Passyunk: Non-denominational Fellowship Welcomes All in South Philadelphia

Calvary Fellowship Sign on Passyunk Ave.

When Sean Roche’s pastor at Calvary Fellowship, one of the biggest church groups in Philadelphia, brought up the idea for a South Philadelphia location, Roche jumped at the chance to help. Roche, a teacher at the Calvary Christian Academy, is not a pastor by training nor does he get paid for his work, he simply sees a need in the South Philadelphia neighborhood that he is more than willing to help fill. As a result the Calvary Fellowship opened its doors in March 2014, utilizing the South Philadelphia Older Adults Center as a meeting place. Their presence on Passyunk Avenue is more than just spiritual, Roche explained, as he and his followers work to give back to the community.

Bags collected by Calvary Fellowship for the homeless
Bags collected by Calvary Fellowship for the homeless

What does the Calvary Fellowship focus on?

Like any other church we are just trying to be a blessing to whoever we can be. So the way we do that is, you see those bags of food on the table, we try to do a lot to reach out to the community with food, we help the elderly, we happen to be in an older adult center so it’s easy to meet needs for the elderly. We do a homeless outreach in conjunction with the church at 17th and Race, called Living Word Church, so we brought in a hot meal, and we get clothes donated and we just take a list of the needs and then we send them home with a bag of food after a hot meal at the church. Our thing is if we see a need we try to meet it as best we can.

And what is your relationship with South Philadelphia Older Adults Center?

We were looking for a place that would let us do this for relatively cheap, and they were gracious enough to allow us to do that. So through that we’ve really done all we can to be a blessing to them, and we have a great relationship with them. We have a food drive that we try to do a few times a year where we try to bless the people that come here Monday through Friday and we send them home with bags of food. And at Christmastime we helped serve the Luncheon, we talked about maybe painting the building for them. We’re just trying to say thank you, on top of paying for the space, for how sweet it is for them to cooperate, and we have a really nice relationship with them.

Pastor Sean Roche leading the Service at Calvary Fellowship of South Philadelphia
Pastor Roche leading the service at Calvary Fellowship of South Philadelphia

Are there any other big events you guys do throughout the year?

We’re just getting started with stuff, like talked last week about doing a concert in the park, which would probably be at Capitolo Playground or Columbus Square Park, probably take one of them over for the day and get some of the blow up games for the kids, and face paint…We have a big smoker grill, so bring that out, and just do a big thing just to say, “hey, we love you guys and if you need a church, you know, come see us” kind of thing, and that will probably be April.

What else do you guys do in the community?

We try to get together and do things at least a few times a month. For instance, East Passyunk Business Association does stuff, like last year they did an Easter Egg Hunt right here on the property and we set up a table with water bottles and pretzels and stuff and handed them out just to be sweet. Halloween they had a big thing, and same thing, we’re just trying to let people know, if they have spiritual questions, or if they’re searching God at all…you know, we don’t go bashing it into people’s head but we also want them to know that God is real and we are here to proclaim his truth.

How involved are you with East Passyunk Business Association?

If we know they’re doing something and the community is going to be there we just call them up and say you know, we just want to hand out water bottles we’re not trying to preach at people, just help and maybe invite them out to church, and they are always happy for the help. You know South Philly’s a great neighborhood, Philadelphia used to be kind of known for its neighborhoods, and that’s sort of dying out but South Philadelphia is still, I think, very strong in that way. You know the hipsters are moving in and they’re very community oriented, and that’s cool. I love the idea of a whole inoculated little world where you walk to work and everyone says “hi” on the street. People are still out at 9 p.m. pushing strollers, drinking coffee…it really is a very sweet neighborhood.

Calvary Fellowship Congregation enjoying Pastor Sean Roche's Guitar-Accompanied Prayer
The congregation enjoying morning services at the Calvary Fellowship of South Philadelphia

– Text and images by Leah Ference and Josh Levy

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