Rev. Dean Ward of River Community Church has shifted from diving for golf balls to increasing the church’s mission

Serving an estimated 1,100 visiting law enforcement officials for the funeral service for deceased Brackenridge Police Chief Justin McIntyre was simply one other aspect of River Group Church in New Kensington and its pastor, Dean Ward.

Ward, 56, of New Kensington, is not your typical pastor. He constructed a golf ball dunking firm and wore a Steelers jersey to a few of his sermons within the Church of God Christian denomination.

He might whip up a number of hundred volunteers to wash up on the town, assist shortly gown and feed an area household going by exhausting instances, or home dozens of teenagers for the summer time from all around the nation for native volunteer work.

Not a shy particular person in society, Ward visits native companies that he makes use of because the backdrop for his weekly on-line sermons. That is along with his private Sunday providers on the spacious and spacious The River Church, previously the Alcoa Clubhouse and Residents College of Nursing. The church leases the house from the Residents Public Basis.

He stated, “We as a church made the deliberate choice that we weren’t going to come back into this neighborhood with our personal arms.” We need to be a blessing. We need to assist. We need to serve.”

Ward has little curiosity in portray Christians already immersed in worship.

“We wished to achieve individuals who have been removed from God, who did not go to church, who gave up. They’re those Christ reached in his ministry,” Ward stated.

“Taking individuals from different church buildings to develop yours could be very offensive.”

The river might be finest recognized locally for its free automobile present every summer time which attracts over 1,000 individuals. Church members give away free meals.

“Households can come and benefit from the day with out paying a penny,” Ward stated.

Nikki Magnelli, ministry coordinator at The River, stated the church is partnering with different church buildings and nonprofits, amongst them Sonward Packages for Youth in New Kensington.

In the summertime, the Week of Hope mission will ship 60 to 100 teenagers from across the nation for seven weeks to remain on the sprawling river facility to conduct providers and volunteer locally.

Magnelli and Ward each stated “The river exists to be a light-weight in a darkish place”.

From diving to the river

Ward began The River 18 years in the past in Penn State New Kensington, then, a number of years later, started leasing the previous Alcoa constructing from Residents Basic.

A Delmont native, Ward started his ministry work as an affiliate pastor in Southern Illinois however left after 10 months.

“I used to be naïve, sheltered, immature and never prepared for true service,” he stated.

Ward returned to his college-era job as an expert diver retrieving golf balls on golf programs. From 1989 to 1996, he ran Dean’s Diving Service, hauling about 1 million golf balls a yr from about 150 golf programs inside a five-hour radius of Pittsburgh, he stated. Most summers he had 11 individuals on the payroll.

“I beloved it and had enjoyable,” he stated.

After the start of his first little one, his spouse, Leslie, requested him if he was positive that this was what he wished to do for the remainder of his life.

“There was a whisper in my soul,” Ward stated. The spirit would ask, “Are you positive you need to commit your life to chasing 2-inch artificial rubber balls?” “”

Ward credit his spouse, Leslie Hetrick, a 1986 graduate of Valley Excessive College, for turning his life round and bringing him to New Kensington. They met in 1991 and raised their three youngsters within the metropolis, with every little one attending faculties within the New Kensington-Arnold College District.

Since Ward grew up in a rural space the place it was uncommon to see a spirit on his 6-mile trek to city, he was impressed by the city neighborhood of New Kensington.

“I’m very hooked up,” Ward stated. “After I met Leslie, I fell in love with the neighborhood, the friendships, and the racial variety. He simply captured my soul.”

Swinging to knead

The pinnacle of the Knead Group Café, Kevin Budd, did not assume a lot of the ability of crowds till he met Ward a decade in the past. Each males have been recruiting volunteers to wash up garbage in New Kensington.

“I had 5 individuals, and Dean had 200,” Boddy stated.

Then extra volunteers from The River arrived, bringing meals to feed the volunteers.

“I used to be touched by the entire thing,” Boddy stated. “How did he get so many individuals to come back?”

When Bode purchased the constructing for the Knead Group Café and wanted to buy it in early 2016, he hoped to collect 50 volunteers to assist preserve the price down, as constructing a constructing may be costly.

Ward and River confirmed up with 150 volunteers, and the constructing was destroyed in a single day. A few of these individuals are nonetheless volunteering on the café, Boddy stated.

“They stroll the trail. They actually do issues exterior their 4 partitions,” Bodhi stated. “They’re fantastic individuals who need to serve the neighborhood. Dean has a servant’s coronary heart.”

Kensington’s new mayor, Tom Guzo, stated Ward, his household and The River help the town in some ways and are a part of its revitalization.

“We are able to at all times depend on Dean and The River to assist with occasions,” stated Guzzo. “He and the Church have been there to rejoice with us the fantastic instances and to supply solace and grieve with us as he did just lately with the tragic homicide of Chief McIntire.”

Mary Ann Thomas is a author for Tribune Evaluation. You possibly can contact Mary through e-mail at or through Twitter .

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