Where Religion, History and Art Meet in Philadelphia

Christ Neighborhood Church is located in the perfect nook for a historical building to grow vines and rest for centuries unseen. Just half a block from second and Market st., Christ Neighborhood would be a great spot for “adventurous” tourists to sneak back and take photos of, but this location is not an abandoned spot in the historical neighborhood and it is not primarily snatching up tourists. The building, renovated in 2010, serves as a host to experimental artists and churchgoers alike: a conglomerate of daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, contemporary performances and holy practice in an office space meets American foundation building.

 

 

After the 2010 renovation, Anna Drozdowski joined the neighborhood church as the director of programs. “People have been using the neighborhood house since the ’80s,” she notes. “More often we do new and experimental work. The majority of the people that we have here rent the space.”

Recently, the building opened its doors to Tangle Movement Arts, which featured their feminist circus act, Timelines. Despite the reputation of having provocative, unique and contemporary artists come through, Drozdowski assures me there are no guidelines or restrictions to renting the space.

The same stage that hosts contemporary circus performers like Tangle Movement Arts takes on performers for EgoPo Classic Theatre’s presentation of Gint, which tells a twisted reimagining of Ibsen’s 19th century play Peer Gynt. EgoPo Company Manager Rachel Rodriguez was, like other who find themselves booking a show with Christ Neighborhood House, blown away by how flexible the space is.”The space is beautiful,” said Rodriguez. “They have really good management and they always have someone to talk with.”

The space is keen to serving the artistic community of Philadelphia, which is occasionally (pretty often, actually) masked by daunting crime statistics or ugly mugshots. Despite the city’s efforts with programs like Mural Arts, the Philadelphia art culture doesn’t seem to be the most prominent feature.

“There are a lot of people that are moving to Philly or staying in Philly to make new, hybrid work,” said Drozdowski in a promotional video for Christ Neighborhood Church. “A lot of that work is happening here and has been happening here for 30 or 40 years and the building and the renovation has made it possible for a lot of traction to happen under it.”

Reverend Timothy Safford of the Christ Church sees the artists as necessary to the holy work his church is doing. “The reasons we need artists here is because they are the prophetic voice of sureness to the churches answers,” Reverend Stafford said in the same promotional video. “What we have to give back is the theology of beauty.”

Olde City is no stranger to the arts; once a month, the entire area shuts down for artists to collaborate, sell, create, perform or promote their work on the street for First Friday. Various galleries like Musher Lovelund Photography, Sub2 Gallery and Larry Becker Contemporary Art all clutter the blocks surrounding Christ Neighborhood Church.

The area would seem uncanny for heavy foot traffic. Second and Market is an El stop but also just a block away from highways that drop traffic from Delaware Avenue and I-95 into the city and the sidewalks and streets are cobblestone, making it hard to keep balance after a few drinks. The hot spot is just a few blocks from from Independence Hall where elementary students from Pennsyltucky and tourists from Germany are lined up to take a picture in front of the beautiful monuments Philadelphia has to offer, yet it seems perfectly fitting that there would be a splash of purely local flare in the midst of the unfavorable chaos.

Christ Neighborhood Church is set off just enough from the main road that it avoids the rude soak of puddle water a cab driver might splash up during an attempt to merge left, yet the building is noticeable enough to consistently draw in performers. Drozdowski claims they have one show every weekend, excluding the weeks of Christmas and Easter when the building reserves its fundamental purpose as a church.

The hybrid space has even gained praise on Yelp.com, a site where too many reviewers yearn “to give ZERO STARS!” Christ Church’s historical side is not unseen; “America starts here!” exclaimed one reveiewer, Sean A. And he’s right. The sanctuary of the Church, even aside from its newly updated, totally-secular-artistic-side is a rare sight.

The space is a unique clashing point for history, art and religion to come together as expressive and visual. The calendar for the the house’s events can be seen here.

You can also view my abridged and easy to read story on Storify here.

 

 

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