A timely event at historic N. Phila. church

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER The Rev. Renee McKenzie, rector of the Church of the Advocate, wants the North Philly house of worship to be a hub of community activity.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER The Rev. Renee McKenzie, rector of the Church of the Advocate, wants the North Philly house of worship to be a hub of community activity.
Posted: October 04, 2013

THE CHURCH OF the Advocate made national history when the Rev. Paul Washington allowed the ordination at the North Philadelphia church of the first 11 women as Episcopal priests.

That was in 1974. Two years later, the national church finally approved what had been an unauthorized ordination.

The church, at 18th and Diamond streets, became known as a gathering place for what some considered to be controversial meetings on the heels of the civil-rights movement.

In 1968 and again in 1970, the church, designed in the Gothic Revival style of a European cathedral, opened its doors for both the National Conference on Black Power and the Black Panther Convention.

This weekend, the Advocate once again will focus on community concerns about racial profiling and the targeting of all young black men as criminals.

The conference, "Black Liberation and the Problems of the 21st Century: Where Do We Go From Here?" starts at 6 p.m. tomorrow and continues at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Temple University professor Molefi Asante and Princeton professor Imani Perry are among the scheduled speakers.

The Rev. Renee McKenzie, current rector of the Advocate, said the idea for the conference took root earlier this year.

She and Temple professor Anthony Monteiro talked about 2013 being the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversaries of the March on Washington and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter From a Birmingham Jail."

McKenzie, 58, was named rector two years ago after the Rev. Isaac Miller retired. (Rev. Washington died in 2002.)

When she started, the number of congregants had declined to only about 20 attending Sunday services regularly. Today, the number is up to about 40.

McKenzie wants the church once again to become a gathering place for people of various interests and ideas.

"The church is charged with serving the community," McKenzie said. "And to serve, you need a community."

As a chaplain at Temple University, McKenzie has started a special ministry for Temple students, some of whom attend the Sunday-morning service.

She also has started a Sunday-evening service for students twice a month.

The Advocate also is a rehearsal and performance place for the Prometheus Chamber Orchestra, a group of young musicians.

"I wanted to bring classical music here," McKenzie said. "I want to expose our community to as many cultural opportunities as possible."

When the young musicians practice, McKenzie said, they keep the doors of the church open so that people might come in to listen.

And for 35 years, the Advocate has served meals at its soup kitchen. It now serves five days a week.

Also, the Advocate is in talks with an educational service to resume after-school programs for children, McKenzie said. There are four classrooms in the basement of the Paul and Christine Washington Community Center next to the church.

McKenzie said that in July, when a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin, she and Monteiro agreed it was time to plan a conference.

"What struck me about [the verdict] was I was not angry, only because I wasn't surprised," McKenzie said. "For me it was a call to action. We just cannot continue to watch young African-American men have targets on their backs and be subjected to racial profiling. We need to take a stand."


On Twitter: @ValerieRussDN

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