Chestnut Hill’s Church of St. Martin in the Fields is reviving spirituality in the community with a new program – dubbed Wellspring — meant to provide a less structured spiritual experience.
“Wellspring is an attempt to offer [inner spirituality] to more people so they don’t have to leave the church to find inner spirituality,” said Jarrett Kerbel, rector of St. Martin’s.
Kerbel is relatively new to the congregation of St. Martin’s, having only been there three years, but he has been practicing since he was small. “I preached my first sermon when I was 12 years old,” said Kerbel.
Kerbel always knew he wanted to be a religious leader but in his formative years he walked away from the church. “I felt deep spiritual connections but I couldn’t relate it to the place,” said Kerbel. “If someone had taken the time to tell me about meditation or Christian mysticism, I would have eaten it up. I really would have gotten a lot out of that.”
“I followed the path of Buddhism for awhile and sat with the Quakers for a long time. I discovered inner spirituality,” Kerbel continued.
Bringing together spirituality and community
This sentiment is not exclusive to Kerbel. Many people do not feel deep ties to their religious backgrounds and Kerbel feels the church has not kept up with a shift in how people practice religion over the last three decades. Wellspring is the answer to that problem.
Kerbel was interacting with people both from the church and the neighborhood who came in to talk with him about a spiritual emptiness in their lives. Kerbel believes promoting spirituality is a community effort. “Spirituality needs community because that’s where you learn to love actual people,” said Kerbel.
“Wellspring offers people the space both physical and spiritual to deepen their relationship with God,” said Barbara Dundon, a congregant and committee member for the design of Wellspring.
Saint Martin’s Wellspring program hopes to become a spiritual beacon for the community by offering one-on-one meetings with a trained spiritual director and attend classes on prayer, meditation and spiritual reading, according to Kerbel.
The program will also offer “circles of trust,” small intimate group sessions where individuals are able to speak about serious issues of spirituality and self.
Members of the St. Martin’s congregation came together to create the space for Wellspring, designing everything from the programming to the layout of the building the program will be housed in.
Now, the church’s members are eager to share Wellspring with their neighbors. “We have a rule that everything we offer at Wellspring is offered to the [surrounding] community. It’s not just for our members; it’s always for the community and we are very intentional about that,” said Kerbel.
About 20 percent of those already signed up for Wellspring programs are non-congregational members –neighbors of the church.
One such program, called Stephen Ministry, is designed to match up caregivers and those who need confidential, one-on-one help.
“Through the growth of this ministry in the Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy community, we can offer spiritual care and respite to people who carry heavy burdens,” said Dundon. “I have particular belief in this ministry having experienced its impact both as caregiver and receiver.”
A dedication event for Wellspring will kick off programming on Sunday, Oct. 6 at 5 p.m. right after a choral evensong. The Reverend Ledlie I Laughlin, rector of St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia, will be a visiting preacher for the event.
Christine Mattson and Aaron Stevens are students at Temple University. This piece was produced for Temple’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab in collaboration with WHYY/NewsWorks.