Come December, Rev. Bernice Warren will be retiring from the position she has held for more than 20 years, as Director of Chester Eastside, Inc., formerly Chester Eastside Ministries, with lots of fond memories and few regrets. “I see it as freeing me up to expand my ministry on behalf of social justice on a global scale,” she said recently. On her agenda is becoming more active locally, nationally, in Haiti, and in Africa. She also feels called to continue to help young people be all they can be, a necessary component of the mission of promoting social justice.
The impetus for this wider mission is the same sense of social responsibility that brought Rev. Warren back to her native Chester in 1995 to head up Chester Eastside Ministries. Growing up in the Bennett Homes public housing project, she knew first-hand both the joys and challenges facing Chesterites. “But I had to get reacquainted with my home town. It had changed over the years since I had left in 1977. Many people I had known were gone and there were new folks in their place.”
In the interim, she served churches in Baltimore and Wilmington. “These were urban churches dealing with problems ranging from hunger and homelessness to drug abuse.” Looking back, she thinks of these pastorates as, in a way, preparation for the central role she would play in an evolving Chester Eastside, Inc.
Now, as Rev. Warren gets ready to move on, she views with satisfaction what she and Chester Eastside, Inc., have been able to accomplish in those twenty- plus years. In particular, bringing people from very different backgrounds together to create a welcoming place. Suburbanites have learned from urbanites and vice versa. The other accomplishment that gives her a sense of pride is the impact on young people
If there is one thing she regrets, it is that Chester Eastside, Inc., has not been able to involve more Chester churches in the work that she has devoted her life to. But that has not deterred her from energetically pursuing the mission.
Clergy was not Rev. Warren’s first career choice. “I was thinking along the lines of social work or teaching,” she said. In fact, her first job after college was running a GED program. But there was something missing. That something was a spiritual base. Meanwhile she was becoming increasingly fascinated with the way ministers were interpreting the Gospel, in many cases inspired by Liberation Theology, a movement in response to the plight of economically and politically oppressed with its roots in Latin America. It was a natural fit for someone who, from an early age, identified with the downtrodden and those wanting to take up their cause.
Chester Eastside, Inc., is currently in the process of doing a search for Rev. Warren’s successor. Anyone interested in applying for the position of Director should go to INDEED.com and job opening under executive director position.