First Presbyterian Christmas Fest holds fun and hope

There’s a lot of pressure in a Christmas Party – a lot to get just right. Especially when you’re putting it together for the whole community, like at the Christmas Fest at First Presbyterian Church in Germantown last Sunday.


“This is a kind of hybrid event to bring the church community and the larger community together,” said Reverend Kevin Porter, who was in charge of the festival.

Porter normally runs the church’s Bread and Cup Coffee House events, which pull local talent together for open mic nights once a month.

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This time Porter decided to combine a traditional family Christmas event with the more ad hoc open mic effort where locals get to test their voices, or other performance skills.

Porter said he hoped it would stretch people’s comfort zones while opening them up to new ways to view the Christmas message.

So for festival goers it’s about, “What can you take, what can you leave?” he said.

Example: Thadius Thomas, a jazz musician who lives at the Sun Ra House on Morris Street. He didn’t come to the mic to play music that day. Instead he wanted to speak on what the season means to him.

“If we can impress upon each other the importance of every single moment we can extend God’s love,” he told the crowd.

Porter nodded to the message.

There were the more traditional Christmas party items as well: Craft tables for kids, a gingerbread house construction room, a children’s reenactment of Jesus’ birth and of course a live nativity.

But with everything going on, good old fashioned love and hope seemed to be the real star of the show.

You could see it in the face of Ruth Barkley as she watched her two grandsons, Jaquan Barkley, 7, and Shawn Thompson, 5, create some of their own gingerbread houses.

She fought back tears the whole time. She was remembering her daughter, the boys’ mother.

“This was the day, two years ago that she passed away,” Barkley quietly recalled.

Her daughter died unexpectedly of a heart condition at the age of 21. Barkley cares for her grandsons but public assistance money doesn’t go that far. As a result she travels to First Presbyterian regularly from Northeast Philadelphia for help buying food.

The Christmas Festival was one time she knew she could give them the good times they deserve, only she didn’t expect to be so upset.

“We’re just trying to make Christmas happen for them,” she said. “I kind of have to catch myself.”

The boys seemed to take to the gingerbread houses just fine. Shawn constructed a near perfect A-frame adorned with lots of colorful gum balls and held together with white confectioner’s sugar “glue.”

He showed off the features of the structure proudly, the steep roof and straight walls. And when asked about the gum balls and the purpose they served he smiled for a moment before plucking one off the building and eating it.

“They stick in there and then when you get ready to eat them they be good,” he said with his mouth full.

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