendships that last even when they don’t work here anymore,” said Shoffner.

“I see them around town… and there’s still that connection there, so I think there is something being bridged between different generations and classes.”