Church of the Savior is taking the gospel outside the walls of their building to a nearby housing development.
A young child living in a government subsidized housing development raises his hand during a weekly children’s program led by parishioners of Church of the Savior in Ambridge, PA. “Pastor Andrew, please tell me that God loves me,” he says. The Rev. Andrew Kosarik pauses his Bible lesson, points at the boy, and says, “God loves you.” After that, all the children start raising their hands and asking to be told that God loves them. “Every time I told one of the kids that God loved them, they acted like they had won the lottery,” recalls Kosarik. This is just one example of how Church of the Savior is reaching their neighborhood with the transforming love of Jesus Christ.
Crestview Economy Village is a government subsidized housing development in Ambridge, PA with about 150 families. Most Tuesdays, children and teens in this community have a unique opportunity to encounter Jesus through an outreach ministry of Church of the Savior (COTS). The kids who attend the program just call it ‘Church.’
The outreach to Crestview Economy Village got its start when the Rev. Dennett Buettner, rector of COTS, attended the consecration of Bishop Bill Thompson in the Diocese of Western Anglicans. During his sermon, Bishop John Guernsey shared about a team at his parish starting a Vacation Bible School off-campus, actually in the community they wanted to reach. “I had this sudden realization. I know exactly where COTS can do that,” recalls Buettner. “We had been trying to do Vacation Bible School in our building with limited success. It was very clear. They aren’t coming, so let’s go somewhere else.”
A team of 20 parishioners formed to plan and organize the first summer VBS at the community center in Crestview Economy Village. At the end of the program, the team from COTS was approached by the manager of the housing development with a request. “We need something like this all the time,” he told them. Buettner turned to the Rev. Andrew Kosarik to spearhead an ongoing program at the housing development. Initially, Kosarik didn’t want to do it. He suffers from an undiagnosed autoimmune syndrome and chronic pain from a failed back surgery. “But I agreed to pray about it,” he says. “God told me to do it, so here I am.”
Kosarik and Deacon Laura Wicker gathered a team of eight parishioners to lead an ongoing children’s program at the housing development. They started by focusing on living in community with each other. They engaged in team building exercises and cross-cultural training. “I knew this wasn’t going to be Sunday school. We were going into their house. They weren’t coming into our house,” explains Kosarik. The team had a vision of forming a community and then giving that gift away to the housing development. In February 2011, the team launched their weekly Tuesday program for children.
At first, the program consisted of games, a Bible teaching, and a snack for about 20 elementary age children. Since the launch of the children’s program in 2011, it has grown and expanded to include more and more residents of the housing development. Today the team from COTS leads a two-tiered program for kids ranging in age from pre-Kindergarten through high school seniors. Participants play games, sing worship songs together, and learn about the Bible. Instead of a snack, everyone gets a hot meal. About 100 kids participate in the program.
Part of the growth came from neighborhood teenagers who started showing up, even though it was originally designed for younger children. “We didn’t quite know what to do with them, so we decided to put them to work. We got even more teens when we asked them to be helpers and gave them responsibilities,” says Kosarik.
The team from COTS is beginning to see the fruit of their ministry in the subtle transformation of the community. Kosarik sees some of this transformation in the behavior of the neighborhood kids, “They are more respectful. Ninety-five percent of the bad behaviors are gone.” Kosarik and Buettner are quick to give credit to God for the transformation they are seeing at Crestview Economy Village. “This is not about COTS. This is about what God is doing,” says Buettner.
Kosarik and Buettner have big, long-term hopes for the community at Crestview Economy village, but for now they are focused on each life they touch. “We are convinced that COTS should be a parish that changes the world one life at a time, beginning in Ambridge,” says Buettner.