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Pastors Elijah and Ashlee Hollis minister in the city of Philadelphia looking through a unique lens, both metaphorically and literally. The couple blended their callings as owners of a creative arts agency, Helm Creative Studio, as well as their roles as pastors of CHANGE Church to generate a diverse and eclectic community within the walls of their building, The Story Factory in the Old Kensington area.
As children of pastors, Elijah, raised in Iowa, and Ashlee, from Kansas, met in early childhood through their fathers, who had been roommates in college years before. After reconnecting after graduation, Elijah, 37, and Ashlee, 35, got married. Ashlee moved to Pennsylvania to join Elijah in youth ministry just outside of Philadelphia.
During their ministry there, a 14 year old girl from their youth group committed suicide and left a note saying she felt she had no place to belong and no purpose. The Hollis promised the Lord that they would do everything possible to prevent such a scenario from happening again. They felt a vision from the Lord to create a community where everyone has a place.
In 2015, a year before resigning from youth ministry to begin preparing to launch CHANGE Church in Philadelphia, Elijah and Ashlee started Helm Creative Studio, a company involved in video work and marketing for local businesses.
“God brought us to the story of Moses and how God used the one thing Moses had in his hand, a staff, to lead the Israelites,” Ashlee says. All the couple had in their hands was a video camera. In faith, CHANGE Church was officially launched in 2017.
“We knew the first step was to meet people,” says Ashlee. For nine months, the couple served coffee from a coffee cart to learn about the city’s greatest needs. They modeled their efforts on the scriptural accounts of Jesus meeting people.
“Wells were places of gathering in the Bible, and today people gather over coffee,” Elijah says. “It’s natural to talk to your barista, that’s how we started meeting people.”
Thanks to their church coffee cart and Helm Creative Studio, the Hollis began to see a huge blessing pour down on the two. Suddenly, Helm Creative Studio started making a profit.
“We met some amazing clients and formed relationships that would become our key to the city,” recalls Ashlee. She is the founder and president of Helm, an agency that provides services in videography, photography, audiovisual technology and digital marketing. Elijah is a videographer, director, writer, producer, musician and voice-over artist.
Like most of the country, in 2020 the city of Philadelphia shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Hollises – who have two children, Zion, 11, and Aunee, 9 – have kept the momentum of CHANGE Church and its community going by using an online lounge of virtual events and meetings such as online tutoring , online fitness classes, and watch parties for their services.
When the city began to reopen in 2021, Elijah and Ashlee struggled to find a space that would meet the unique needs of the community they had invested in. Earlier this year, by the miraculous grace of God, they found an incredible 27,000 square foot facility that turned into CHANGE Church and Helm Creative Studio.
“This building is where we see our connections come full circle,” Ashlee says. The couple believe the Holy Spirit is bringing people together in their building for the transformation of the city. The Story Factory is used by community organizations, an after-school program and tutoring.
“The Police District is seeing dreams come true for the city, the celebrity chefs we work with are giving back, students are having after school creative arts programs, and more and more connections are being made that are truly transforming the community. says Ashley. The name of The Story Factory has a religious basis.
“Jesus taught in stories,” says Elijah. “We focus on building stories that build people.”
“The biggest win for us is seeing unity and camaraderie between unique businesses and unique individuals,” says Ashlee.
Tom E. Rees, director of church planting for the PennDel Assemblies of God Ministry Network, says Elijah and Ashlee are a new branch of pastors who are taking a “co-vocational” approach to starting a congregation rather than a bivocational one. .
“In bivocational church planting, the work done outside of the church sustains the economic engine of the church,” says Rees. “However, a co-professional approach is to view the secular work being done as part of the ministry.” Rees says such a method gives the couple time to build bridges and relationships while battling the high prices of an urban structure.