Want to hang out with a few of your church leaders from Gloria Dei the Old Swedes’ Episcopal Church?
Look for them at the bar.
“We grew the hops ourselves,” said Paula Minacci, one of the two church sextons. “Literally right here in the neighborhood.”
Minacci, who is responsible for taking care of the church grounds along with her husband, was talking about the event, “Hops from the Hood.” The event took place at For Pete’s Sake Pub, where they brew the “Harvest from the Hood” beer only on the days that the hops are picked. Every time someone purchased a “Harvest from the Hood” that night, a dollar would go towards the church and their future events.
This is one example of how Gloria Dei is making tight-knit connections to the community, even the beer drinking community.
Gloria Dei is better known as the Old Swedes in South Philadelphia. Located in Queen Village, the church is the oldest church in Pennsylvania and the second oldest in the country. The church has been used since 1700. It was restored in 1846 and has barely changed visually since then.
On the other hand, there have been many changes for the Old Swedes community and for the parish.
“The church, in general, is more open to change, which is always hard for churches,” said The Reverend D. Joy Segal, who had worked at two churches in the suburbs before coming to Old Swedes. “It really brings together the community because the outside events we do are bringing them here. We can create a stronger community and better if we can get members from Queen Village and Pennsport here.”
Vicki Cusack, the parish administrator who was once just a community member, loves the versatility in her job as well as the community.
“This is a very peaceful place but you never know what’s going to walk through the door,” Cusack said. “Every morning I sit down and anybody could come in – a bride who is so excited that she found her church or someone who just lost a loved one and needs to talk about the funeral. Or it could be someone who comes yelling in here, ‘I FOUND IT’ because they found a gravestone they were looking for. You just don’t know.”
Minacci loves working for a non-profit thanks to the ability to give back to the community and for the community to give back to the church. But she admits it isn’t always the easiest job.
Old Swedes is a different place to different people. The grounds remain open 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
“Which makes our jobs twenty-four seven,” Minacci said.
The grounds are open to dog-walkers at all times and has now been seen somewhat as a dog park for community members. Not only that, but it is a space that people are able to rent out for their own events. The church also offers everything from tai-chi, jazz shows, a “Blessing of the Animals” to many holiday-themed events including a Memorial Day event that attracted more than 700 people.
“If we were in some little country town, this place would be banging,” Minacci said.
Reverend Segal came from a corporate background, which sounds unusual for a reverend so passionate, but her administrative and management background has helped further shape her into a community leader.
“I don’t like to micromanage,” Segal said. “This community needs to create their own vision, not mine. My job is to enable them so they can create that vision. So, that means going to the events opposed to managing or planning them. Its important people see me and recognize me but I don’t want to overshadow them. This is their community. Their vision needs to grow.”
As a church, Old Swedes remains a place for people to restore their faith and to worship. But for those who don’t celebrate God in the same way or who have a disinterest in church, it can be something for them too. Old Swedes has made its place to be a spot where anybody in the community can find an interest and go simply for community bonding.
– Text, video and images by Monica Miller and Chelsea Finn.
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