REVIVAL AT CALVARY (cont.)
efforts such as new signage, nighttime lighting for the stained
glass, and landscaping design. Neighbors pitched in by designing,
building and maintaining the Calvary gardens.
Restoring the Church
To date, the Center has achieved enormous success. It has raised
more than a million dollars for major structural repairs, renovation
and restoration of the building. All spaces of the immense building
are being used. Only the sanctuary awaits full restoration, though
it too is regularly utilized. A new roof was installed, and the heating
system was completely overhauled. The two main granite-clad gable
walls, which had shifted more than a foot-and-a-half out of plumb
and threatened to fall onto the sidewalk below, were dismantled,
had new supports installed and then reconstructed. Additional work
included deep-relief plaster repair, restoration of the bishop’s
office, and bringing the kitchen back to working condition.
The Center has also worked to redevelop the building for new uses,
and here the Center’s work has far exceeded expectations. Today,
the building – once almost empty – is a true community center,
home to many different organizations.
UCHS was among the first groups to establish its permanent
offices at Calvary, underscoring its recognition of the importance
of this kind of preservation and redevelopment work. Cedar
Park Neighbors, a five-hundred-family community group
representing Calvary’s neighborhood, also established its offices
at Calvary. Several other groups established permanent offices at
Calvary, including Prometheus Radio Project, a group that sets
up community radio stations all over the world, and advocates
nationally for freedom and non-consolidation of the airwaves. The
Literacy Center of Philadelphia and the Mariposa Food Co-op use
the building for staff meetings and group work. Three large twelvestep groups make Calvary home, each meeting there several times
weekly. Local bakers use the newly updated kitchen. The building is
often used for town meetings in the neighborhood, for retreats, and
for meetings of a variety of organizations. Calvary has become the
community’s unofficial town hall.
The building also serves as a venue for the performing arts, as
envisioned by the original focus groups. The Crossroads Music
Series, currently in its seventh year, organizes a full season of world
music concerts. The Curio Theatre Company made its home at
Calvary in 2004. Its full theater season is presented on the flexible
staging built at the front of the sanctuary space. Special concerts
and events are performed on a space-available basis, including the
annual neighborhood talent show, which was founded at Calvary
in 2005. The Calvary Center has become well established as the
primary venue for culture and the arts in the neighborhood.
Sacred Places • www.sacredplaces.org • Summer 2009
A Spiritual Incubator
And, of course, Calvary remains a sacred space. The
Calvary United Methodist Church remains in its own
building, and is finally beginning to grow again. Today, the
Calvary congregation views the Calvary Center and shared
building use as one of its most important ministries. But
Calvary UMC no longer worships alone at Calvary – there
are five other Christian congregations that call Calvary
home, including a Mennonite congregation, an Ethiopian
congregation, and three Pentecostal congregations.
Calvary made local history when the first synagogue in the
neighborhood in more than half a century – Kol Tzedek, a
new Reconstructionist congregation – was established and
housed in the church. Several interfaith services have been a
real highlight for all the congregations. If anything, Calvary is
more meaningful as a sacred space than ever before.
The “Halo Effect”
Calvary been able to share space at well-below market rates,
and yet income from building use now pays for the sexton,
the building administrator, all building utilities, and dayto-day maintenance and repairs. Calvary Center continues
to raise money for the large renovation and restoration
projects. Calvary UMC has been able to achieve a balanced
budget every year.
All this activity has helped to build community, perhaps
the most important dividend of all. Over the last several
years, encouraged in part by Calvary’s renaissance, seven
restaurants have sprung up in the blocks surrounding
Calvary, and a new bookstore, two coffee houses, a wellness
center and a second venue for the performing arts have
created a revitalized Baltimore Avenue. The University City
District made Baltimore Avenue an official Commercial
Corridor, with new street lighting and new green spaces
up and down the avenue. The whole area has a vibrant,
welcoming look, and people are using it as a destination
for evening entertainment in their own neighborhood.
Moreover, members of the congregations that relocated to
Calvary have bought houses in the immediate neighborhood.
The Calvary project has become a model for Partners
primarily because it is a manifestation of Partners’
blueprint for the redevelopment of old religious buildings.
While each sacred place and community is unique,
Partners has demonstrated that treating the sacred place as
an asset – acknowledging its value and potential by seeking
new partners and new dollars from new sources, and by
serving the community in new ways – is an approach that
is applicable to many different situations. And every time
another sacred place is reclaimed as an important asset,
another community is made stronger.