Jack Crowley is a churches’ dream come true – a “Jack of all Trades.” He brings to his church, Crossroads Mennonite, organizational skills as a member of its leadership team, which he also applies as President of Water Street Mission in Lancaster, PA. In addition, he has filled in with a group of other interim teachers/pastors over the last two years. He also frequently leads the worship team with his guitar and fine tenor voice. Add to that his most important position – that of husband and father.
His sensitive applications of Scripture are culled from examples of deeply shared human experience. When, in his sermons, he reaches into his own walk of faith and its’ struggles, he casually bears his soul without hesitation. In his mid-forties, his friendly open face shows a maturity beyond his years.
Jack Crowley is well educated, and from a well-off family spending most of his early years in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Though his own path may be vastly different from the less fortunate he helps at Water Street Mission, he walks by faith in a world of both misery and joy. Jack came to our Lord when a young man, and I can’t help but wonder how many lives he has touched with the grace, mercy and peace of Jesus, the Anointed One.
Faith Underground’s Pam Danziger recently met with him at Water Street Mission to learn of his work.
By Jeremiah Nighthawk Taylor
A Life’s Work Guided by Isaiah 61
He [Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up,
and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue
as was his custom. And he stood up to read…
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
For over 100 years, Water Street Mission has ministered in Lancaster. Since the 1950s, it has filled a city block bounded by S. Prince Street to the east and Water Street to the west. This was once an industrial section of Lancaster, PA, but as in many other cities, today it is in an area that has fallen on hard times. With an imposing campus of 19th century buildings that were once the home of Conestoga Steam Mills, Water Street Mission is a beacon of hope for those who have fallen on hard times.
Jack Crowley oversees its extensive operation, which includes food and shelter, health services, children and youth support, vocational support and most especially ministry. “We exist to advance the kingdom of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and by doing rescue relief and ministry works of all kinds,” Jack shared with me. “It is about advancing the kingdom of God by loving people.”
Following the example of Jesus, who ministered to those that society rejected, Jack defines Water Street’s mission, as well as his own, through Isaiah 61.
“When Jesus read that passage from Isaiah at the start of his ministry, he essentially defined his own mission statement. ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,’ he said. And we continue that mission by coming alongside people at the most trying, difficult times in their lives and speak hope into their lives.”
The many works of Water Street Mission, while they help serve people’s physical needs, find fulfillment in restoring people’s souls.
“Our goal is to speak hope into their lives, so that they will become the ‘oaks of righteousness’ and ‘restorers of the ruined cities’ that Isaiah 61:3-4 promises,” Jack continues. “They come to us hungry; we feed them. They come homeless; we shelter them. They come addicted; we help break it. But the real work is to bring the power of God into their lives so then they can go out and care for others.”
Reconciling social-justice causes with evangelism
Water Street Mission grew from the rescue mission movement in the early part of the 20th century which had a strong social justice component along with a Gospel mission. These causes – one directed at the body, the other directed to the soul – carried on harmoniously for some 50 years when the two began to split.
“In the middle of the 20th century , you often saw the churches going one way or another,” Jack explains.“Main Line churches tended to go the way of social justice and works to help people in practical ways. Evangelical churches went more toward spreading the word. Our mission fits between the two: Loving people in practical ways and sharing the Gospel. It isn’t either/or, but both.”
Personally Jack came out of a traditional Methodist background, heavy on social justice. As he gained a deeper understanding of faith and his calling, he was influenced by Dr. John Perkins, minister, teacher, author, civil rights advocate and community organizers, who showed how churches can have it both ways.
“Dr. Perkins was a hero of mine and when I found out he was going to be speaking at the Crossroads Mennonite Church I had to go see him,” Jack shares. “My friend and I got there an hour early, just as Dr. Perkins and the pastor, Lawrence Chiles, were coming in. We spent an hour talking with them before the meeting. That is when I fell in love with the church and started going there immediately afterwards. I found the Mennonites have a great balance of evangelism and social justice and caring for the poor. The Anabaptist perspective is unique in that way.”
Getting to the root of people’s brokenness
In walking beside and loving those in need, Jack and his work in the mission is directed to act swiftly to heal people’s physical needs, all the while ministering to the soul’s brokenness which is the cause of the problems.
“We are created by God and loved by him, but sin has broken that relationship with him, and this is how it shows up,” Jack says, referring to the place at which people enter Water Street’s doors. “It is not just about getting rid of those physical issues. It is about healing the heart.”
Jack uses an analogy of a tree. “If you focus on the ‘isms’ – alcoholism, workaholism, racism, sexism – up here above the ground, you are never going to heal the brokenness in the roots. The ‘isms’ are where dysfunction shows up in our lives but to heal it, people have to invite Christ into all the areas of brokenness in their lives.”
To help with that soul healing, Water Street Mission offers its guests a 12-week curriculum conducted with its chapel partners that addresses different themes each week to aid in spiritual development. But it starts by helping with the immediate food, clothing and shelter needs first.
“It is awesome when you see someone coming in feeling beat up and run down, then you give them three meals a day and a safe place to sleep and see the relief that those basic needs are met,” he continues.
“But the real transformation comes as you see spiritual growth and openness. Chapel every night and twice on two days a week is important, but we recognize it is a journey and a long process. Spiritual development is embedded in everything that we do,” Jack shares.
Bringing it home at Water Street Mission
The services that Water Street Mission provides are extensive to heal both body and soul. It greets on average 150-200 people a day, with every new guest going through an intake process that includes seven days to stabilize, to learn about the services available to them and meet with a Life Coach, Case Manager and Liaison to determine the best path for them.
For example, some may choose the shelter path for 30 days to get their circumstances in order. “We work with them over those 30 days to connect them with resources so that they can move out in a healthy way,” Jack explains.
Then there is the residential track where they start with shelter and move on taking classes, going to an enrichment center for help with job searching, tutoring for educational or job skills. This path is for those who need more time to restore the brokenness in their lives before they are ready to move on.
“We set goals that may be an undefined period of time based upon the individual’s action plans, after we do a physical and behavioral assessment,” he continues, adding that the individual’s life coach and case manager stays with them throughout their stay.
“We do a full scale whole person assessment to help them craft goals. Once those goals are set, the guest’s life coach walks with them and holds them accountable to that,” Jack explains.
This process, either short term shelter or more extensive residential track, are followed for all guests, be they single men, women, women with children and sometimes couples and intact families. “We only have facilities to house women and children or men, so when an intact couple comes in, we work with them on individual and couple/family goals.”
Medical and dental care are a special need among Water Street Mission’s guests and it has been on the forefront in delivering such treatment in a sensitive way.
“We have the only trauma-informed dental care facility in Pennsylvania or even on the East Coast,” he says. “When you think about our guests who have experienced trauma from physical abuse, PTSD or just living on the streets, being brought into an enclosed room, put into a reclining chair with a bright light shining in your face and someone with a mask on approaching you from behind, it can be especially traumatizing. So we created a safe space and careful approach for people to experience dentistry.”
This kind of sensitive care is making a real difference for Water Street’s guests, as well as serving the broader community. “We have had women rescued from sex trafficking brought to us for care. People had tried to take these women to traditional dentists and that didn’t work. The women need a much different approach to care,” he continues.
Reaching out into the community
In addition to serving its in-house guests, Water Street Mission also reaches out into the community, focusing on people who are often overlooked by the rest of society, such as the working poor making enough to pay the rent but who may need some help with groceries by the end of the month.
“We have outreach ministries providing food to about 500 families in our community,” Jack explains, “And we operate a youth ministry and an early learning center for children. Our outreach ministry is all patterned after Isaiah 61 and focused on what it really means to love your neighbor.”
An important part of Jack’s personal outreach ministry is to church leaders in the greater Lancaster County area. “When churches become awakened to care for the poor, their reaction often is to do missions overseas or go into the city where the black and brown people live. I don’t want them to stop doing this, but the suburban churches need to recognize that poverty exists in their own neighborhoods, even in the wealthiest communities in Lancaster County,” Jack says.
For example, Jack cites statistics that in Lancaster County with just over half-million people, some 55,000-60,000 people, slightly more than 10%, live below the poverty line. “While the percentage of those living in poverty in the city is higher, or about 20%, there are still only 16,000 who live in Lancaster City proper, the other 44,000 live in the county.”
A man with a mission
In closing Jack says the greatest thing any believer can do in any relationship is to introduce them to Christ, but our mission can’t be done by “throwing Jesus in their face.” So he uses opportunities as provided to him in his work at Water Street, in his church and in his personal life to share the Good News, but not figuratively to beat them over the head with the Gospel.
“Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. He didn’t give the command to love your neighbor so that you can lead them to Christ, or come to your church or to pray the sinner’s prayer. He just said, ‘Love your neighbor.’”
And loving his neighbor is how Jack walks with God. “We can meet all their physical needs, create internal resources within the person and walk with them to be self-sufficient. But in reality, none of us really are if we don’t know Jesus.”
Dear Lord, please strengthen Jack in his ministry as he care for those broken in spirit. Amen.