Not have, not have-not, but have a seat
At Broad Street Ministry, the hipster church, it's judgment that stays out in the cold. The mission is to truly welcome and serve all.
Money is tight. Housing is fleeting.
There is a fear held in common by rich and poor alike - will there be enough for me?
But the rare combination of hospitality and community that is Broad Street Ministry shows the two have more to share than that.
At the century-old Chambers-Wylie Memorial Presbyterian Church building on South Broad, hipsters mix with homeless people who dine on tables with white linens. The ministry has a choir whose director works with the top names in hip-hop. Concerts hosted behind the big red doors are as likely to feature the soul-folk of Devin Greenwood as the power-punk noise of Stick to Your Guns.
This brought to you by Bill Golderer, 38, the Wayne native who started Broad Street Ministry in 2005.
A laid-back gentleman, Golderer peppers conversations with phrases like "we crushed it" and "freaking awesome." Golderer's approach to ministering is not so much fire and brimstone as it is a cool breeze that makes the hair on the back of your neck tickle when he speaks devoutly about God and man - all manner of gods and men. "I don't have any minister tricks besides delivering the first World Series to Philadelphia in 28 years through efficacious prayer," he jokes.
The idea of BSM is to be more than just a Christian-based church with a multidimensional outreach. The organization wants to forge true community and real action; not just the haves doing for the have-nots, but rather being together as one body, one community.
In other words, BSM likes to put investment brokers, bike messengers, lawyers and street urchins in one bag and shake them up.
"If we act as if BSM is about OK people helping not-OK people - that's not a community," says Liam O'Donnell, BSM's "Arts Marshal" who came to Golderer as an intern in 2007 and is now one of 22 full- and part-time employees.
BSM brings dignity to the hungry when providing monthly No Barriers Dinners (attendance can reach 300) and weekly Breaking Bread initiatives (where about 250 come), making certain its guests are a diverse mix of Philly's most assured and its most vulnerable. Golderer is not afraid to ask Whole Foods or area restaurants to provide the bounty, or Stephen Starr's people to provide fine linens.
It is here that you'll find rich palettes of music at its worship services, where about 225 new people attend each Sunday (" ... since we aren't very interested in making people feel guilty for not being there," Golderer said), as well as a schedule of diverse entertainment on a daily basis - theater and art exhibitions, and a choir led by music director Tony Moore, who works with Philly record producers Vidal and Dre (who recorded hitmakers like Mariah Carey), and punk-rock concerts galore.
"We hope for prophetic art, art from the underside, art that inspires, art that creates community but also challenges and lifts up," says O'Donnell, who holds to certain criteria when choosing acts to play there: Does it inspire people or the city to do something good? Can it take place elsewhere? Does it challenge the church or empower it, and how does it make the church look?
Do the math and you'll find something delightfully high-minded in BSM's approach to serving God and all the communities surrounding the church, including what is most foreign to Golderer as well as what is most familiar, such as the "gayborhood" where he lives.
"I'm straight, married to an MBA," he says with a mock gasp. "We have two small boys. I swing a mean golf club and play squash. I'm the least funky, alternative, marginalized person in town."
When Golderer got the keys to BSM along with its 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status, he saw power brokers young and old, University of the Arts painters, transsexual hookers, patrons of the arts and area businesses, as well as the area's dense homeless population, sharing sidewalks - and not much else. It was hard for Golderer to manage and minister to this melange and not give in to the temptation to deal solely with one particular population. Niche marketing was tempting, but it isn't faithful to the Gospel.
"All I had to offer people who I feel accountable to was and is that I was willing to be shaped by them; by their way of looking at the world, by their lyrics and poetry, by their poverty and crushing experiences of being locked up and locked out - sometimes out of churches," Golderer says.
Yet it's precisely BSM's location at a hub that includes University of the Arts on the Avenue of the Arts that has made it into a hipster church with a free last-Wednesday-of-each-month dinner that's the coolest night in town; something for Union League lawyers, young teens and homeless alike.
Take Scott Jenkins, one of BSM's devotees, who with his education and connections has a pass to hang pretty much anywhere. An Annapolis grad and former Goldman Sachs golden boy, he has a self-named investment firm in West Conshohocken. At 54, he's on the boards of UArts and the Curtis Institute of Music, and has memberships at several of the city's toniest private clubs.
But Jenkins and his wife, Judy, worship at BSM three out of four Sundays a month, do meal pickups at Whole Foods every Tuesday morning, and dine with the ministry's assembly. They do this, in part, in accordance with Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church (where he is an elder) and its outreach program and partnerships with Philly churches.
"It's not just rich white suburbs pumping money into the city," Jenkins said. "We're here to actively engage. Helping implies a one-way street. We're part of it."
Jenkins joked about not being a Bible fanatic right before quoting Scripture - Matthew 25:35 - which references aiding the poor and rich. "It doesn't guide all of my life, but it is about living a just and fair life. Look, I've been incredibly fortunate; blessed, even. What Bill and his crew have committed themselves to lifts everyone to a reasonable standard. Everyone is welcome."
Dennis Jones, 55, is another regular who finds the mix appealing.
"I interact with everybody," he said. "It's just natural that we get along - in the choir, at the dinner table. Last time that happened, I was in boot camp."
Jones came from South Carolina and studied painting at University of the Arts. He's been a cabdriver and an in-house graphic designer for Philadelphia International Records. He plays keyboards (people call him "Piano Man") and can be seen with his gear on his back.
As a disabled war veteran on a fixed income, Jones occasionally found himself without lodging. When he tried shelters, things would be stolen from him, like adapters for his keyboard. But when he got to BSM two years ago, Jones found a clean, kind haunt with low-key proprietors. Now he eats at BSM twice a week and hangs at the 315 South Homeless Cafe, open from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Jones works with schoolchildren, sings in BSM's choir ("I'm the bass voice"), and plays piano at Golderer's services.
"Nobody makes you do or be what you ain't," Jones said of BSM. "I'm straight-up not religious. But I am spiritual. Here, you come as you are. There isn't the chaos of expectations that people can't possibly live up to."
Jones has met many newer faces at the Ministry of late; troubled souls desperate for food, shelter, soulful comfort. He doesn't know what goes on after this life, but he likes to think that BSM gives a clue. "If there is a heaven, I bet it looks and feels like this place."