Located in downtown Los Angeles, California, Skid Row is home to 15,000 people. Ten thousand are part of the low-income sector, and 6,000 are either homeless or in rescue missions (according to City Data). The area is occasionally known as a party center, which brings substance abuse and petty crime. Sidewalks are clogged with the homeless. The lucky ones live in tents rather than cardboard boxes. Entire communities of box and tent homes are common.
It was in this very place that Phineas Bresee, founder of the Church of the Nazarene denomination, opened the first Nazarene church more than 100 years ago. His legacy to the denomination is prioritization of ministry to the most poor and vulnerable people.
That is the same mission for Central City Community Church of the Nazarene, founded in Skid Row in the late 1980s.
“As a church, we felt like it was really important to start a congregation to not only have a voice for our own denomination to reconnect to where we believe Christ would be, and where Jesus would be walking around, but also where our own denomination came from. And what better place to do that than in the most densely populated area of homelessness in the nation? That’s the reason we planted Central City,” said Scott Chamberlain, the executive director of Central City Community Outreach (CCCO), which is a compassionate ministries center connected to the church.
Pastor Anthony Stallworth (right in above photo) says Skid Row, which spans about 30 square blocks, is known as “a place where people come to when they have hit pretty much rock bottom.” Stallworth is the senior pastor of Central City Community Church of the Nazarene, and is passionate about spreading the gospel to the community because of his background within the very same community.
At the age of 18, Stallworth began substance abuse for the temporary happiness and fun that it brought. But it came with a cost. After a couple of years, he became homeless and was enslaved by his addiction. At times it led to much crime and violence.
He was arrested multiple times, but after he served time in prison, he became weary with his life, and while he was not sure if God was even real, he prayed anyway. While Stallworth was asking for forgiveness and confessing his sins to God, it began to rain. In street culture, it is a sign of weakness to cry, but fortunately the rain covered his tears.
Through the help of generous people and programs, Stallworth’s faith was established and his life was rebuilt. The journey was not easy. He connected with Central City Church of the Nazarene, volunteering with his wife to help start the karaoke ministry. Together, Stallworth and Chamberlain strengthened the church and developed CCCO, which builds relationships in the community, collaborates with partner organizations, and gives referrals and encouragement for those who need help getting into intervention and development programs. In 2008, Stallworth became the church’s pastor, while Chamberlain went full-time with CCCO.
“Pastor Scott has been not only a pastor, but a friend to me here for over 21 years now… I love him like a close brother, and he has been there for me to help me with this ministry,” Stallworth said.
With Central City Community Church of the Nazarene and CCCO working together, both ministries have flourished. The church has now expanded times for Bible studies on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, developed a sidewalk ministry on Friday evenings, continued outreach projects, including the karaoke ministry.
Both Central City Community and the CCCO are requesting prayer for God’s intervention in the deep, systematic issues they face in their community every day: poverty, mental illness, substance abuse and immigration. They are looking for more partners in their work. There have been many faithful donors over the last 28 years of ministry, and the need is still necessary today. They would like the finances to be able to purchase their own building.
“Our goal is to always make sure that there is a relevant, community-based congregation in the heart of Skid Row. If that is going to be the case 50 years from now, we need to have a location that is stable and that we own and are not renting. We want to keep being relevant 50 years from now,” said Chamberlain.
“It was a prophetic voice that reminded us of what was really important. I think Bresee did that… and in some way I pray that Central City does that – that it becomes a prophetic voice of what is really important for our denomination as well as for the gospel,” Chamberlain said.