When Captain Kevin Zanders, associate administrator for the Philadelphia Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, offers tours to new members or frequent visitors, the first stop is always a tall, blue–and–gold, stained–glass window on display.
Its prior location for 33 years had been in the Army’s Germantown, Pa., Corps. Today, that corps is a cherished memory for hundreds of Salvationists who had worshiped there and found Christ.
When the corps building was sold to create a new Charter School, the window was carefully selected, re-framed, and relocated to the new Kroc Corps Community Center to commemorate the Germantown Corps’ ministry to the community and to the Lord. Mounted beside the window display is an inscription engraved on clear glass, which memorializes the corps.
“Even though I’ve never stepped foot in Germantown, I tell people about it,” said Zanders. “From the officers who had served there to the Salvationists who are still with us at the Kroc Center, the story of Germantown is one of pride and heritage.”
Before it was a corps, Germantown was called the Lehigh Corps Community Center. It hosted many traditional Army activities, such as Sunbeams, Girl Guards, and music programs. Members also used it to celebrate holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Arlene Jackson, Corps Cadet leader, says that it was these activities that made the center, and the Army itself, the hub of the community.
“Germantown was a family, and not just within its walls. The entire neighborhood was part of the family,” says Jackson. As a child, she had found the youth ministry Sunday school appealing. Though her family was Catholic, she still attended Sunday school at Germantown. “Fifty–five years later, I’m still here,” she said.
Faces in the Community
The Germantown Corps’ ministry of presence was significant. The officers were well known in the community. Even in the midst of the gang war era, officers and corps members stayed engaged in ministry.
During worship services, they left the windows and doors open. People driving by heard the music and singing. They reacted by coming out of their cars and vans. “Where is that singing and worship coming from?” people would typically ask.
Qualtine Cufee, a corps band member, had moved from North Carolina to Philadelphia. Her grandmother lived across the street from the center. Like Jackson, Cufee attended another church with her family. But when two young members from the center knocked on her door, Cufee’s mother and grandmother encouraged her to attend Sunday school.
“They knew there was more for the youth at that community center than at our church,” she says.
Alice Webb, welcome sergeant, remembers the first time she saw an open–air meeting. Soon, every child in the community received an invitation to attend the center.
“My children became soldiers before I did,” says Webb. “Germantown became my kids’ lives. They were there all week.”
A Prepared Corps
Larry Battle has been a Salvation Army soldier since 1954. He and his older sister were the first African–Americans to attend the community center. He remembers when Lehigh was phased out and Germantown became a corps.
“For a long time, Germantown was an outpost, a community center with all the activities of a corps. So, when it made the change, it was prepared in a way that many new corps aren’t. We were already a welcoming place, a safe place. We were the heartbeat of that area.”
In September 1963, the Germantown Corps began. It launched full programs and officially established itself as a community base.
Literacy Consultant Shirley Williams had come from an outpost in Ohio. She said her grandparents were surprised the first time they saw a person of color in an Army uniform. They allowed Williams to participate in the ministry.
“I had been part of corps in Delaware and Staten Island, but what I liked about Germantown was that, even though it was in a city like Philadelphia, it felt close–knit. In times of crime and gang violence, we were all safe there.”
Protected and Respected
When the Germantown Corps did open–air ministries in dangerous streets, it sent a message to the community. It’s when people realized that first and foremost, the heart of the city was a church.
Says Jackson: “The officers of Germantown had a deep love for everyone in the community, not just for the ones who walked into the corps. When you love God, you love all His people.”
Webb remembers, “We were not happy when they told us the Germantown Corps would be replaced by the Kroc. Change is good and necessary, as is enlarging the territory, but we had been in Germantown for so long.”
The tall stained–glass window that today stands in the Kroc Center was just one of many windows that had adorned and lit the old Germantown Corps. But a more significant reminder of Germantown’s rich legacy are its Salvationists who continue to
worship, minister, and work at the Kroc Center, whether it be in teaching music, coaching sports, or educating the next generation of Salvationists.
“When the sun hits that stained glass in the Kroc lobby, that’s the heritage of Germantown shining down in the Kroc Center,” said Captain Zanders. “The Kroc is certainly a unique expression of the Army, but it wouldn’t be what it is without the love and support of the Germantown Salvationists who stayed with us.”
The Germantown Corps began with a chapel, and ended with a monument made of stained glass. But the spirit of its programs, ministry, and community outreach lives on.
by Hugo Bravo