Fishtown: First Presbyterian Church Opens Doors as the City Shuts Down

Children and parents alike enjoy equipment from Imagination Playground at First Presbyterian Church.

Though the streets of Fishtown were no more crowded than usual during the papal visit, one community leader still saw the event as a great way to build the neighborhood’s unity.

Reverend Shawn Hyska, pastor for the First Presbyterian Church in Kensington, said he wanted to be sure community members had somewhere to go during the visit.

“After I heard the news about the city shutting down, I decided I wanted the church to do the opposite and open its doors,” said Hyska.

The church, located at 428 East Girard Ave., hosted various activities three days in a row.

On Friday, the church hosted a screening of Whoopi Goldberg’s Sister Act. The film infamously features the Pope in its final scene.

“It’s the quintessential Whoopi Goldberg movie,” Hyska added with a grin.

On Saturday, the church held an indoor playground for children ages 2 to 6. The church was packed with books, snacks and indoor playground equipment.

Lastly, on Sunday Sept. 27th, the church hosted a live streaming of the Pope’s Mass for those who did not want to venture into Center City in search of a Jumbotron.

Reverend Shawn Hyska discusses events held during the Papal Weekend.
Reverend Shawn Hyska discusses events held during the Papal Weekend.

Hyska was introduced to the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church in Kensington in spring 2011. He served as a guest preacher for a few months, and officially became the new preacher in December 2012.

Hyska promotes a sense of unity in Fishtown, and his sermons reflect that. He moved to Fishtown two years ago with his wife from Melrose Park. He had commuted to the church for his first year as being the pastor, but decided that felt disingenuous.

“I was promoting community building and community engagement, but here I was not even living in the community,” Hyska. “So when my wife and I looked to buy a house, we bought one in the direct Fishtown neighborhood.”

Much like Hyska’s move, the indoor playground equipment used at the church attests to Fishtown’s sense of community. Citizens of Fishtown teamed together to campaign in a nationwide contest to win the equipment from Imagination Playground. The equipment will be used around the entire neighborhood, and got its first use at the church on Saturday.

Fishtown PLayschool Board Members, Kate Hughes and Yasmin Hassan talk about the competition to win the equipment.
Fishtown Playschool Board Members, Kate Hughes (left) and Yasmin Hassan (right).

Kate Hughes and Yasmin Hassan, board members on Fishtown Playschool, lead the national campaign for the equipment. Determined by a voting system, Fishtown Playschool managed to win, despite its small student body.

“[Winning] was really exciting for us because we’re such a small school,” Hassan said. “We have 18 families who go to our school, so we were competing against much bigger schools with hundreds of kids. It was amazing to see that we won.”

As part of their campaign, Fishtown Playschool partnered with Keystone Mini-Golf and Arcade and Fishtown’s own Johnny Brenda’s, and had the voting address printed on fortune cookies.

They promised to host playdates with the equipment for the entire community.

“We wanted to make sure that everyone benefits,” Hughes said.

Kids play on blocks won by Fishtown Playschool from the Imagination Playground program.
Kids play on blocks won by Fishtown Playschool from the Imagination Playground program.

Several attendees of the church’s events had never visited the church before, but attended once they heard something was open during the papal visit.

Lynne Vanskiver and her husband brought their 4 year old daughter from Port Richmond when they could not find any activities in their area.

“When I was first pregnant I looked around everywhere for play groups and I couldn’t find any in my area,” Vanskiver said.

“Now that I know this is here, I hope they do this more often.”

The church continues to bring the community together through sermons and different activities. For a full list of activities click here.

– Text and photos by Logan Krum and Khaliha Hawkins.

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