Shelter’s church reaches out to the ‘poor and forgotten’

The Rev. Claude “Sam” Astin III, executive director at the American Rescue Workers, serves as the pastor for the Sunday morning services at American Rescue Workers Community Church, 25 Ross St. PHOTO PROVIDED

Since its foundation in 1934, the American Rescue Workers Community Church has sought to fill the needs of the “poor and forgotten” throughout Lycoming County.

“Our mission statement says we are a faith-based, charitable organization that gives material and spiritual aid to those in need featuring homeless- and hunger-prevention programs,” Dawn Astin said.

The mission began its services in smaller chapels but now meets at the American Rescue Workers Community Church, 25 Ross St, which was founded in 1976.

The ARW Community Church has a “contemporary worship service” at 11 a.m. every Sunday, said the Rev. Claude “Sam” Astin III, executive director at American Rescue Workers and pastor and Dawn Astin’s husband. The service has a praise band with drums and guitars and Sam Astin gives a sermon. It averages 25 to 30 people weekly and the congregation is primarily made up of staff and those who utilize the ARW’s services.

The organization is a denomination that doesn’t focus on building churches but addresses the needs of the “poor and forgotten,” she said.

In 2017, the ARW has served about 500 men through its shelter programs, 350 individual in Saving Grace and 700 families through their Social Service Center, she said. The Social Service Center provides a three-day emergency supply of food to food-insecure families.

“God has a plan for everyone’s life,” Dawn Astin said. It’s “not to

hurt them, but to provide hope and a future, and when you tell an individual in their 60s who has been an alcoholic all their life … and to look that man in the face and say, ‘you know what, God still has a plan for you. He still wants to give you hope, He still wants to prosper you,’ that’s what I want to spend the rest of my life doing.”

Four and a half years ago, Lane Ellis was hesitant to be a part of the men’s long-term program because he knew they followed rules, had daily devotions and talked about the Bible, he said. Back then, Ellis was an alcoholic, homeless and only cared about his addiction.

After finishing one of his short-term programs, a broken water pump gave Ellis the opportunity to find help from a friend. Michael Kane, director of shelters, brought him back to the shelter so he would have access to running water. It was here that Kane told Ellis the story of the prodigal son, something that stuck with him.

Ellis has been through the program three times and has now been sober for a year and 10 months, he said. Through the program’s daily devotions, Bible readings and discussions, he started to feel like he was a part of something. He began to think of and help others.

Ellis said he attended the church because it was beneficial for him. Now, even after finishing the program, he continues attending church with ARW.

Similar to some of the men who may come through the program, Sam Astin also had struggled with addiction in the past and now encourages others with drug and alcohol addiction to attend services for salvation, he said. While looking for recovery, he sought a higher power.

“The church was my savior and that’s where I met my Savior. That’s what transformed me,” Astin said. “We all need to pray for one another. That’s scriptural — bear one another’s burden,”

Growing up, Sam Astin’s father, Claude S. Astin Jr., was the pastor at the ARW Community Church and Astin still uses his father’s philosophy today, he said. They don’t want to take people away from their churches but want to bring those in that don’t go to church.

In the past, men enrolled in the programs were required to attend the services held at the ARW church, Sam Astin said. Now, they encourage the men to go to church where they feel they will most benefit from the services.

“Jesus tells us that the poor will always be with you,” Dawn Astin said. “The need does not go away. Giving is reciprocal. It’s not only God’s law but it’s the law of nature. When you give, you get in return. It comes back to you when you need it.”