First Week in Philly: Reality Check

It’s been a whirlwind.

I got in to Philly Sunday afternoon, and was greeted at the airport by Deaconess Darlene DiDomineck and Rev. Robin Hynicka of Arch Street UMC. They took me to Serenity House, where I settled in and had lunch with them, one of my (awesome) housemates, and one of my (wonderful) new mentors. Since then, my days have been filled with orientation to the city and it’s cultures and beauties and struggles, interspersed with meetings and introductions to many of the people I’ll be living and/or working with for the next two years.

Love Park, a block away from Arch Street UMC!

Love Park, a block away from Arch Street UMC!

I think the two best parts have been learning about the city and its people from Darlene’s fantastic orientation, and actually meeting and connecting with those people. Walking, driving, busing, and subwaying around the city with Darlene has been like having my own personal tour guide/historian/sociologist. Philly is significantly bigger than DC, which makes me despair to hope that I will ever get familiar with the city as a whole– until I realize that I’m already better orientated here after four days than I probably was to DC after two years. That’s what comes of being intentional! (And having a little previous city experience and a personal tour guide and a bunch of other people eager to tell me about their city…)

Philly vs. DC. The lower star is Arch Street UMC and the higher star is Serenity House!

Philly vs. DC. The lower star is Arch Street UMC and the higher star is Serenity House!

It’s also been wonderful to meet some of my incredibly friendly neighbors. In DC, southerners would complain that passersby will never smile or say hi to you on the street. They should come up to North Philly, where I (pretty clearly an outsider as an unfamiliar white woman in a 10% white neighborhood) can chat with a elderly woman sitting on her steps and get wished good morning by almost everyone who passes my porch and be welcomed passionately by an awesome gentleman who wants to introduce me to everyone he knows on our street.

The physical orientation isn’t the only aspect of the city that I’m getting acquainted with here much faster than I did in DC four years ago. I’m learning a ton from Darlene (and a little already from my neighbors) about the social and political dynamics of the city. I’m trying to wrap my head around how racism, corruption, and greed can get so bad that even a city rich with community involvement, public assistance programs, super involved churches, public art initiatives, public libraries, city beautification programs, free meal services, social justice coalitions, free health clinics, free continuing ed programs, union involvement and so much hope must still watch so many of its people struggle with homelessness and poverty.

This week has been a reality check. Having learned so much this week about the realities of the city only makes me realize how much more I have to learn, which is pretty humbling. I’m more aware now of how much I’ll be challenged over the next two years. As an introvert, it will be a challenge for me to do the socializing necessary for meeting people and connecting them to Arch Street UMC’s ministries. It will be a challenge for me to learn well how to be in real ministry cross-culturally and cross-racially. It will be a challenge to stay hopeful and to persevere in the face of all the injustices that affect my neighbors. But I’m up for the challenge, because throughout this week I have felt as firmly and deeply as ever that this is where God has called me.


6 thoughts on “First Week in Philly: Reality Check

  1. It’s incredible how much you’ve already experienced there, and it sounds like you’re in good company. Thanks for letting us in on the things you’re learning and are struggling with. Also I love your writing!


  2. Hi Rachel – as you know, some of the most daunting challenges in life, turn out to be the greatest opportunities, as well as the most rewarding experiences. I am proud of you for taking on this challenge. What a great opportunity to learn, grow, and to help others. I am reminded of the life of service that your great aunt Carm pursued, dedicated to comforting the indigent. She did not correct the social injustices in the world, but she touched many lives by being a friend and providing food, clothing, and shelter to the homeless. Many people choose to be in these circumstances, as did your grandfather Ternes. He was a talented craftsman, a master carpenter, and very smart. He had a loving family. Yet he lived his life on the streets – indigent for over 30 years. Thank goodness for the people that showed kindness and provided him with food and shelter.


  3. I loved reading about your first days in PA. I am so proud of you and what you are doing. You are made for this! Can’t wait to hear more…


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