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Photo: Brittany Valentine/Al Día News
The Arch Street United Methodist Church has made headlines in the past for its aid of the homeless and sheltering of immigrants. Photo: Brittany Valentine/Al Día News

Arch Street United Methodist announces new grant in fight to restore steeple

The National Fund for Sacred Places awarded the church, which is known for helping the homeless and immigrants, a two-to-one $125,000 grant.

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At the end of January, during this year's most aggressive period of sleet and snow, an operations manager with CAN USA in northern New Jersey, took his crew of six people up more than 200 feet over Broad Street and dropped a massive net over the spire of Arch Street United Methodist Church.

The city concluded that the steeple was “unsafe” and in need of immediate attention. Now, Lead Pastor Reverend Robin Hynicka, and other church leaders are launching a huge effort to restore the spire and preserve the historic space, which is known for its social services. 

On Wednesday, Nov. 17, Hynicka joined city and state elected officials in front of the church to raise awareness of a major grant that Arch Street United was just awarded by the National Fund for Sacred Places — a two-to-one $125,000 matching grant.

The church must raise $250,000 to collect $125,000. Hynicka and church leaders are ready to make it happen. 

The church is well-known for its service to Philly’s most vulnerable community members, particularly the houseless population and immigrants.

As Councilmember Helen Gym mentioned in her remarks during Wednesday’s press conference, Arch Street United provided sanctuary to Javier Flores Garcia for nearly a year so that he could avoid deportation.

“Investing in the future of this historic church and their faith community — which provides a true sanctuary for our undocumented community and those experiencing homelessness — is an investment in a stronger, more just Philadelphia,” Gym said.

Bishop John Schol, the resident Bishop of the Philadelphia area, started off the conference with a prayer, and spoke of the importance of preserving the site.

“This is a historic site, but it’s more than history that we’re preserving today. It is ministry and being in action with the people of Philadelphia. This congregation continues to reach out to the homeless to make sure they are cared for, to make sure that there’s housing provided, and that there’s food provided,” Schol said. 

Councilmember Mark Squilla also spoke on the crucial social work that the church provides, saying that the space has never been solely for religious services. 

“It’s a place where we serve our homeless population, it’s a place where we, as Philadelphians, help our immigrant population. This place is a place we know we need to keep and survive. The goal of preserving these locations is so important, not only for the great architecture, but also for the services it provides,” Squilla said.

In his remarks, Paul Steinke, Executive Director of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, labeled himself a “history nerd” and told the attendees that Arch Street United was one of three historic buildings built on the corner.

Steinke said that Arch Street United is a “remarkable survivor,” as it’s the only one of three churches built at the turn of the last century that remains. It was built in 1870, just a few years after the end of the civil war.

Steinke said that many people believe that a church’s steeple points the way to heaven, and while he agrees, he also thinks that Arch Street United’s steeple symbolizes its values.

He pointed to the banner behind him that reads “Seek Justice. Love All,” and said this congregation has truly followed the Christian values of helping neighbors, through racial justice, welcoming members of the LGBTQ community, and serving immigrants.

“I wish this congregation all success in restoring this building and strengthening their mission and continuing their record of success in serving the least of us and administering to our spiritual needs as well,” Steinke said. 

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