Streetside Salvation

Small storefront churches bring hope to where it's needed most .

By Solomon Jones
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 3 | Posted Jul. 31, 2002

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In some cases, churches created out of such separation never grow out of the storefront building, Shine says.

"But I think, in the true spirit of how we as Christian leaders view the storefront church," he adds, "we all have to start [somewhere]."

DR. EVELYN BUNTON, WHOSE Faith and Deliverance Outreach Ministry of Philadelphia grew out of a Christian school she founded in 1973, started her work on the streets more than 30 years ago.

Now her ministry is based in a storefront building with glass doors and blue lace curtains, carpeted floors and banners bearing words like "worship" and "victory," "glory" and "praise."

It is there, at 1646 Ridge Ave.--one block from the prostitutes on the corner of 16th and Ogden--that Bunton arrives in a car with four other people in the moist summer heat of a Sunday in mid-July.

Bunton waits in the car for assistance, because the mini-stroke she suffered in May and the crippling effects of degenerative arthritis have slowed her normally frenetic pace to a near crawl.

But Bunton is undeterred. As a strapping young man helps her from the car, it's obvious that the 67-year-old pastor is determined, in spite of it all, to lead services at her storefront church.

"These are the people that God has called me to minister to," she says. "The downtrodden, the people that are depressed, because I believe that I have life and hope to give to them through Jesus Christ. And I enjoy it. I'm happy here. I've been asked to move to another location. But I don't want to leave North Philadelphia. I want to be right here. These are my people, and I love them."

WHEN SHE ARRIVED IN NORTH Philadelphia in the late 1960s, fresh from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Bunton was fascinated with the neighborhood.

"It was dirty, it was nasty, everything I'd never been used to," Bunton says. "But I was excited about that, believe it or not. I'd never seen graffiti before. And I said: 'Oh my God, what is this? Look at this!'

"It was just amazing to me, everything--the fact that people didn't speak to you when you passed by. I'd say 'hello' or 'good morning' and they'd look at me like I was crazy. So that amazed me. The negative things--the things that people would look at as being negative--it was amazing to me."

Bunton, who'd come to visit with a friend for two weeks, decided to stay. She lived on 18th Street and joined the former Greater Zion Church of God in Christ on Seventh and Oxford, which is now called B.M. Oakley Memorial Temple. By 1971, in the midst of the gang wars that shook Philadelphia after the turbulence of the '60s, Bunton found her calling.

"The Oxford and Valley gangs were two notorious gangs," she recalls. "I was trying, with the help of God, to make peace between the two gangs. I would walk the street, they would be shooting, and I ministered to them. God put me out there in the midst of it. And many of the [church members] would say to me: 'Aren't you afraid they're going to kill you?' But I never feared because I felt that I was walking in my destiny, and I felt that if I died, then it was the will of the Lord. But God did not will it to be."

Bunton turned her home on the 2200 block of Yellen Street into a rescue house, feeding, clothing and teaching lessons about Christianity to 13 former gang members. At least one of them, Pastor Kenneth Walker of the First Born Church of God in Christ at 52nd and Jefferson, went on to become a minister.

And Bunton, who treated her charges like family, soon became known as Mother Bunton and later won citations for her community work from at least two mayors--Bill Green and John Street.

In 1973, before Columbia Avenue was named for Philadelphia civil rights activist and attorney Cecil B. Moore, Bunton opened the Youth Deliverance Crusade in a former beauty school at 18th and Columbia.

"We would go to the streets with the ministry and compel young men and women," says Bunton, who ran the Youth Deliverance Crusade for 10 years. "Our goal was especially to try to reach those that were in drugs and prostitution ... also homosexuals and lesbians. I can't get into that because some have come out of it and are now pastors, so I can't call names. But this is what I concentrated on. In other words, what other people call society's outcasts, this has been the ministry that God has called me to--to show genuine love to those people."

But when the owner of the building died, the new owner asked Bunton to leave. A woman who knew of her work with former gang members heard about her plight and gave her a house at 17th and Huntingdon. Bunton rented the house next door and put the two buildings together to open a rehab facility for women.

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1. Sherry Davenport said... on May 24, 2012 at 08:23PM

“Great article on Mrs. Bunton”

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2. Sherry Davenport said... on May 24, 2012 at 08:23PM

“Great article on Mrs. Bunton”

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3. Daniel Davenport said... on May 26, 2012 at 12:31PM

“Amazing reporting. I am honored the report is on my Grandmother's work for God!”

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