by Rev. Greg Klimovitz, Associate Presbyter
In 2014, Chester Eastside Ministries encountered the resurrection in a way many had neither expected nor dreamed possible. Located within the crumbling remnants of a recently condemned yet historic Third Presbyterian Church on 9th Street, Chester Eastside refused to let their call die with their building. Rev. Warren, Pastoral Director of Chester Eastside since 1995, grinned with confidence as she reminisced, “[Our goal was] not just to survive but live into the future.”
As Rev. Warren and her team awaited a new place to call home, Chester Eastside Ministries transitioned their corporate status into a self-supporting 501(c)3 known as Chester Eastside, Inc. Around the same time, new life came by way of an unforeseen invitation from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The neighboring congregation, located only a few blocks down the road, extended an offer for Chester Eastside, Inc. to take up residence within their building. Rev. Warren and the leadership of Eastside responded with a resounding, “yes!”
Chester Eastside was not the only voice of affirmation that echoed throughout the streets of this Chester neighborhood. Members from the surrounding community heard of the relocation and responded by literally lifting and carrying Chester Eastside from old to newness of life a block away. In a rolling processional of grace and solidarity, local residents moved furniture, equipment, files, industrial freezers, and computers down the street and into St. Paul’s during the spring, summer, and winter months of 2014. “We thought we had good local partners [before the move],” remarked Rev. Warren. “Our move exposed the need for more intentional local relationships of support and engagement.”
Chester Eastside’s renewed emphasis on long-term sustainability through intentional local partnership has fueled and funded their neighborhood ministries ever since. They presently collaborate with Chester Upland School District, ecumenical congregations, synagogues, Widener University students, Boys and Girls Clubs, government leaders, and the Presbytery of Philadelphia. Chester Eastside also partners with local food consortiums and operates as one of the largest food distribution centers in Delaware County, providing monthly groceries and fresh produce to over 600 children and adults and over 112,000 meals annually.
In 2014, Chester Eastside was also the recipient of a grant from the Presbytery of Philadelphia’s Covenant Fund. These dollars have benefited Chester Eastside’s Whole Child Program, an initiative that recruits, equips, and trains mentors from local congregations to walk alongside and tutor elementary-aged children in their After School programs. Many who participated in these childhood programs have gone on to graduate from high school and college, serve as current board members, and launch new initiatives through Chester Eastside.
About eight years ago, a current PhD candidate who was nurtured as a child by these very After School programs, partnered with Chester Eastside and local leaders to launch a Peace, Leadership, and Cultural Arts Camp. As a part of this now thriving local restorative justice initiative, youth from ages 12-18 gather for five days to engage in the creative arts. Young people develop spoken word pieces, participate in vibrant musical compositions, and explore dance as a means to counter raw feelings of frustration, sadness, and anger. The camp also incorporates annual trips to Broadway and has previously hosted speakers from South Africa who reflected on the power of reconciliation in the wake of apartheid. The Peace, Leadership, and Cultural Arts Camp continues to be an effective means to empower and equip local youth for community transformation. The ministry is now fully funded and coordinated by one of Chester Eastside’s partners. Initiatives like the Whole Child Program and the Peace, Leadership, and Cultural arts camp continue to empower young people as they resurrect personal and communal narratives out of despair and towards hope.
“The only thing people know about Chester is the bad news reported on the news,” remarked the Chair of the Board of Directors, William Henderson. “But there are a lot of positive things happening here, too.”
The witness and work of Chester Eastside’s staff, leaders, and community partners is one such good news story worthy of report. They have indeed been a vital part of the Spirit’s resurrection of both their ministry and an entire neighborhood. As Rev. Warren affirmed, “Chester Eastside is a spirit not a place…I know what happens here is nothing but the work of God.”
Click here for a bulletin insert of Chester Eastside’s Summer Enrichment Camp: CEM_Insert_2015A