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 cops for the funeral service for deceased Brackenridge Police Chief Justin McIntyre was simply one other aspect of River Neighborhood 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 may whip up a number of hundred volunteers to wash up on the town, assist rapidly costume and feed a neighborhood household going via exhausting occasions, or home dozens of teenagers for the summer season from everywhere in the nation for native volunteer work.

Not a shy individual 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 mentioned, “We as a church made the deliberate choice that we weren’t going to come back into this neighborhood with our personal fingers.” We wish to be a blessing. We wish to assist. We wish to serve.”

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

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

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

The river might be finest identified in the neighborhood for its free automotive present every summer season which attracts over 1,000 folks. Church members give away free meals.

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

Nikki Magnelli, ministry coordinator at The River, mentioned the church is partnering with different church buildings and nonprofits, amongst them Sonward Applications 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 in the neighborhood.

Magnelli and Ward each mentioned “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 mentioned.

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 12 months from about 150 golf programs inside a five-hour radius of Pittsburgh, he mentioned. Most summers he had 11 folks on the payroll.

“I cherished it and had enjoyable,” he mentioned.

After the beginning of his first youngster, 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 mentioned. The spirit would ask, “Are you positive you wish to commit your life to chasing 2-inch artificial rubber balls?” “”

Ward credit his spouse, Leslie Hetrick, a 1986 graduate of Valley Excessive College, with turning his life round and bringing him to New Kensington. They met in 1991 and raised their three kids within the metropolis, with every youngster attending colleges 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 connected,” Ward mentioned. “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 top of the Knead Neighborhood Café, Kevin Budd, did not suppose a lot of the ability of crowds till he met Ward a decade in the past. Each males had been recruiting volunteers to wash up garbage in New Kensington.

“I had 5 folks, and Dean had 200,” Boddy mentioned.

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

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

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

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

“They stroll the trail. They actually do issues outdoors their 4 partitions,” Bodhi mentioned. “They’re great individuals who wish to serve the neighborhood. Dean has a servant’s coronary heart.”

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

“We will all the time rely on Dean and The River to assist with occasions,” mentioned Guzzo. “He and the Church have been there to rejoice with us the great occasions and to supply solace and grieve with us as he did lately with the tragic homicide of Chief McIntire.”

Mary Ann Thomas is a author for Tribune Overview. You’ll be able to contact Mary through e mail at or through Twitter .

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