Bicentennial

A postcard from the 100th anniversary in 1914 shows the original steeple. PHOTO COURTESY OF SHAWN HYSKA

Reverend Shawn Hyska stood at the pulpit in front of a large pipe organ that is the focal point of the sanctuary inside First Presbyterian Church of Kensington.

“My dream is for this entire room to be packed,” Hyska said. “So much that even the upper balconies are filled with people.”

Despite what the church’s name implies, the church at 418 E. Girard Ave. now resides in Fishtown, or “Historic Kensington,” as Hyska says.

Hyska and other members of his congregation are gearing up for the church’s bicentennial celebration this weekend. Although the earliest records of the church date to 1811, First Presbyterian was officially granted a charter from the state on March 23, 1814.

Besides Old Brick Methodist Church on 4th Street, which Hyska said is just over two centuries old, First Presbyterian is perhaps the oldest church in the neighborhood.

Before the current large, green copper dome that tops the church’s outer façade, First Presbyterian used to have 180-foot spire that was one of the tallest points in the state. It served as a point of reference for fishermen riding up the Delaware River.

“It’s certainly sad that we’re one of the only ones left,” Hyska said. “But it’s also a testament that we kept our doors open long enough to serve the community.”

Star has covered the church’s previous milestone anniversaries over the years. It previously reported that the church served as a place of rest and canteen during both World Wars.

Nowadays, First Presbyterian operates a food cupboard and clothing closet for local residents in need.

Its basement also hosts several community meetings, including some for the 26th Police District.

The church’s celebration will take place on Saturday, March 22, from noon to 4 p.m. and will feature face painting, a string band and free samples from local restaurants.

“It’s not just about our birthday,” Hyska said. “We also want to showcase the community. If it wasn’t for them, we would be nothing.”

The following day, the church’s official charter day, will feature a special service with a performance from the Princeton Theological Seminary Choir. The service will take place at 10 a.m. and is open to the entire community.  

Church member Michael Albrecht, 53, from upper Kensington, has been coming to services for six years and has been a church elder for two of those years.

“It’s exciting to be a part of something pretty awesome,” said Albrecht, referring to the church’s upcoming birthday celebration. “It’s a real milestone for us, it’s like being part of history.

Since moving into Fishtown with his wife just two months ago, Hyska has become the church’s first pastor since 1992 to both live and work in the neighborhood in which he serves.

The last pastor to do so was the Rev. Charles R. Schafer, Jr., who served the church from 1981 to 1992.

As pastor, Hyska said that he hopes to bridge the gap between old and new residents.

“I hope the church can be a place where both groups can come together,” he said. ••

First Presbyterian Church marks 200 years this weekend. PHOTO COURTESY OF SHAWN HYSKA