The day before I was set to arrive I drove to Kensington to get the feel of the place. I’d been on some of these streets before – back when I coordinated the Old First Retreat as Associate Pastor. Then, we’d take the bus from 9th and Arch to “Whosoever Gospel Mission” in Germantown or we’d drive from Old First to St. Francis’ Inn on Kensington Avenue to help serve lunch to anyone who showed up. At St. Francis’ Inn they have a practice of seating everyone at tables of four and waiting upon them as honored guests. But that was almost ten years ago now and I hadn’t been back in a long time.
The Simple Way “Village House” sits on a corner, occupying a triangle-shaped brick building. This is the place where the Residents live – currently three young adults who have committed to living in community with one another and the neighborhood for a period of one to two years. The Village House is also the place for Morning Prayer at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday, an after-school program Tuesday through Thursday afternoons, a class on Liberation Theology Thursday nights, and where Community Potlucks are held and outside speakers come to visit most Friday nights. In between all of this, it is a hub of ministry – coordinating neighborhood volunteers to oversee a food distribution program, neighborhood celebrations, and a small community garden.
The Simple Way owns a total of seven properties, scattered throughout the neighborhood: The Village House, The Hospitality House, The Office on Allegheny Avenue, and four additional row homes housing members of The Simple Way community. With the exception of the office on Allegheny Avenue, the other six properties are all located within a small triangle of streets: Potter, “H” and Westmoreland. Where able, they have reclaimed abandoned lots, turning them into green spaces. There are now four of them – a sweet little triangle-shaped park across from The Hospitality House, two small lots — one with a hydroponic garden in-the-making, another with boxes of raised beds for a small community garden, and a newly acquired large lot (the result of a fire five years ago) which has just been fenced and seeded in order to provide a safe place for children to play.
My ‘scouting’ day was a hot one and a few fire hydrants had been opened to allow both children and adults to cool off in their forceful spray. Though mid-afternoon, the neighborhood bustled with activity. Philadelphia schools let out early due to the high temperatures and there were plenty of adults catching what breezes they could on their front steps. Children darted between parked cars and I navigated the narrow and unfamiliar streets with care.
This would be a time of learning, and an adventure.