When Manny and Blanca Ortiz and Randy and Sue Baker and their families moved to Philadelphia in 1987, there were no Christian Reformed churches in the city.
They soon launched Spirit and Truth Fellowship CRC downtown—a church firmly rooted both in Scripture and in the community—with the vision of reaching neighborhoods through further church planting.
Today, there are eight Christian Reformed congregations and a house church in the region, together with a newly-launched school to equip developing leaders to start even more urban churches.
Manny Ortiz and Sue Baker are co-directors of the Home Missions-supported “Philly Initiative.” One of their primary goals is the development of a cluster of the new CRC church plants that will meet every five to six weeks for encouragement, sharing, and prayer.
Another aspect of the initiative is coaching and mentoring church-plant pastors and leaders, in partnership with Home Missions Eastern U.S. regional leader Drew Angus. A new training institute, the Philadelphia School of Bible and Urban Mission, has been established to assist with the development of emerging and indigenous leaders.
“There is a great need for grassroots training of leaders in this city,” says Ortiz, pastor of Spirit and Truth Fellowship.
The School of Bible and Urban Mission provides biblical and theological education for leaders emerging in the church plants. It also provides instruction for church planters who are in ministry and those who are emerging to meet together for what is called “Church Planting Fellows.”
The Fellows program encourages church planters with new ideas and refines the principles that guide them as they grow their local ministries. Fellows represent a broad range of leaders from the community, many of whom have little training but do well through experience and tutoring. Some students have theological training but lack experience.
A third program, a seminary for juniors and seniors in high school, encourages a desire among young people to grow in biblical understanding and to consider their gifts for ministry.