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The MetroGrace and Crossroads Community Church Story (November 2016)

Our Story

Crossroads Community Church was birthed in prayer. In 1988 Jim and Lisa Brown moved their family to Indiana so Jim could attend Grace Theological Seminary. During that time they began meeting with Dan and Jennifer Gregory to pray for direction in ministry. Soon the Lord began leading the Browns toward urban church planting.

God used the Grace Brethren Home Missions Council, Northern Atlantic District Missions and First Grace Brethren Church to help Crossroads begin. Ed Jackson, a representative for the GBHMC, helped Jim clarify his call to church planting. Larry Chamberlin, the executive director of GBHMC, was a great encouragement and support. And Luke Kauffman the chairman of the board of both GBHMC and NADM helped get the ministry off the ground. Later, men like Jesse DeLoe, Bill Snell, Jim Johnson, Kurt Miller and Ken Seyfert would provide significant help for Crossroads and MetroGrace, its urban church planting ministry.

By May of 1991, Pastor Mike and Margie Brubaker had helped the Browns gain approval from First Grace Brethren Church of Philadelphia to send a team to plant a new church in a neighboring community. Pastor Mike generously invited anyone led by Christ to join the Browns in their mission.

By August of 1991, a small team of family and friends had been called to serve. Dorothy Brown, Jack & Christine Brown, Bob and Sharon Pearson and Joe and Theresa Wexler joined Jim and Lisa in order to reach out to the neighborhoods of Mayfair and Tacony in Northeast Philadelphia.

Crossroads began its ministry by reaching out to children and their families. A one-week Kid’s Club was held at the Browns’ house on Levick Street in Tacony. By the end of the week more than 50 parents and children filled the small row house. A Christian clown performed illusions and shared the gospel.

That September the Browns began a small group Bible study at their house. The group focused on parenting. During the first week, one mother placed her trust in Jesus. She was Crossroads’ first convert in the city.

That fall, a network of relationships began to grow and the team found a place to begin Sunday worship services. On Sunday November 3, 1991, Crossroads held its first worship service at the Tender Loving Childcare Center at Howell and Ditman Streets in the Wissinoming neighborhood. Thirty-four people were welcomed to worship that day. First Grace Brethren Church continued to help, sending teams to handle children’s church during the worship service.

By the spring of 1992, Crossroads was able to acquire a rental space that was usable throughout the week. A team from First Grace Brethren Church helped renovate the space and Crossroads began to grow. The church participated in the Billy Graham crusade, transporting neighbors to the event. At least two people came to know Christ as Savior that week. We hosted ministry teams throughout the summer, holding concerts off the loading dock in the back of the building. A young girl named Angie Jewett served with one of those teams. God was laying the groundwork for her future ministry.

During this period, Crossroads was able to connect with a number of students from Philadelphia College of Bible. Elizabeth Crawford was the first to respond to a request for help. Soon she was bringing many friends who played a crucial role in the development of the young church.

By 1993, Crossroads had purchased a small building at 4706 Comly Street in Wissinoming. The facility had been used as a water ice factory, so extensive renovations were required. Soon it became a useful home for the growing church. Many look to those years on Comly Street with warm affection. Quarters were tight but the church grew together while worshipping and serving the Lord.

By 1997, Crossroads had become a self-supporting church. Roger Glick, Bob Pearson, Jim Brown and Brad Cain served on the leadership team. Each man was about ten years apart in age. That variety provided a broad perspective on church family needs. The congregation was growing and began to look for a larger facility.

By 1998, the Grace Brethren Home Missions Council had become Grace Brethren North American Missions. Kurt Miller had become the National Director of Church Planting for GBNAM. Their new strategy included World-class City Projects. Their goal was to appoint career missionaries to develop clusters of churches in major cities of North America. So, Kurt asked Jim to serve as the career missionary for Philadelphia. The Browns agreed. This new ministry would come to be called MetroGrace. Soon other works would begin in Chicago, New York, Toronto and San Francisco.

To accommodate the growing church and the expanding vision, Crossroads partnered with MetroGrace and GBNAM to purchase a facility at 4624 Leiper Street in the Frankford neighborhood. It included a large commercial facility for the church and a large house that provided an apartment for interns and dormitory space for mission teams. The building was purchased in August of 1999. It needed extensive renovation. Teams from all over the country came to help. And in October of 1999, Crossroads held its first worship service in Frankford.

As Crossroads planned for the move, the first church plant was also planned. The Lord had been calling Bob and Sharon Pearson to develop a new congregation. Crossroads retained the facility in Wissinoming, maintaining an ongoing presence in the community. In April of 2000, Bob and Sharon led a team of about 20 people back to Comly Street, beginning Crossroads Wissinoming. It was exciting to watch God growing two congregations in two urban neighborhoods!

By the spring of 2000, Angie Jewett had married Dan Browning and they moved to Philadelphia to begin a two-year church planting internship at MetroGrace. They lived in the apartment at the Frankford building, absorbing urban culture as they learned about ministry. Dan completed an MS in Bible at Philadelphia Biblical University during that time.

The growing ministry and large facility enabled MetroGrace to host many short-term ministry teams. Dawnna Plummer joined the team, serving as the Short-term Missions Coordinator. Dawnna worked with thousands of students over the years, helping them to serve the Lord in the city.

By the spring of 2002, the Brownings had bought a house in the Morrell Park section of Philadelphia. Their team of seven young adults included Mike and Margarete Connor, Jonathan and Michelle Pearson and Rachel Pearson. They began reaching out to the community, holding large events that would draw hundreds of neighbors. They used the Norcom Community Center and the Northeast Family YMCA to host outreach events and worship services.

In the summer of 2002, Mark and Candi Ritzman moved into the apartment at Frankford. Mark was still a student at Grace Theological Seminary. Mark planned to complete the final year of his Master of Divinity degree while serving at MetroGrace. Then, after a year of transition, Mark would become the pastor at Crossroads Frankford. In June 2004, Mark assumed the pastoral role at Frankford.

The transition at Frankford was intended to help Jim focus on developing the church planting ministry. MetroGrace was now incorporated as a separate non-profit organization.

That summer the church planting team in Northeast Philadelphia experienced some challenges. Two years of hard work had brought many contacts. But, few of those contacts connected with the new church. The team asked for help; so the Browns began serving with the group in Northeast Philadelphia.

Jim began preaching at Crossroads Northeast in September 2004. The young congregation was meeting in the Northeast Family YMCA. Soon the group began to pick up momentum and began looking for rental space.

By the spring of 2005, Crossroads Northeast had rented space on Ashton Road at the Holme Circle. This moved the group from its original target neighborhood, but allowed for some substantive growth.

At about that time, Crossroads began to share its space with Brazilian Bible Church, a church plant led by Pastor Paul and Janis Alencar. A large Brazilian population had moved into Northeast Philadelphia and a vibrant church developed.

So in 2005, MetroGrace supported four congregations – Crossroads Frankford led by Pastor Mark Ritzman, Crossroads Wissinoming led by Pastor Bob Pearson, Crossroads Holmesburg led by Pastor Jim Brown and Pastor Dan Browning and Brazilian Bible Church led by Pastor Paul Alencar. Soon, Margarete Connor joined the staff to help with administration.

In 2007, the group at Crossroads Wissinoming felt that their ministry was drawing to a close. Pastor Bob and Sharon Pearson led their congregation to join with the Frankford congregation and served alongside Pastor Mark and Candi Ritzman.

By the spring of 2008, Mark Rowe began to lead a Bible study at 4706 Comly Street in Wissinoming.  Before long many children began to attend. Folks from several area churches helped with the ministry, including Pete and Danielle Forshtay. The group took the name Comly Street Chapel.

During that time, Crossroads was able to share the space in Wissinoming with House of Joy, a multi-ethnic church plant led by Pastor Victor King.

In the spring of 2008, Crossroads Northeast purchased a building at 7721 Torresdale Avenue in the Holmesburg neighborhood and became known as Crossroads Holmesburg. Brazilian Bible Church moved to the new location, too, and continued to grow.

While serving at Comly Street Chapel, Pete Forshtay began attending Philadelphia Biblical University. In 2010 he began a church planting internship with MetroGrace. Pete read numerous books and articles about urban ministry and gained hands-on experience in pastoral service.

In 2012, the children’s ministry at Comly Street Chapel transitioned into a new church plant called Crossroads Wissinoming. Jim and Lisa Brown served with the Forshtays to lay a foundation.

By 2013 Pete had graduated from Philadelphia Biblical University. He passed his licensure exam in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches and he began leading the ministry in Wissinoming.

In June of 2013, Mark Ritzman became the Director of Mission Training at MetroGrace. In this role he would oversee short-term missions, summer internships, urban missionary internships and church planting internships.

In July of 2013, Kurt Miller joined the staff of MetroGrace as the Director of Strategic Partnerships. In this role he would seek to develop relationships with supporting and serving partners to advance the mission of MetroGrace.

The congregations in Frankford, Holmesburg and Wissinoming had always enjoyed a spirit of cooperation. In 2013, congregational leaders worked to formalize that unity. They planned to share resources, streamline ministries and strengthen one another. Crossroads would become one church in three locations.

Crossroads Community Church of Philadelphia is focused on a singular purpose—helping people belong grow and serve in Christ’s family while sharing the gospel and glorifying God. The church embraces a common goal—developing gospel-centered, community-based churches in neighborhoods throughout the city.

As part of the unification process, Crossroads planned to sell the building at 4624 Leiper Street and acquire a more manageable facility for the Frankford congregation.

By March of 2014 the Frankford building had been sold and Pastor Mark Ritzman had accepted a call to help plant churches in Cleveland.

In an effort to solidify care for those remaining, Doug Blocksom, an elder from our Frankford congregation, joined with Pastor Pete Forshtay at Crossroads Wissinoming to merge the groups together. The Lord has continued to grow their ministry since that time.

As the ministry began to settle after so much change, the leadership team began to look for new church planting opportunities. In April of 2016, MetroGrace and Crossroads partnered to purchase a new facility at 2352 Orthodox Street in Bridesburg. On September 18, 2016 Crossroads Bridesburg began evening worship services in the neighborhood. The team is working together to sow seed in the community. And, Crossroads is waiting for the Lord to provide the next congregational pastor.

Please continue to pray for Crossroads. In a city with 334 years of history, twenty-five years seems like a short time. Please pray that the Lord would use Crossroads. Ask Him to answer the prayer of William Penn:

William Penn's Prayer for Philadelphia, 1684

And Thou Philadelphia the virgin settlement of this province named before thou wert born, what care, what service, what travail have there been to bring thee forth and preserve thee from such as would abuse and defile thee. O that thou mayest be kept from the evil that would overwhelm thee, that faithful to the God of thy mercies in the life of righteousness, thou mayest be preserved to the end. My soul prays to God for thee that thou mayest stand in the day of trial, that thy children may be blest of the Lord and thy people saved by His power.

Lord, keep us from evil.

Help us to remain faithful to a life of righteousness. Preserve us to the end.

Enable us to stand in the day of trial.

Lord, bless our children and save our neighbors by your power.