The Way Through Christ Ministry A New Calling For Club In Chester

Posted: December 01, 1993

CHESTER — Where once the sounds of polkas, tangos and waltzes reverberated through the halls, voices are raised to God.

The Way Through Christ Ministry has just taken up residence in an old social club on Thurlow and Second Streets in Chester.

The clubhouse, officially known as the Ukrainian Catholic American Citizens Society, was bought by the Holy Ghost Ukrainian Catholic Church in 1941. It was sold this year to the Rev. Alvin C. Motley, pastor of the four-year-old Mennonite congregation.

Mike Kowalchuk, 83, one of the founding members of what was known locally as the Ukrainian Social Club, said that the clubhouse was once the Thurlow Street public school and that Holy Ghost had hoped to convert it into a parochial school.

"But the building was in such a shambles," said Kowalchuk, "and we didn't have people to work on it because so many guys were going into the service because World War II had just started, that we decided to just turn it into a meeting place for the church."

The location also would have been burdensome for the teaching nuns if the building had become a school, Kowalchuk said. "It was a good distance from the church, and the sisters would have to be running back and forth," he said.

Through the years, many dances and parties and weddings have been held at the club, said Kowalchuk, a retired shipbuilder and a musician who has been a member of the Chester City Band since 1931.

"If we played all night, they'd dance all night," said Kowalchuk, who plays trombone, saxophone and clarinet.

During the 1940s, Victory Bond rallies were held at the club to help the war effort. "And when the fellas came home," said Kowalchuk, "they started going to the club, too."

As the older members died, and the younger ones moved from Chester, the hall was rarely used. "With gas and electric and taxes," said Kowalchuk, ''we were losing money trying to run it."

So, he said, when Mr. Motley wanted to buy it, the club was happy to sell it to him.

The hall was a godsend, said Mr. Motley. The congregation had been renting space in different Chester locations, and now it will have a permanent church.

The Way Through Christ Ministry bought the building in June with the assistance of the Mennonite Lancaster Conference, Mr. Motley said.

He said the asking price was $87,000, "but the deal we got on the place was . . . well, let's just say the Lord intervened. It was a blessing."

For the last couple of months, Mr. Motley and his congregation have been working to make the structure more churchlike: putting up walls to separate the sanctuary from the classrooms to be used for the Sunday school and installing a raised platform with a podium, although Mr. Motley said he preferred to preach while walking among the congregation.

And, while the work has been going on, Kowalchuk has stopped by from time to time.

"I wanted to make sure everything was going OK," he said. He even attended a couple of services.

"I'm still Catholic," he said, "but I went a couple of times and I thought they were very nice."

He's happy, too, that the building wasn't sold to someone who would put in a nightclub because, he said, they would make noise all night.

"I'm glad the old building is a church," said Kowalchuk, "and I'm also glad that they're going to use it for social affairs, too."

Denomination: Mennonite.

Location: 2817 W. Second St., Chester.

Number of members: 75.

Pastor: The Rev. Alvin C. Motley.

Other staff: Gerald Covert, deacon; Charles Showell, deacon; Glen Hodgkiss, deacon; Reginald Graham, minister of music; Maxine Motley, superintendent of Sunday school.

Church groups: Mass choir; ministering choir; children's choir; youth group.

Church outreach programs: Drug and alcohol program; clothing drive.

Church mission statement: To teach, train and develop the total person spiritually, emotionally and mentally in the Lord, Jesus Christ, and to see them reach excellence in God in every facet of life.

Regular service times: 11 a.m. Sunday; 7 p.m. Wednesday.

School: Sunday school for all ages.

Community programs or groups based at church: Men's training class and a women's development class for members of the community.

Year current sanctuary built: About 1918.

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