After the Presbytery of Philadelphia asked Rev. Adan Mairena to come to Norris Square following his Resident in Ministry in 2005, he was tasked with a daunting challenge: revitalize the West Kensington Ministry. The neighborhood was in economic decline following factory shutdowns, and church members fled while poverty rose. Mairena has since committed himself to restoring the holistic well-being of West Kensington through both traditional worship and personal development.
What is the connection you see between having a strong church and having a stronger community?
Well, let’s go back to the goals of churches–So, I guess we’re in the business of developing people spiritually, but because it is such a challenging neighborhood, you know, we’ve got to develop them holistically as well. We can’t meet their spiritual needs if their physical needs aren’t met. We’re in kind of a new rebirth of sorts with the new group, so that goal is really setting the infrastructure to build leadership.
That’s the goal for me, and I do that by obviously doing the traditional things -between being involved in the community to finding people in the community who want that combination of spiritual development and having community engagement. When I’m talking about community engagement, it’s about the relevant issues around us that affect the quality of life. Like in this neighborhood, you know you have crime, you have drugs, you have all sorts of things – so people who are into that type of transformation tend to gravitate here. What did you say was the question again?
So the question was, what is the connection you see between church and community?
Well, I mean it’s an ironic question because the people who come to church are people who live in the community. So whatever the church’s needs are, are also the needs of the community. So the connection is really like, what other group in the neighborhood gets together consistently with community members and has their finger right on the pulse of exactly what’s going on? Religion, church, it’s all made their mistakes in society, but it’s the one place people come to. Who do people most run to when they’re most desperate in need?
What are your roles within the ministry apart from being a pastor?
Well, we’re pretty involved. This past Monday we had an MLK event where we had police officers and community members meet. We have a recording studio, we have a silkscreen studio downstairs, and we have a ceramic studio for in the summer. We used to hold this event every Friday night for youth called Open Mic, to keep them safe. We also had the Interfaith Peace Walk last year, where we started off at a mosque in Germantown and ended back here. We had 500 people upstairs of multi faiths. So pretty involved in our police district, too. This neighborhood is blessed to have a lot of political leadership, so because of that we’re in a pretty strategic place.
How do you reach out to youth on a consistent basis?
We have worship and bible study, but we’re really building up the studio and we have the engineer. We do have music lessons on Saturdays and we have volunteer students from The University of the Arts, and that’s been going on for a couple months now. Actually, I don’t know if I can say this but Temple’s Small Business Development Center was going to have a student come whose going to help us further develop a feasibility plan for the silkscreen business.
The purpose of that is to generate revenue but also make it into a small business – and down the road, use it to teach working skills like a job-training program. The recording studio – my predecessor had established that, but I’m the one who built and finished the studio. The silkscreen studio – I started that so we could teach youth marketable skills and to employ local people, get people to stay here. The reason I do this is human development. And for people to work, it gives people a sense of self-worth and when you have self-worth, you know the sky’s the limit.
So what is the best part of your job and why?
The best part is, I can see people’s lives affected and I can be a part of it.
– Text and images by Caitlin O’Connell and Lauren Brown.