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About Our Church


New River Presbyterian Church is a new church with ancient roots. Our church represents the union of three historic, pioneering congregations in West Philadelphia with a collective history of over five centuries. Those predecessor churches include First African Presbyterian, Good Shepherd Presbyterian, and Calvin Presbyterian.  Chartered on December 22, 2020, we are following Jesus into a new future with a mission to multiply leaders and disciples of Jesus who love God, love people and serve the world. We believe the love of Jesus makes all things flourish, and are called to serve God's flourishing work in the world.  


Ongoing conversations with God, our neighbors, and our congregation, has informed a vision that guides our ministry. Over the next few years, New River envisions its ministry as a community hub of wellness and possibility. We envision the construction of affordable housing with a commercial corridor providing access to health care and nutrient rich foods. We see a beloved community flourishing! We envision early childhood education, youth empowerment, adult education opportunities and clean streets. We see a beloved community flourishing! We envision economic development through financial education, employment opportunities, and social enterprising which nurtures entrepreneurship and financial independence. We see a beloved community flourishing. We see a spiritual community of disciples of Jesus Christ who joyfully learn, worship, pray, and extend compassion to one another. We see a beloved community flourishing, and we are not alone!


We have vision partners. The Christ who has called us has connected us with others committed to the work of co-creating the beloved community. Thus, New River has joined over 1100 like-minded communities of faith in the Presbyterian Church, USA who identify as Matthew 25 organizations - committed to congregational vitality, the eradication of systemic poverty, and the dismantling of structural racism. 

A Ministry of Justice  - First African (f. 1807)

Although New River is a new church, our roots begin in 1807 with the First African Presbyterian Church. Founded by Rev. John Gloucester in 1807, First African is the nation's first Black Presbyterian church. Home to notable 19th century abolitionists like William Still, the "father of the underground railroad," First African embodied its Christian witness in ministries advocating for education and justice. William Still worked closely with Harriet Tubman to provide safe passage to enslaved persons in search of freedom in the North.


Philadelphia civil rights icon, Octavius Catto, is a another son of First African. Octavius Catto's father, Rev. William Catto served as First African's pastor from 1854-1859 and wrote the first written history of First African published in 1857.  While organizing black men to vote, Octavius Catto was tragically assassinated in 1871.  In his book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Rev. Dr. James Cone speaks to the history of racialized violence in America during the reconstruction era. He writes, "As Jesus was an innocent victim of mob hysteria and Roman imperial violence, many African Americans were innocent victims of white mobs."


New River remembers its history as a reminder that God is with us in the sacred work of justice, and we concur with Dr. Cone that, "if America has the courage to confront the great sin and ongoing legacy of white supremacy with repentance and reparation, there is hope 'beyond tragedy.' " 

In the twentieth century, groundbreaking womanist theologian and ethicist, the late Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon served as a parish associate at the First African church. Dr. Cannon is the first black woman to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church USA. Her sermons, articles and books have influenced generations of preachers and scholars across the globe. In her article, "Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: The Womanist Dilemma in the Development of a Black Liberation Ethic," Dr. Cannon discussed her work to “debunk, unmask, and disentangle the historically conditioned value judgments and power relations that undergird the particularities of race, sex, and class oppression.“ Cannon's prophetic ministry helps us envision the beloved community, which Jesus gave his life for. 


As a mother church, First African's spiritual heritage remains alive in New River's commitment to work alongside our neighbors for the well-being and flourishing of our neighborhood. 

A Ministry of Open Doors - Good Shepherd (f. 1856) 

Alongside First African is the historic Good Shepherd Church. With roots in 1859, Good Shepherd began when Rev. Nathaniel West began a preaching mission on the corner of 52nd and Lancaster Avenue. Such beginnings on a street corner set the foundation for the church's identity as a church with open doors. Good Shepherd extended its ministry and facilities to various faith communities, schools and organizations committed to the flourishing of the neighborhood. The church was home to afterschool programs, daycares, a preschool, resident associations, and other congregations. In 2016, a fire burned down Good Shepherd's building. The Good Shepherd Senior Affordable Housing complex will be built on the land where the church once stood at 6439 Lansdowne Ave. 

A Ministry of Compassion  - Calvin (f. 1902)

The third "stream" that forms New River is the historic Calvin Presbyterian Church. Founded in 1902, Calvin began as a Sunday School mission of the former Patterson Memorial Presbyterian Church.  Over the years, the church's emphasis on worship and Christian education nurtured an intergenerational ministry of disciples with a passion for youth ministry and community outreach. Like First African and Good Shepherd, Calvin's commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ compelled a love for others. Signature ministries like its WeCare youth outreach and mentoring program, the Care Closet, and Calvin's Soup Kitchen addressed the needs of its neighbors and provided safe outlets for youth and young adults in the neighborhood. Calvin's facility was located at 1401 N. 60th Street. 

A New Season. A New Church - New River  (f. December 22, 2020) 

With the love of God, the grace of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, New River is following God into a new season with fresh possibilities. It's our privilege to join God in the work of peacemaking, healing and justice. In a world where Black, brown, and indigenous people of color are disproportionately enmeshed in systemic poverty and remain vulnerable to structural biases, ministries serving the well-being of the most vulnerable and all creation is core to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Inspired by the legacies of faith which have shaped us, New River looks forward to a future of imaginative, innovative ministry for such a time as this. We thank God that "there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God" (Psalm 46:4).

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