During a bitterly cold night in 1982, six Tenth members were leaving the church after Bible study. Very quickly, they came across a homeless person sleeping on the church steps. The encounter sparked a response in them that meeting needs in both word and deed should be a part of their church’s mission. An opportunity to show mercy had been given them. Over time their vision grew and, with the deacons, they established monthly meetings for those wanting to minister to the city’s needy. They chose the acronym ACTS (Active Compassion Through Service) Ministries to represent Tenth Mercy’s expanding vision of a holistic ministry to homeless persons and other needy neighbors.
Initially, four ministries were formed: a food and clothing pantry, adult tutoring, community dinners, and nursing home visitation. ACTS provided a Thanksgiving feast for their homeless neighbors and within a year this “Community Dinner” became a monthly event.
Tenth church is in the heart of downtown Philly and has a history that extends as far back as 1828, when railroads were still in the future and Andrew Jackson was president. Tenth’s ministry context, the city of brotherly love, is filled with history and growth, as well as challenge and need. This is typical of any urban setting with a population exceeding one million. Tenth is a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which it joined in 1981. It stands on the classic formulations of Presbyterian theology that grew out of the Reformation (The Doctrines of Grace, The Five Solas, and The Westminster Confession of Faith).
Today, Tenth Presbyterian operates a variety of ministries under the Mercy Commission umbrella. The Community Luncheons and Nursing Home ministries—begun under ACTS continue over thirty years ago—continue. In addition to these, two Fellowship Bible Studies (at Tenth and in West Philly) serve our homeless and poor neighbors, Tenth Mercy has several weekly Bible studies at the Federal Detention Center (7th and Arch), and there is a monthly Bridge-Builders luncheon for racial healing and cross-cultural communication.
In 2019, ACTS and International Outreach ministries merged as one in Tenth Mercy. These include Internationals Worship and Bible studies, prayer, ESL Classes (Friday/Sunday), Campus ministries (UPENN, Temple), South Philadelphia Outreach (Kirkbride School), Cultural celebrations (Lunar New Year, Thanksgiving, Christmas). There are also monthly luncheons, several outings and retreats, training events, and Mercy Conferences.
Today, it’s not newsworthy that the poor, homeless, working-, middle-, and upper-class worship and serve side by side in worship and service. It is normal at Tenth, a church known as a place of hospitality and care—for anyone in need.
James 2:14 states, “Faith without works is dead.” ACTS takes the Great Commission seriously to go (to urban Philadelphia and beyond) and tell others about God’s plan of salvation and transformation. Tenth Mercy volunteers share the Gospel while imitating Christ and his love for those around him.
In love, God draws us to himself. God showed us compassion in a tangible way before we were even interested (Roman 5:6). This love compels us to share with others the peace and purpose we have found in Christ. The Holy Spirit in his power and love enables us to show mercy to those he has brought to us.
Tenth members say, “Tenth Mercy is our way of meeting needs and living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a natural reflection of our own faith in Christ. It helps us connect good news and good deeds.”
Other churches say, “Tenth Mercy is an example of what could happen here. It is a place to engage our volunteers interested in serving and a place to receive training and support in their own journeys to love, accept, and serve the impoverished.”
Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia embarked on a mission of meeting the physical and spiritual needs of its urban neighbors in 1982. Today, the church is a model for holistic ministry to the poor and homeless. Tenth’s proximity to neighborhoods in need, major universities, and large numbers of internationals have helped develop Tenth Mercy into a “Learning Laboratory” for urban and suburban churches.
Mercy ministry is a part of who we are. Serving others has become part of our worshiping God. God wants us to show up in places of need so he can do the work of transformation.
The needs in the Philadelphia area are great. What better way to respond to God’s gift of love, mercy, and grace than by giving our time, energy, and ourselves in service.