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Restoring Faith and Community in Philadelphia

Every year, the number of churches closing in Philadelphia, a city founded on religious freedom, continues to grow. Among them was the Mater Delarosa property in Philadelphia on Ruan Street. See how the restoration of the worship building brought new life and new faith to the Northeast Philadelphia community in the face of dwindling religious fervor in the city.

Nan Zapanta: In Philadelphia, you can reach every part of town on the train, but these tracks aren’t the only thing linking this historic city.

 

Even before there was a United States, the residents of the city were already bonded by a common desire for religious freedom.

 

[Video source: CBS Philly]

News Reporter 1: On this day, the front end loaders are here to bring about the end of the stately greater bibleway temple.

 

Nan: But what happens when some of the city’s oldest institutions lose their connection and start closing their doors?

 

[On-screen text graphic]

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia will soon close three local churches, according to Sunday announcement.

 

Three Catholic churches in Philadelphia are closing due to deep financial issues.

 

News Reporter 2: June 12 – St. Mary Margaret Alcacoque, in Essington, will no longer be a place of worship.

 

[On-screen text graphic]

Two Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are officially closing for good.

 

News Reporter 3: …since it is closing three more churches in the city, among them, including Holy Trinity Church in South Philadelphia, Saint Rose of Lima Church in West Philadelphia…

 

[On-screen graphic]

CHURCHES CLOSING

Philadelphia

Saint Rose of Lima Church

Our Lady of Ransom Church

Holy Trinity Church

 

[Video ends]

 

Nan: Can a fresh start for one worship building reconnect an old community and bring hope to the city? 

 

Woman: Come on in! Check it out, they have…

 

Dale Schraeder: And you know, because when you’re giving things and they see that you’re trying to help the neighborhood, people get excited about that, and we should be getting excited about it too, because it’s an opportunity. That’s what I think.

 

Woman: How are you doing Elijah? Hi, Geraldine! Nice to meet you!

 

[Train Announcement]

Doors are closing

Next stop: Church

 

[Show opens]

[Intro music plays]

 

Nan: I’m Nan Zapanta. As an industrial designer, I spent years admiring the design of products, vehicles, and architecture from all over the world, but I found architecture to be the most captivating. I love learning about each building, discovering the characteristics that make it unique, and understanding the purpose behind its design. Most of all, I love hearing the stories behind each structure and seeing God’s plan in putting it all together. Join us as we discover the Blueprint of the buildings and structures inside the Iglesia Ni Cristo!

 

[On-screen logo graphic] 

Blueprint

 

Nan: Hey guys, we’re here in Philadelphia. You know, when you think [of] Philly, you think of cheesesteaks. We have Pat’s King of Steaks and we have Geno’s Steaks, two of the most famous places for our cheesesteaks that people know around the world.

 

[On-screen text graphic]

NAN ZAPANTA

HOST

 

Nan: But there’s another place that the locals go to, and that’s where we’re going to check out.

 

Alright, so I got it, the legit cheesesteak here in Philly, Delassandro’s. This is what the locals recommended. Sorry Pat’s and Geno’s, but this is the place to be. Now let’s see. Alright so let’s go, first bite, first bite, first bite!

 

But there’s more to Philly than just a never ending debate on which cheesesteak sandwich is the best. As a city steeped in American history, Philadelphia is also one of the first cities in America to guarantee religious freedom.

 

[Photos source: University of Pennsylvania]


Nan: In 1682, a Quaker named William Penn settled in Philadelphia to escape religious persecution

 

[Photos & graphic source: Cradle Of Religious Freedom  Map]

 

Nan: After that, the area became a haven for minority religious groups from Germany, Holland, Scandinavia, and Great Britain. So, it’s not surprising to see so many worship buildings in Philly, especially in communities like this one, in Northeast Philadelphia.

 

Nan: You know, what role do worship buildings, whether it be this one or, you know, the other worship buildings that you see throughout the community, what role does a worship building play in the community?

 

[On-screen text graphic]

CYNTHIA

Philadelphia Resident

 

Cynthia: Oh, a big part I think. [It] keeps the community together.

 

Nan: Yeah.

 

[Video & photo source: Cradle of Religious Freedom Map]

 

Nan: While Philly’s history may be rooted in religious freedom, it hasn’t made the city immune to the decline in church membership and religiousness that we’ve seen lately. 

 

Cynthia: …had a lot of community events, a lot of social events, and a lot of repairs done to the church over the years, and all like that, and I was very sorry to see it go.

 

[Video source: youtube.com/FOX 29 Philadelphia]

 

News Reporter 4: It’s official, a beloved Philadelphia church is scheduled for demolition. Don, it’s a big loss, not only for those who attended the church, but for people who just…

 

Nan: While Philly’s history may be rooted in religious freedom, it hasn’t made the city immune to the continuing decline in church membership and religiosity. 

 

[Video source: youtube.com/FOX 29 Philadelphia]

 

[Source: nytimes.com]

Schools and Churches Close, Angering Catholics

 

[Source: northeasttimes.com]

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia plans to close three NE Philly churches

 

St. Leo will close and merge into Our Lady of Consolation, located on Princeton Avenue in Tacony.

 

[Video source: youtube.com/FOX 29 Philadelphia]

 

Woman 2: …just heartbroken, you know. I mean that was our Parish.

 

[Source: phillymag.com]

Three Catholic churches in Philadelphia are closing due to deep financial issues.

 

[Source: nbcphiladelphia.com]

Two Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are officially closing for good.

 

Nan: In fact by 1993, the Catholic Church, whose presence could be felt across the whole city, had already begun reducing their large number of parishes and also closing down and combining worship buildings.

 

[Source: youtube.com/FOX 29 Philadelphia]

News Reporter 5: …issued a permit that authorizes the complete demolition of the beloved landmark

 

News Reporter 6: There’ll be a lot of tears. It was part of our life.

 

Nan: And by 2016, the towering century old building on Ruan, found itself facing a similar future. 

 

[News Source: 6abc.com]

 

News Reporter 7: The archdiocese of Philadelphia says it will officially close three churches next month, because they’re getting too expensive to keep open. The closures include the Saint John of the Cross Church in Rosland, the Mater Dolorosa Church in Philadelphia’s Frankford section… 

[Video ends]

 

Cynthia: So it was kind of a sore spot, for all of the parishioners here, that they had to close this one. But after you came in, and I saw how nice you were keeping the place, I was very happy.

 

Nan: That’s awesome!

 

Cynthia: Yeah, very happy to see another church come in and how well you were taking care of things. I was very happy with that.

 

Nan: A quick walk around the neighborhood, you could feel how worship buildings really anchored and connected their communities. A feeling that was even stronger when Dale Schrader was a young teen living in the neighborhood. 

 

[On-screen text graphic]

DALE SCHRAEDER

GREW UP IN NORTHEAST PHILADELPHIA

 

Dale: You know, back then in the summertime, people were always on this, you know, on these porches. And you know, peopleeverybody knew everybody.

 

Nan: You know that feeling you get when you’re home? Just a few minutes after meeting Dale, I could already feel how much this place meant to him. As we reminisced on those steps, he shared what it was like growing up in Northeast Philly.

 

Nan: You know, when you were probably young, how was it in this community? Like, what could you normally see and hear?

 

[Photos Source: businessinsider.com]

 

Dale: And this neighborhood, when I grew up, the people were pretty much the samethe working people, not high income. And we would spend most of the day like we didin the summertime. We would play baseball, stickball. 

 

Just a suggestion po to update that text subtitle to: We would spend most of the day, in the summertime, we would play baseball, stickball.

 

Nan: And from my understanding, you actually grew up in this neighborhood and this worship building did play a significant role in your younger years, right?

 

Dale: And when I was a Catholic, I came here from time to time. I asked the priest here because I always had questions about the Trinity, and he told me, like, “Well, it’s just an act of faith, andit’s true. Even though we can’t prove it, it’s true.” And when I came here, I talked to the priest and he said,  “Dale, honestly, we don’t know. It’s just… you know.” So, I thought it was an honest answer.

 

Nan: Yeah.

 

Nan: In the 1970s there were hundreds of catholic parishes serving the residents of Philly.

 

[Map Source: chrc-phila.org]

 

[On-screen text graphic]

DALE SCHRAEDER

GREW UP CATHOLIC

 

Dale: But it’sand there’s so many saints that you pray to. And I always said to my mom, “God [doesn’t] need help. I mean, He can take care of this Himself. He [doesn’t] have to delegate.”

 

Because by that time, I had, like, one foot out the door and the other one on a banana peel. I was ready to leave.

 

Nan: Dale’s search for answers would bring him to a bible study in the Church Of Christ.

 

Dale: And I went to his house and the only thing I wanted to know, because he kept telling me how “this is the Church. We know it, we can prove it.” And so the minister wanted to tell me all these other things and I said, “You know, honestly, with all due respect, I’m not interested in that. I just want to know how you really know,” and he explained the prophecy; he explained Brother Felix [Y. Manalo]. And I said that’sI can’t argue. There’s nothing I can argue there. It’s so obvious.

 

[On-screen text graphic]

DALE SCHRAEDER

JOINED THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IN THE 1980s

 

Dale: From thereI would have got[ten] baptized that night if you would have let me, you know. I was convinced right away.

 

Nan: During this time, there was already an Iglesia Ni Cristo [local] congregation in Philadelphia. The first worship building was located on Girard Street. But due to growth, the [local] congregation looked for another building, moving the [local] congregation to Aston, a suburb right outside of Philadelphia.

 

But as the [local] congregation in Aston grew, and with many of the members living on the northeast side of Philly, a new [local] congregation was needed, creating a need for a new house of worship.

 

The search for a house of worship would eventually bring Dale back to his old neighborhood.

 

Dale: I was, like, really shocked and really happy, because, you know, since I grew up around here, I never thought that they would want to get a chapel around here. And we looked at a lot of other places when we were doing this, and I said it’s better if we go into a neighborhood where there’s a lot of people.

 

Nan: Right.

 

Dale: When they see that you’re trying to help the neighborhood, people get excited about that. And we should be getting excited about it too, because it’s an opportunity. 

 

Nan: The stone worship building takes up the entire block. While the exterior brick was simply cleaned during the renovation, there was a need to replace the stained glass windows of the previous church. 

 

[On-screen architectural modeling]

 

Nan: The blue front doors were also replaced with heavy brown doors. The name plate and seal were added, completing the exterior of the building. Honestly, I couldn’t wait to go inside! I met up with Cyril Gerota, who not only documented the renovation process, but helped find the building.

 

Nan: I’ve been excited to visit Philadelphia

 

[On-screen text graphic]

CYRIL GEROTA

MEMBER OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IN PHILADELPHIA

 

Cyril Gerota: Here you go.

 

Nan: So, this is the main sanctuary.

 

Cyril: Yeah.

 

Nan: It’s so beautiful. I wouldn’t have expected it to be this size. Was that your first reaction when you first saw the house of worship after the renovation?

 

Cyril: Yes, that’s really the first reaction I had. [It was] really like, “Wow, it’s so beautiful!” Like, simple, but really beautiful.

 

Nan: It is!

 

Cyril: It is, it is.

 

Nan: And you feel like there’s this peace and tranquility inside here.

 

Cyril: Yes, yes.

 

Nan: On the show we see a lot of traditional vaulted ceilings, but this house of worship was different, featuring an arch design that runs the entire length of the sanctuary. 

 

[On-screen architectural modeling]

 

Nan: While the structure of the interior remained the same, aesthetic updates transformed the space. Four chandeliers shine brightly, along the center of the ceiling, drawing the eye of those that enter the sanctuary towards the podium and choir loft. Along the sides of each walkway is additional lighting that accents the walls. The sconces are a nice touch, adding a detail that is not as commonly seen in the other houses of worship in the Church Of Christ. Continuing the simplicity of the interior of the worship building, additional molding designs were added to the ceiling, to further accentuate the arch of the ceilings and to also frame the lighting.

 

Cyril: It’s a different feeling when you have a house of worship. It’s totally different, because, you know, we’ve been renting a hall and then after that we occupied the basement, temporarily, before we had this beautiful, renovated house of worship. But it’s totally different. The feeling is likeoh, I cannot explain.

 

Nan: And, from my understanding, you played a very key role in finding this place of worship.

 

Cyril: Yeah, I was like a working assistant with a real estate agent. So one day, when I [went] to work, and then it just so happened she told me, “You know Cyril, take a look at this one.” 

 

[On-screen text graphic]

CYRIL GEROTA

FOUND THE LISTING FOR THE SALE OF MATER DOLOROSA CHURCH

 

Cyril: So this one, in August [of] 2016, it’s not on the market, but they already decided to sell this one. So just a few [knew] that this [was] for sale. I [was] so surprised when I received the email, that on the first page it [said] 1914.

 

[On-screen text graphic]

1914 is the year the Church Of Christ was registered in the Philippines and marks the re-establishment of the Church Of Christ in these last days. 

 

Cyril: I really [had] goosebumps when I read that, you know. The feeling of that, I said, “Dear, God, is this it?”

 

Nan: Just months after starting the renovation process, everything came to a screeching halt because of the pandemic.

 

Cyril: We’re sad because we have to follow, you know? We have to follow that one, so there’s a stop for a while and then when the government says, “Okay, slowly, slowly coming back.” The only challenges [are] the shipment of the materials and everything.

 

Nan: Yeah, for the supply chain, right?

 

Cyril: Yeah we have to wait for months and months, so that’s the challengebut we made it. 

 

Nan: Before the pandemic kept everyone home, the [local] congregation had already started using the basement to worship, while the renovation went on upstairs. It was during this time that Charles Lundy was introduced to the Church Of Christ.

 

Nan: …and then they had that Marley track on there. I was like…

 

Charles Lundy: When I first came here I was like, “Wow, this is a huge church!” And I thought we were going to use the front steps and we had to use the side door. They were like, “No, the church is downstairs.” I was like, “D-d-ownstairs?” I’ve been to other churches in my life, but NEVER…. then I realize their whole service was in the basement, because they [were] working on the upstairs.

 

[On-screen text graphic]

CHARLES LUNDY

INTRODUCED TO THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IN PHILADELPHIA

 

Charles: So, that took me [aback] a little bit, because that’s not something I was used to at all.

 

Nan: Right, right, right. And yeah, you would expect, “Oh, I’m going to go through the front doors, I’m going to go into the main building,” but you’re going downstairs. So yeah, if you weren’t expecting it…

 

Charles: It threw me off. [both laugh]

 

Charles: Yes, so when I got here…they [were] talking about it from day one when I got here. “We’re working on the upstairs. It’s going to be great.” And I was like, “Okay, cool.” Then after some months, like I said, I was finally able to go upstairs and see it, all the way down to the dedication day when I finally got to go in there, I was like, “Wow, this came out amazing!”

 

Nan: The worship building in Philadelphia was dedicated in 2021, in a worship service led by Brother Eduardo V. Manalo, through video streaming. Members from all over the district came to witness the event, which was simultaneously attended by [local] congregations all over the world. Charles was there to witness the dedication. As a former atheist, the transformation of the worship building paralleled the transformation he saw in his own life.

 

[On-screen text graphic]

CHARLES LUNDY

FORMER ATHEIST

 

Charles: I had no religion. I didn’t believe in God or nothing at all! In my head, it was all made up, it was all fantasy. But after sitting here, going through the lessons with Mike and all that stuff, I started to come around. I was like, “Let me see your side. Let me open my soul to see this other view.”

 

Nan: Right, and that’s important right? Like, just opening your heart and your mind and allowing yourself to hear the words?

 

Charles: Right.

 

Nan: You know a lot of people will wonder, “Why spend the time?” But when you think of it, the benefits for your life and you reflect on that, on top of that, being able to go to a beautiful house of worship, what does that mean to you?

 

Charles: It’s so fulfilling, especially when you could see where it started before. If I think we were a church that was just in the basement, now to see the grand hall that it is right now, it feels full circle, even above that.  

 

[On-screen text graphic]

CHARLES LUNDY

JOINED THE CHURCH OF CHRIST DURING THE RENOVATION

 

Charles: I love how high the ceilings are. When you walk on the floor, there’s nice artwork. Having all the nice rows of chairs, that’s nice. Then if you look at the front, that area, that’s so massive and beautiful. How the choir sits up there, it’s a great aesthetic if you look at it.

 

Nan: Yeah, the aesthetic is great. And, you know, another thing, I don’t know if you feel this way too, but the acoustics are really nice.

 

Charles: You can really feel it now. You can more than hear it, you can feel it!

 

Nan: Yeah! That’s a perfect way to put it, that’s a perfect way.

 

Charles: Yeah.

 

Nan: The renovation of the worship building gave many, in the [local] congregation, an opportunity to be part of a historic moment in their [local] congregation. As the chairman of the renovation process, Arnulfo played an active role in the transformation. 

 

[On-screen text graphic]

ARNULFO MENDOZA

HEAD DEACON & RENOVATION CHAIRPERSON FOR PHILADELPHIA

 

Arnulfo Mendoza: Every day, after work, before going home, I stop over here and look at everything, you know, help wherever I’m needed.

 

Nan: Volunteers came from neighboring [local] congregations, even as far as New Jersey, to help with the renovation.

 

Arnulfo: Like every weekend, they were here.

 

Nan: What were they doing? What were some of their tasks?

 

Arnulfo: Like cleaning and then some of them [were] painting, some [were] staining these pews.

 

Nan: These pews, were these the original pews?

 

[On-screen text graphic]

ARNULFO MENDOZA

HEAD DEACON & RENOVATION CHAIRPERSON FOR PHILADELPHIA

 

Arnulfo: Yeah, these were the original pews. You should notice the kind of wood. When I first saw this, it look[ed] like, “We need to change these. These are old.” But after we cleaned it and stained it, it looks better than the new one.

 

Nan: Because the previous owner had renovated the worship building in 2011, the [local] congregation was able to preserve some of the unique features of the building, including the original marble floors.

 

[On-screen architectural modeling]

 

Nan: Featuring a unique pattern, the floors provided the simple wooden pews a simple backdrop. In addition to the marble floors, marble can also be found along the walls. The marble finish extends one third of the way up the wall, creating a two-toned look to the side walls of the sanctuary, another feature not commonly found in the houses of worship that we’ve visited. I had only been in Philly for a few hours, but I could already see the pride the members have whenever they walked into the worship building, individuals like Derek and AJ, who found ways to help with little construction experience.

 

[On-screen text graphic]

DEREK GEROTA AND AJ MENDOZA

VOLUNTEERED TO HELP WITH THE RENOVATION

 

Derek Gerota: [I helped] the contractor when I came from work. I [helped in] cleaning, assisted the contractor with [whatever] we needed.

 

Nan: Wow, so you did a lot of…basically anything that they needed help with.

 

AJ Mendoza: Brother Derek’s a handyman. He’s a handyman, so…

 

Nan: So, he’s just being modest. 

 

AJ: Yeah.

 

Nan: So, what role did you play during the renovation?

 

AJ: Just like Brother Derek, I was everywhere.

 

[On-screen text graphic]

AJ MENDOZA

TSV OFFICER, PHILADELPHIA

 

AJ: When the contractor was having trouble looking for materials, let’s say door knobs that match the wood or whatever he wants, he says, “Oh, Brother AJ can you look on the internet for me? I’m too old for technology,” something like that. And also I helped out with our TRG (Technical Resource Group) department when they did the install of the system of the house of worship, like audio and video installs. Yeah, being in an I.T. background, I guess I was somewhat of a help to them too.

 

Nan: These days, AJ and Derek can always be found performing various responsibilities at the new house of worship.

 

Nan: When you walk down the street and you’re approaching the place of worship, whether you’re walking down the street or even driving down the street, and you see the house of worship, you know, what is it that you feel when you see the house of worship?

 

AJ: Comfort. I don’t know how to explain it, but every time, coming from work or coming from home, coming to the chapel, seeing the chapel, as I park, I look at the chapel and it’s just comfort because, you know, God’s here.

 

[On-screen text graphic]

DEREK GEROTA

CHOIR MEMBER, PHILADELPHIA

 

Derek: For me, when I go inside the chapel I feel comfort, but [it’s] important you always go inside the chapel to pray to God and give thanks every day of your life. 

 

Nan: You know, I like talking to individuals like AJ and Derek. You can immediately feel the gratitude they felt to have a worship building of their own. But talking to Dale I realized it wasn’t just gratitude to have a worship building of their own, but what the worship building represented in their lives. 

 

[On-screen text graphic]

DALE SCHRAEDER

CHURCH OF CHRIST MEMBER, PHILADELPHIA

 

Derek: Makes you feel like you’re so happy and proud to be a member of the Church becauseoutside I’m not like a, you know, not like somebody. A lot of people wouldn’t want to be my friend. But inside the Church, it’s like they are. And there’s so many things I’ve been able to do. I never thought I would be a deacon, let alone a head deacon, and I never thought I would be able to talk in front of people, which you have to do. But when I come to Church, I don’t know. It’s like somehowand even every time I perform, I’m still nervous. But just everythingGod just takes care of everything. 

 

[On-screen text graphic]

DALE SCHRAEDER

HEAD DEACON, LOCAL CONGREGATION OF PHILADELPHIA

 

Dale: And I think that’s part of the love too, because you don’t feel so self-conscious like I usually do, because, you know, nobody’s going to judge you here. And yeah, so it’s…

 

Nan: And I think that’s beautiful to see. Like, there was a clear plan that God had for you. You know, even from when you were thinking about your journey as a young kid and coming here, and ending up being a head deacon here in this [local] congregation.

 

Derek: And that was also meaningful, because when I became a head deacon, it was here. And it’s funny because Brother Jimmy actually at one time asked me to be a head deacon when I was Aston, but I thought, well, I don’t drive and I live far away. And I don’t think it would be fair to the brethren, because I’d have a hard time taking care of them. But here I can, you know, I can do it better. And I think a head deacon’s really got to give out a lot of extra effort.

 

Nan: Right, right.

 

Nan: Impact isn’t always seen right away, but in the few years the Church Of Christ has been in this Northeast Philly neighborhood, you can already feel how the Church is positively contributing to the community and how connected the community feels to the Church.

 

Guest: It’s a great opportunity, and it’s a blessing. Thank you guys for having us!

 

[On-screen text graphic]

CARLOS

LIVES NEXT DOOR

 

Carlos: I always keep my eye on [the Church], because I live right there next door. If I see anything, I’m always like, “Yo!” You know?

 

Nan: Oh, well we appreciate that.

 

Carlos: I keep my eye on the Church, actually everybody.

 

Nan: Carlos has lived next door to the building for over two decades now. He’s seen the change of ownership and the transformation.

 

Carlos: Yeah, I was like, “Wow!” When I moved it was, like, a Catholic church. But now you guys [took] over and you guys [did] a lot of work on the building, a lot of modulation. I can see it. Everything is new, like new windows, new doors.

 

Nan: Right, right.

 

Carlos: They keep it nice and clean outside. I mean, everybody can tell the difference. We’ve got more friendly people here!

 

Nan: Yeah, yeah.

 

Carlos: Like brother Derek, his wife, everybody’s friendly over here!

 

Nan: That’s great, that’s great.

 

Nan: It’s true, these days people are becoming less religious, seeking comfort and hope in anything but faith. But when you’ve found the place where truth can be found, you’ll do whatever you can to stay close, just like the individuals we’ve met today.

 

Carlos: Thank you very much! God bless you!

 

Lady on street: Thank you so much.

 

Nan: Well, that does it for us here in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Thanks for joining us on this episode of Blueprint, where in the end, everything is part of God’s plan.

 

[Show Close]

 

[Music plays]

 

[On-screen logo graphics]

Blueprint

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Restoring Faith and Community in Philadelphia