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Allegheny West: A Pastor’s Devotion to Youth Empowerment

Allegheny West: A Pastor’s Devotion to Youth Empowerment
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Rev. Maria Lewis has devoted her life to the church and her community through youth empowerment, most recently  as the pastor of youth and young adults at the Berean Baptist Church in Allegheny West.

Her leadership and energy has been instrumental in the empowerment of the Berean congregation and the Allegheny West community. As a minister, lawyer, mentor and mother of two, Lewis is well-rounded in her commitment to youth advocacy.

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Lewis joined Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church after moving to Philadelphia from her hometown of Pittsburgh in 1997 and she became involved in the youth ministry and the legal ministry. She was ordained as a minister at Enon in 2003.

In 2014, Rev. Dr. James Buck Jr. of Berean Baptist Church sought a youth and young adult pastor, and visited different congregations to find anyone interested in building Berean’s youth ministry. At Enon, Buck found Lewis, whose passion for youth enrichment and social justice led her to become a mentor for the youth of Berean Baptist Church.

“Her statement was ‘I am here to do the work,’” said Buck. “Since she has come in, she has been such a great addition.”

“Parents, the youth, the young adults, everyone has been very welcoming,” Lewis said.  “Pastor Buck gives you a lot of room to work in your gift, and that is an absolute blessing.”

Now, she feels right at home in the Berean community.

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“Rev. Lewis has brought about a new paradigm, a new spirit and a new idea that has rejuvenated not only the congregation but the community,” said Buck.

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 1994 and the Harvard Law School in 1997, Lewis moved to Philadelphia with a purpose. With a desire to affect change in society, she has taken her skilled knowledge to make a positive change in the Allegheny West community.

“[Rev. Lewis] has been very warm and very understanding to a lot of our children who may have gotten into some circumstances or situations,” Buck said. “She uses her professional experience to coach, teach and mentor them. She has been a leader in this congregation and in this community.”  

Between her job as a litigation attorney at a corporate law firm and a spiritual mentor for youth at Berean, Lewis finds a symbiotic relationship between law and mentorship. Practicing law and serving in the ministry both deal with changing and repairing societal problems.  

 

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As an attorney at Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP and a former assistant district attorney in Philadelphia, Lewis finds church and mentorship as a way to maintain spiritual wellness.

“When you are dealing with corporate clients and money and business throughout the week, you got to have something that stabilizes you and keeps you centered and keeps you remembering who you are and who you belong to,” Lewis said. “At the end of the day, those frustrations can really mount. I found out that the farther you get away from God, who should be the center of who you are, the more you feel lost.”

Inspired by her parents, who were active in church activities and youth empowerment in Pittsburgh, Lewis recognizes her natural affinity to mentoring youth and young adults at Berean.

“I enjoy the teaching aspect,” Lewis said. “I can share a level of knowledge. I feel like everytime I’m sharing knowledge, I’m learning even more from them.”

Growing up as an active participant in church, Lewis acknowledges the important role the church has in community and youth empowerment.

“I owe it to help show kids the alternative, what could happen if you make [the] right decisions,” she said.

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Through her connection with the youth, Lewis is able to build upon an environment of knowledge and trust.

“She has a gentle guidance which is needed for young adults,” said Keyonna Savage, a member of the young adult mentorship program at Berean Baptist Church. “She gives you guidance without being a form of opposition.”

Lewis is involved in a multitude of community programs throughout Philadelphia, and youth ministry is not the only outlet Lewis has engaged in to empower young adults. She serves as the secretary for the board of directors of the Philadelphia Baptist Association and secretary for the board of A Promise of Hope, Inc., a nonprofit organization focused on empowering pregnant and parenting young adults in Philadelphia by equipping them with housing resources and health services.  

She is always ready to take up a challenge to facilitate the youth in their day-to-day issues.  

“I believe that for people to actually make a change in your life they have to actually have gone through things,” explained Savage. When she talks to you, you can tell that she knows where you are, or even if she doesn’t know exactly where you are, she can find something in her life to relate that to so she can express empathy.”

 

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Lewis’ enthusiasm and joy in working with young adults is evident in her patience, trustworthiness and understanding of the need to enrich and empower the youth through spiritual guidance.

“If there is anything going on with the children, or the young adults, or the youth, you can always depend on her,” explained Savage. “You can call her up for anything.”

Lewis maintains positive connections with the youth, and has been influential in community outreach at Berean with the mentorship program.

“The mentoring program is generally one of the foundational points for the youth here at Berean,” said Lewis. “We have adult workers that assist and we have adult mentors that have one-on-one interaction with our youth

 

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Lewis introduces members to new experiences and hopes for personal and intellectual growth with the youth of Berean.

“She makes sure they are in environments where they can learn,” said Buck. “With our mentoring program, she gets the opportunity to take them to other places not only around the city but in other states.”

In the future, Lewis hopes to extend her ministry throughout the community to youth who need spiritual direction.

“We want to get out into the community and bring more young people in,” said Lewis.

– Text, video and images by Carine Lavache, Stephanie Hirsch and Mariama Taifa-Seitu.

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