AS 2014 DAWNED, more than 240 plastic doves hung in the front courtyard and sanctuary of Old First Reformed United Church of Christ in Old City. Each represented a Philadelphian who had died violently in the previous year, most at the point of a gun.
Members of the church's congregation made the birds from recycled milk containers, marking many with the names and ages of those lost and adorning them with beads.
"Horrific mass murders make the news, but cities like ours lose people to violence every day with little fanfare," said Rev. Michael Caine, the pastor. "We memorialize these victims, even including their names in our prayers when we can. It's hard because sometimes you can't even find their names in the news."
Old First Reformed United Church of Christ is proud to say it's the fourth oldest congregation in the city, founded by German immigrants in 1727. But it's decidedly modern in its views and practice.
Who we are: "We're trying to be a good church home for folks who can't find other churches," Caine said. A few years ago, church leaders decided to grow their community by targeting four groups: people between 20 and 35 years old, families with young children, the LGBT community and those who had previously been disappointed by church, religion or both.
Where we worship: The church, built in the 1830s, is at 151 N. 4th St. - the site where the congregation began back in Colonial days.
Sunday services are at 11 a.m. (An all-ages Sunday School begins at 10 a.m.) About 350 people are in the church community.
If you go . . . consider public transportation, since parking is limited - there's a bike rack on the church property.
And don't worry what to wear. The United Church of Christ denomination runs a radio ad poking fun of churchgoers who pass fashion judgment on others. "God doesn't care what you wear to church," goes the tagline. "Neither do we."
What we believe: "Somehow, Jesus is a way to know and feel closer to God and one another," Caine said.
Beyond that, the Christian story can be interpreted in a variety of ways, he said, "and that's OK with us."
What we're known for: Yes, this is the church that has a live creche during the Christmas season. But Caine said the congregation's commitment to social service is what really makes it stand out.
The church houses 30 homeless men during the winter, provides hot meals and clothes to the needy each week and offers a variety of camp programs. "A lot of our time, talent and treasure is about meeting the needs of others," he said.
Big social issue that we're grappling with: Poverty. "It's clearly the central focus of our outreach ministries and a pressing issue in our own city," Caine said. "We wonder how to decrease inequalities between the haves and have-nots."
The proportion of America's poor who are children - currently about one-third - is especially tragic, he said. "It's absurd when people complain, 'The poor aren't working hard enough.' We're talking about kids."
Church green: The congregation tends to an organic garden on church property with the help of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, giving away the fruits and vegetables grown there. Old First Reformed also composts - and collects compostable materials from congregants.
'Firsts,' among equals: Caine is the congregation's first openly gay pastor. When he filled the position in 2009, he asked worshippers if they were uneasy about that - as many people can be with "firsts" of any kind.
"They stared at me like I had two heads. No one cared," he said.
"One of the nicest things I ever heard from a family that has two moms and a daughter was how they walked into church on their first Sunday and they were welcomed as parents and their child."
Words of hope: The Christian Gospel prescribes service as the secret of life, Caine said.