South Philadelphia: CityLife Church Focuses On Giving Back To The Community

Associate Pastor Mitch Panek is very involved in CityLife's outreach programs.

With its successful service initiatives, especially the ones that benefit the neighborhood public school and the less fortunate, CityLife Church in South Philadelphia is a becoming a part of the local Christian community.

Founders Brad and Leah Leach established CityLife in 2011 as a place for local Christians to learn more about Jesus’s gospel and how to apply the teachings to their own lives. The city’s rich history and remarkable diversity attracted more than 30 volunteers from across the country to join the Leaches and build CityLife. Although there are many Christian churches in Philadelphia, CityLife’s approach to faith is different in that it emphasizes on community service as a way to practice Jesus’s ideas.

CityLife Associate pastor Mitch Panek (above) helps coordinate service outreaches, including the recent “Servolution” mission. This initiative was a “local mission trip” that comprised of several community service functions.

CityLife holds Sunday morning services at The Academy of Palumbo.
CityLife holds Sunday morning services at The Academy of Palumbo.

As part of Servolution, 197 CityLife members donated $22,000, which all went back into the Philadelphia community in the form of  meal donations to the less fortunate, school supply care packages for The Academy of Palumbo – where CityLife holds its weekly Sunday services – and more.

“We just want to show you that God loves you,” Panek said. “That’s our message and we’re here to help and serve the Philadelphia community. We’re getting the church outside and into the community. We don’t feel like we need to bring theology into it. On a Sunday morning, you come in and you just feel the love of Christ.”

Although CityLife would like to one day have a home of its own, Palumbo Secretary Rose Gallagher dreads the possibility of the church leaving.

“They are a real asset to us,” Gallagher said. “It’s a true partnership.”

Besides the Servolution donations, CityLife has shown appreciation for Palumbo with other gestures of kindness.

“They did wonderful things for our school,” said Gallagher. “They hosted a luncheon and Teacher Appreciation Day. They also spruced up our faculty room.”

Being without its own place of worship since its start, CityLife understands the importance of cultivating a home.

“Having a building would be really cool,” said Mark Santistevan, director of Life Groups – meetings that focus on personal growth in various aspects of life. “It would add a lot of new opportunities to Life Groups.”

The HUB, located at 13th and Catharine streets, is a meeting place for a few Life Groups and other CityLife events.
The HUB, located at 13th and Catharine streets, is a meeting place for a few Life Groups and other CityLife events.

Life Groups meet all across the city. The gatherings range from prayer groups to recovery meetings for people battling addictions.

“We try to focus on four specific areas, [which are] R.P.M.S. – relationally, physically, mentally and spiritually,” Santistevan said.

South Philadelphia has numerous churches from a multitude of faiths, so CityLife may seem hidden amongst the already strong Christian presence in the area. However, the church doesn’t want to compete with other congregations and simply wants to serve anyone who may need help.

“We know that we’re not the church for everyone and that’s okay,” Panek explained. “We just want to spread the word of Jesus, and hopefully that can help people find a church that they’re most comfortable with.”

CityLife’s services are every Sunday at 9:30 and 11:15 a.m at The Academy of Palumbo.

– Text and images by Jennifer Nguyen and Taisha Zeigler.