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West Kensington Ministry at Norris Square: Rebuilding Community Around Music.

July 8, 2013

WestKensMinistry02smallText by Kevin Stairiker. Images by Abigail Reimold.

Among piles of old audio equipment, children’s books and battered pews stands a man with a plan. Reverend Adan Mairena is the kind of man who looks at a decrepit, crumbling building and sees not what it is or was, but what it will one day become.

His home for the past seven years, the West Kensington Ministry at Norris Square, is a perfect example of this. The building dates back to the Civil War but with the help of some dedicated helpers, the good reverend is looking to bring the Ministry into the 21st century.

The church itself is the main event but add a fully functional recording studio as well as plans for a venue space, screen-printing studio and photography darkroom, Mairena is hatching the ultimate way to keep kids interested – by appealing to their interests.

“I had a kid come up to me one day,” Mairena recalls, “and he was like, ‘Yo Rev., let me spit a verse for you!’ It was all about having a lot of bling. I’m like, ‘You were just asking me to help you buy a bus pass!’”

By connecting with young people, he hopes to further instill positivity into the community.

WestKensMinistry01small“Who are our heroes today?” he asks rhetorically. “Are there more T-shirts featuring Martin Luther King Jr. or Jay-Z?”

The patronage of Norris Square had been declining for years because the mostly-white congregation fled the neighborhood.

“Most of the people (who stayed) were either too old,” Mairena explains, “or had died.”

And what’s a reverend without a congregation? Thankfully, this particular one was still a motivated man and even more thankfully, he soon met a man equally as motivated.

The reverend’s luck started its uphill climb a few years ago when he met Miguel Leon, a local audio engineer and DJ, who also runs Illadelph Sound. A partnership ended up benefiting them both.

“In the crack era back in the ’80s, this neighborhood was a war zone,” Leon says, looking down below at the rows of empty pews. “There were vials on the sidewalk everywhere you walked.”

“See,” Mairena says with a sigh. “Hearing that type of stuff breaks my heart because I’m not from around here.”

Mairena found in Leon a compatriot who was not only knowledgeable about the musical equipment and practices but also just as willing to help out the churchgoers.

“It was really important to have someone from the neighborhood help out,” Mairena says, motioning to Leon.

“Rev. Mairena had the beginnings of a studio but he didn’t really know what to do with it,” Leon says with a laugh. “He was doing a good job but things needed tweaking.”

The studio is now freshly opened. The first band gracing Leon’s setup is Penumbra, church drummer Joaquin Miranda’s metal band. Norris Square Park has also been holding a weekly youth open-mic events, which has garnered mostly praise from the neighborhood.

“One woman from the neighborhood came in and saw the flashing lights and said that it looked like a club in here,” Mairena says. “I asked her how she knew what the inside of a club looked like.”

There is still a lot of work to be done in most facets of the church but the reverend is in it for the long haul.

“I see my position as one who builds everything up,” says Mairena. “Too often, congregations build themselves up around pastors instead of the people. I’m trying to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

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