The saying often goes that “There’s no place like home” and this very statement rings true for Eastern’s very own, Dr. Tony Campolo.
On Jan. 27, Dr. Tony Campolo and Dr. Lindy Backues became the co-pastors of St. John’s Baptist Church located in South Philadelphia. For Dr. Campolo, this is more of a homecoming as he served at this church for more than 60 years, and it happens to be the same church in which his mother and father received Jesus Christ as their Lord and personal Savior. He is more than excited to return to his roots and complete the work God has begun in him through co-pastoring this church.
“A chance to connect with a church that is so much a part of my life, I mean, it’s like the circle comes around…The way I want to end my ministry is where it all began,” Dr. Campolo said.
The church was founded in the early 1900s with its first pastor being Reverend Alberto Chiera who worked with Italian immigrants in South Philadelphia and was called by the Baptist City Mission Society to do so. Since then, the church has seen four faithful pastors who have served its members well and guided them into being people of love and openness. Initially the church was predominantly Italian, however, as the neighborhood surrounding the church began to grow and become more diverse, the congregation welcomed more believers of Christ into its place of worship who were of different ethnicities.
This remains to be a distinct and welcoming trait of the church as it is centered in a neighborhood that is predominantly Indonesian. Dr. Lindy Backues lived in Indonesia for about twenty years, where he served as a missionary and worked alongside the people there, and it was with purpose that he moved into the predominantly Indonesian neighborhood near the church.
Though experiencing a decline in attendance and finances, both Dr. Campolo and Dr. Backues consider it an honor and a privilege to serve at the people at St. John’s Baptist Church.
“When the phone call came, and I called Lindy, our response was – what a gift. What a gift this is to us…It would be one thing to go to a church which had 3,000 people out on a Sunday and a lot of money, and we can find those options easily, but, to be here is the privilege,” Dr. Campolo said.
Their mission is to create a place where immigrants are welcomed with open arms and by doing this, Dr. Campolo and Dr. Backues are mirroring the life of Christ, as He welcomed everyone, far and wide, to come and know the Father. In a world that is divided by racial tensions, heated religious debates and many more adversities, these co-pastors seek to reach out to and love the people in the community, regardless of their circumstances. This is what they are rebuilding and affirming their church on as their foundation.
“We want to be a service to the community. We want it to maintain the sacred space….this is a church, and we worship Jesus, but we worship the Jesus who talked to everybody. We worshipped the Jesus who embraced people that other people wouldn’t embrace,” Dr. Backues said.
With Christ guiding their walk as co-pastors of a multicultural church, Dr. Campolo and Dr. Backues humbly have accepted the call to lead the community surrounding their church into coming to know the Jesus that is longing to embrace them.