Pastor Ray Garcia is a yes man, in the good sense. Yes to new ideas—yes to involving the community—yes to working outside of comfort zones.
It may seem as if he's still adjusting into his role at , but his actions show he's already immersed in the Ridge Avenue community.
Garcia has settled into his office at 8230 Ridge Ave., and soon will move his wife and two children into the pastor's home. However, his pastor role, which began in September, is well underway—exhibited by a push for community gathering.
"This church has not only asked me to serve as its pastor, but also to dream with the members for the future," Garcia said.
What Brought Garcia to Roxborough
A New Jersey native, Garcia began with youth ministry in his Vineland, Cumberland County church. Garcia was raised by his mother, and came into the faith at 16.
"A friend invited me to church one day, and I was drawn to the community. I sat there for about four months, taking it in—not even realizing that God was at work in my heart then," he said.
Wanting to be involved in youth ministry, Garcia attended Eastern University, and later worked as a youth director at and Grace Presbyterian Church in Jenkintown while he completed his seminary training.
Following ordination, Garcia desired a ministry position in an urban environment. He founded the Philadelphia Project in Mt. Airy in 2010, as a nonprofit organization that does short-term missions of free home repair for elderly and low-income houses.
"Our desire is to serve as a bridge between the community and the local church. We want to help the local folks to see that the church does care, and that cares comes from a place of God's love for us," he said.
Roxborough Presbyterian provided meals for the Philadelphia Project. That work, plus a Garcia speech on missions at a local Presbyterian conference made the church gravitate toward the minister. After an interview process, Garcia began in September.
The First Four Months
Garcia's big push is to solidify current community programs and establish new ones.
His work with the Philadelphia Project continues, and he intends to incorporate Roxborough Presbyterian's service work with community members in need.
"When I was hired, what clicked was this shared vision. We want to reach into the community more. We want to figure out what the neighbors need, and how we can see those needs met," he said.
One established entity Garcia intends to foster and grow is the church's community garden. The patch of land on the church's property is open to all and is a way for Upper Roxborough residents to come together.
Another such community entity is the ASH Theater, which is staging for kids, teens, and adults in March.
One task for Garcia's involves fostering the existing community and bringing it into the future. For a long-established congregation, challenges sometimes exist in embracing new ideas.
"The thing that's most exciting now is that we've let go of the idea that it's always been that way," he said. "What we've learned is that if we are going to grow and reach the folks in our neighborhood... we as a church have identified the non-negotiatables—the things we find in scriptures—and everything else we can say 'Why not try it?'"
Getting out into the community in many different capacities is a big task, as well. Garcia's job is to figure out how to connect with the Roxborough lifers, the new families, and transitional renters. Whereas knocking on doors works in some respects, providing people with a reason to join the Roxborough Presbyterian community may be more effective.
"Up here, there's not a lot of opportunities for youth. We just started a kids group for third, fourth and fifth graders... to organize a Friday night in a safe environment, and let and mom and dad spend the time together," Garcia said.
So Garcia preps for the future every day, while enjoying the present. His favorite part of the job is preaching, and people may hear Garcia every Wednesday and Sunday.
For more information, visit the church's website.