The Northeast took part in the grand opening Sunday of True Vine Church Community, a Christian church in Wissinoming.
Associate Pastor Joe Zernhelt started off the 10:30 a.m. service with worship music, playing guitar and singing.
To the crowd of 62, Pastor Jim Rudd compared beginning to believe in Jesus and joining the True Vine community to becoming a Phillies fan.
“The more you go [to the games], the more you learn about [the team], and you become a Phillies fan. I want our church to be like that,” Rudd said. “I want them to come and say, ‘Hey, that’s not for me’ or maybe, after a few weeks, to start to wear their Jesus jerseys and understand what Jesus’ position is.” HISTORY
The church, formerly the Walter Erb Memorial Church, is located at 4610 Devereaux Ave.
“This building’s been here for 80-some years. It’s always been a church,” Rudd said. “In its heyday, I want to say back in the 1950s, there were hundreds of people in it. So, it was a large church.”
Walter Erb was an influential part of the building’s beginning. “Once Walter Erb left in the 1960s, everything went downhill. In 2008, the congregation only had six people left,” Rudd said. “They decided to close the doors, and shut down the church. So we started from scratch in September 2008.”
The church is run by Pastor Rudd, Associate Pastor Zernhelt, and intern Luis Sanchez. The three met in New York and, along with their wives, moved to Philadelphia as a team – Pastor Rudd right next door to the church, Associate Pastor Zernhelt at the next door over, with Sanchez also nearby.
Zernhelt said the area expressed the need for a new church. “The way the church works, is each denomination sends people out to find places to start new churches and help with funding and whatnot,” he said. “I heard him talking, got really interested and excited, told my wife, told Jim. One thing led to another and God brought us here.”
During the service, Rudd and Zernhelt stressed their top priority – to help the community and work with it.
“Besides telling people about the gospel and talking about Jesus, we want to focus on what we feel is our calling; we want to be a blessing to the community. For example, that carnival we held in July,” Zernhelt explained, “that was a free service to the community.”
The True Vine leaders have also built classrooms in the church’ basement for children, which are also used for GED classes, and created a food pantry and clothing ministry. They plan to use the extra rooms for AA meetings. This Halloween, they will set up stands outside and serve food and drinks to locals.
“We don’t just want to come here and take from the community,” Zernhelt said, “That’s what Jesus was about, too. He cared about people. He loved people.”
The two pastors have been in the neighborhood for a year and a half, and started with a simple Bible study. “We started meeting people in the neighborhood. We started the Bible study in September of last year,” Rudd said. “We started with 11 people, which grew to 20, so we decided to split off into two groups. Now we have five Bible studies. Once we had those, we told [the groups], ‘Hey, everyone, come to church on Sunday morning.’”
Currently, Bible studies take place on Monday and Thursday evenings.
The grand opening service included a symbolic nail, which represented a stake being hammered into the floor. All around the building, other nails had been symbolically driven in every corner.
“I’m going to pretend this nail is a stake,” Rudd explained, “and I’m going to drive it into the ground in order to say that True Vine Church Community is obsessed with Jesus.”
Speaking on symbolism and the name of the church, Rudd stated, “There are two reasons for it. One, in John chapter fifteen, Jesus says, ‘I am the true vine.’ That passage has been important to our team since day one. Secondly, I’ve read some local history books and Wissinoming used to be a vineyard. Wissinoming means ‘A place where grapes grow.’ In fact, we have a grape vine growing in the back of our property. I’m very big into symbolism, as you can probably tell.”
Rudd said he is hopeful about the future of his church community. “Today we had our biggest turnout. We’re about a year old and have been having services for the last month,” he said. “Until we have a church that comes from this church, one from scratch, we haven’t done anything.”
“Once we get 10 done,” he said, “maybe I can retire.”