By Robert Wilson
Two of Philip Prince’s loves are Jesus and basketball, in that order, so it made sense for him to combine the two and form the Church at the Arc, a church-basketball ministry in his hometown of Philadelphia.
Prince has been a youth minister for 20 years, working with youth at Carthage Methodist Church.
Prince – who once held the Mississippi high school record for most 3-pointers in a career – is also a gym rat. He was a star at Leake Academy, started at East Central Community College and was a walk-on at Southern Miss. Prince has spent countless hours working with his four children – all who love Jesus and basketball as he does – and many other kids in the Philadelphia area.
Prince and his longtime friend J Clark put together basketball and ministry to form the Church at the Arc.
“My sixth-grade coach Barry Upton and my mentor in college – the late Joe Cole – took me on sports mission trips to Argentina, India, and China, placing in me a desire to use basketball to share the gospel,” Prince said. “One day I shared with J about my basketball ministry idea. J and I met at Southern Miss back in 1997 and we would talk faith over the years and encourage each other. J, like so many before, nodded and said, ‘good idea,’ but didn’t jump at it. Covid hit. J went through some frustrations in ministry and one day said, ‘I think I like that idea but let’s also plant a church.’ I had notebooks filled with ideas. Even a name, ‘Spectrum Ministries,’ 20 years of thinking and planning and he out of the blue said, ‘we should call it the Church at the Arc.’ You know like the 3-point arc and the arc of life. I knew immediately that was it. It was born at a table of Junction Deli (Prince owns the convenience store chain, headquartered in Philadelphia). We began with about 30 folks meeting in our home for a few months and the building we ultimately landed in was God sent. I can’t make it up. A lady had a dress shop and gymnastics studio on the back. When I walked in the ‘gym’ (famous choral music) Handel’s messiah played. I knew this was the place I had looked for for over 20 years.
“From my point of view, I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. I felt in my soul over the 20 years God would provide. J Clark was 15 minutes away for many of those years. But once J Clark stepped out of the comfort and safety, every piece of the puzzle began to fall into place. This stuff doesn’t happen without God. J Clark has proven to be perfect and called for such as time as this.”
Gradually, the Church at the Arc came together.
“The church initially rolled on two rails,” Prince said. “We aggressively went after addicts to help them fight addiction and have a safe community to be restored in. And the basketball ministry opened its doors loving area. A hundred plus people actively use the gym weekly and we are actively getting to know many of them to share the Good News.”
Prince was amazed how God opened doors for the Church at the Arc.
“God opened the floodgates,” Prince said. “Someone gave us a $40,000 van, $15,000 fence and put in new LED lights. Unreal kindness. We’ve seen so many freed from addiction who are now actively helping others. One lady named Jennifer helps lead our Strong Towers ministry, which focused on addicts. And then kids using the gym. One young man name Trey looked at me one day as I drove him home and said, ‘I am so thankful I have the ARC where I can play basketball.’ You don’t get that from many 16-year-olds saying that. Guys like Clyde Moore who assists with Philadelphia High School girls. He looked at me one day and said, ‘I get it.’ I had met him four years prior to launch. I told him some of the vision. We had 15 girls in there one night doing drills and he saw the vision coming to life. He now is part of the church and helps coach kids.”
Prince explains in detail what the initials Arc stand for:
“A. All things to all people. All races. All walks. All people we will love like Christ called us to.
“R. Because of Jesus we have been reconciled to the Father. We have experienced a deep love that was unwarranted and will in turn do the same. We will be reconcilers. Helping to heal families, neighborhoods, etc., via Jesus.
“C. Community servants. We want to lavishly wash the feet of our community. One way we did this is the first project we tackled was to build basketball courts in our city.”
Prince has grown in his faith with his work at the Church at the Arc.
“I have gained freedom. A true sense of what church is supposed to be,” Prince said. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Free to love people who, traditionally, in many of the churches we attended, might not have been accepted. Free to worship. Through all this, God has renewed an energy is us to go after the lost. The One lost sheep. I’ve also gained a pile of new friends.”
“Philip had told me years ago about doing a basketball ministry back in his hometown of Philadelphia and later on when I started talking to him about planting a church, he suggested that we do the basketball ministry with the church, but I kind of had my doubts about that,” Clark said. “I think I told him let me go pray about that. I could tell he was disappointed, but I came back and said it would be a great way to reach people, a great way to fish for people in Philadelphia and that began us talking about what a church with a unique basketball ministry would look like. We came up with the name of the Church the Arc because we talked about traveling around the world and meeting people while we played basketball. I said I met a lot of people at the arc. And Philip said that’s the name, Church at the Arc, and that’s how we got the name and started the partnership of planting a church with a basketball ministry.”
The Church at the Arc was started two years ago.
“There are a couple of main outreach ministries of the church, of course one of those is our basketball ministry,” Clark said. “We have basketball individual group training nearly every day at the Arc. That’s one of the things I really love is that we have people at the church every day of the week. No one is doing more with their building per square foot than we are per square time. We recently had a tournament going on all day. Another one of our ministries is drug and alcohol recover ministry. One of the parables that Jesus tells is that if a shepherd had 100 sheep and one of them went lost, wouldn’t he leave the 99 and go find the one? The basketball and recover ministry are both where we see ourselves going and finding people who are lost, who have lost their way, those who are hurting, those who don’t know where to go or what to do or are confused, we want to go find them and bring then to the Lord’s table. Bring them into the life with Christ. In the recover ministry, we look for people. Now we have the reputation, they come to us. People who are in addiction, we sponsor them, usually to a six-month drug recovery faith-based program and when they come out, we help them with their life and job, rebuild their family life. We want to help people, if they wanted it, from the very beginning when they became addicted for the rest of their lives. We wanted to be a church to be a place where they could be safe, be welcomed, and rest in Christ.”
The church started with about 50 people coming to its Sunday service. A Sunday’s recovery celebration service in September had 330 people.
Prince said there are about 50 people currently in Strong Towers, which is the recovery ministry, about 50 kids for basketball instruction and 50-100 for pickup games, ranging from 16- to 50-year-olds. Jarrett Allen and his dad, Craig Allen, lead the basketball instructions. They host several tournaments throughout the year.
“I am an elder at the church and help with Strong Towers and with the basketball ministry,” Craig Allen said. “I have known Philip most of my life and we have always shared a love of basketball and that kept us in contact over the years. My son Jarrett started going to Philip’s youth group in Carthage. After many months inviting me to come, I finally did come into his youth group. I surrendered my life to the Lord and haven’t looked back. I was 37 when I did that and I’m 50 now.
“We have had more baptisms in two years than I’ve seen in the whole church experience. Nothing can top the A in Arc: being all things to all people. Actually being church the way Jesus modeled it.”
Prince’s family – wife Val, and children, Miriam, Samuel, Sarah, and Andrew – all are involved.
Val – who works at a local pharmacy – sings in worship services, does backpack ministry for a local school providing food for kids and plans an outreach to a local neighborhood each major holiday, focusing on kids on Christmas and egg hunts. She also cooks for the men’s ministry each Monday for 48 weeks out of the year.
Miriam was an All-State basketball player at Leake Academy and now is a freshman on East Central Community College’s team. Samuel, Sarah, and Andrew – affectionally known as “the Hulk,” – all play basketball at Leake. They all participate in youth and help with all the community outreach events. They also help in setup and takedown of worship services, with basketball camps and instruction.
There are several ways to donate to the Church at the Arc or any of its ministries and to contact: go to this link to donate (freedonationkiosk.com:9011/cata/donation/new), or mail to PO Box 4, Philadelphia MS. For basketball, call or text Jarrett Allen at 601.416.2545. For Strong Tower Rehabilitation ministry, call or text Lauren Johnston at 601.896.6773. Arc Basketball Academy and Church at the Arc have facebook pages.