Promotion of Social Righteousness through Erie House: The Presbyter’s Pen

By Rev. Bob Reynolds, Executive Presbyter
Presbyters pen - rcr headshot - april 2015 OCM

Before praying the invocation at the 145th Anniversary of Erie Neighborhood House last month, I reminded banquet guests that Erie has deep Presbyterian roots. It was important to acknowledge this because changed funding patterns over the years have diminished general awareness of Erie’s origins. But, this is a mission story of which Presbyterians can be proud.

Erie House dates back to 1870 when Reverend Emanuel Van Orden, pastor of the Holland Presbyterian Church, founded it at the corner of Erie and Noble Streets in Chicago. The church’s mission reached out to immigrant populations serving Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish and German settlers. Over the years this mission expanded to include support of Italian, Polish, Armenian, and Greek immigrants. Today Erie House programs primarily engage Hispanic communities.

In the early years, the Holland church provided those in need with access to food, clothing and education programs. Its ministry continued following the church’s closing in 1911 when the property was deeded to the Presbytery of Chicago. Through 1925, Presbyterian ministers, together with board members from area churches, were its primary sponsors.

New programs at Erie House were started with pressing needs of changing times. These included child care for working mothers during World War II, a March led by the Rev. Douglas Cedarleaf in response to continued harassment of African Americans, counseling services to delinquent teens in West Town, one of the first Meals on Wheels programs, and a Head Start child care. By 1995, with its child care services tripling, a second site was established. The Community Technology Center opened in 1996, and in 2005, the Erie Elementary Charter School was founded.

These new programs represent significant marks along Erie Neighborhood House’s long hospitable 145 year journey, and there are many others. Year after year, thousands of volunteers and staff have partnered with people of many ethnic communities to meet essential needs. Today, Chicago area Presbyterian churches and volunteers are among those who continue supporting its programs.

We can be thankful for Presbyterians and other community leaders whose faith, compassion, and wise stewardship has brought hospitality to these strangers in our midst. They model one of our Church’s Great Ends, “the promotion of social righteousness,” a hallmark of our heritage for hundreds of years that still today anchors our work and witness in the name of Jesus Christ. Together, with other people of faith, all those who have answered Christ’s call to care for God’s people who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, or in prison are the models of the church’s engagement with its community sharing love and hope.

The historic anniversary evening in March brought unprecedented generosity. Attendees and sponsors pledged more than $430,000 to support Erie Neighborhood House programs and services that will continue to promote social righteousness by impacting the lives of 4,500 participants each year. More information on the Erie House can be found on their website.

Thank you to all who are involved in this or a similar mission outreach.

This article was originally published on page 2 of the April 2015 Our Common Ministry, the presbytery’s newsletter. Download the complete issue.

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