Born as an African-American Episcopal congregation in 1911, St. Philip the Deacon in Northeast Portland is moving further into the 21st century open to the leading of the Holy Spirit as they embody the parish identity as people of God who are grounded in a prayerful, spiritual, diverse, and serving community.
Sunday morning liturgy is at the core of community life, a time when people come together to listen, sing, and pray together. The liturgy reflects both a ‘high church’ preference as a congregation descended from Caribbean Anglicans, and a congregation committed to its history as an African-American parish. Lift Every Voice and Sing is just as popular as The Hymnal 1982. After several years of clergy transition, the idea of “the right way” to worship does not hold this congregation back from experimenting. Recently, priest-in-charge Rev. Maria McDowell reordered the service to place the announcements and thanksgivings before the Prayers of the People so that they too could be included in the communities prayers. The Peace then serves as both the opportunity to wish one another peace in light of the thanksgiving and prayers shared, and moving into the shared thanksgiving of the Eucharist. Parishioners embraced the change, engaged with it, and shared their feedback as they continue to develop their worshiping community.
Acknowledging the parish’s multi-generational population, the parish engaged the exciting problem of how to better incorporate children into the service. This summer, they removed a pew at the front of the sanctuary and added soft toys and books to create the “Pray-ground,” a space where children can wiggle but still be engaged with the liturgy by seeing and hearing the up-front action around the altar. During a recent service which included a Godly Play lesson as the sermon, parishioners observed the value of the Pray-ground as a young child, who from all outward appearances was not paying attention, began to mirror aspects of the Godly Play story in his play.
Through their partnership with the Elliott Neighborhood Association and a grant from the diocesan Commission on Poverty and Homelessness, St. Philip’s next transformational goal involves removing shrubberies around the parking lot and replacing them with raised garden beds to provide gardening space for parishioners and neighbors. Another new parishioner-led initiative aims to help children repair their clothing and backpacks and learn basic sewing skills. They continue to operate The Deacon’s Dining Hall, which for more than 30 years has offered a hot lunch for 100-150 people every Saturday.
In a neighborhood undergoing significant changes, the people of St. Philip’s demonstrate significant resiliency as they consider what to keep, what to leave, and what to adapt in order to bolster their community of faith with each other and their engagement with their neighbors.