In August 2009, Stephen Thompson was ordained as a pastor. Now a senior pastor at House of Triumph, located in Kensington, Thompson helps run community-oriented programs at the church. These programs include food outreach dinners twice a week and group addiction counseling twice a month. The church also holds a free market outreach once a month where they give away different items that the community donates throughout the month. Thompson and the church welcome everybody to all of their events.
When did you realize you wanted to be a pastor?
So I had a dream about being a pastor when I was about ten years old. I would never say it was something I wanted to be, it was just something that, you know, happened, and I submitted to it. My whole thing is I just wanted God to be pleased with what I do and if that’s what he called me to do then that’s what I do. So it wasn’t really about a choice it was just about a call, and I just answered the call.
The food outreach and addiction counseling programs that you do, did those evolve from being a pastor or did you always want to try to make a difference in other people’s lives?
One of the pillars of our ministry, the Bible, says to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless. So we always said, we’re going to feed people and we’re going to give out clothes. So we started out once a month, honestly, feeding people. Then people saw what we were doing and were like, we want to cook one week, and we want to cook another week. People began to do it consistently and they said we’ll help you. So now we’re able to feed people once a week. It was in that initial interaction with the people, feeding them and giving them clothing, that we realized that addiction was a serious problem in this area.
We didn’t choose Kensington. We didn’t know anything about Kensington. Like I said, I’m from New Jersey. We just lived over here and God said here’s a building for you and he put us there. Then we were in the building and we were like, oh my god, these people need help. So, I work with another nonprofit organization from New Jersey called SEEK. It’s a nonprofit Christian counseling organization and we partnered with them so that we could do an addiction support group twice a month. We had people who were addicted coming to our ministry and while helping them we would have to go to these rehabilitation centers and recovery homes, and to be quite honest we didn’t like what we saw when we went there. So, we wanted to change it.
Who are the people offering to help cook for the food outreach program?
People who we never thought would ask. Even some of our associates were a part of United Churches Fellowship, which is a group of small churches that we joined together so that we can do big things. Everyone’s ministry is situated or located in a place where they can do outreach like us, but they help us. They’ll send clothes to help. They’ll cook food so we don’t have to take all the financial strain of doing it in house. But, we had one young man, he saw what we were doing, and he was like, “I want to cook Thanksgiving dinner. Can I serve it at your church?” He was a culinary arts student. We were like, sure, go for it. So, it’s just amazing people want to pay it forward and they find us and they help us. But it really showed us on other days people were still hungry. So the more we can do to help them, we’re always open to doing it.
Does all of the volunteer work you do help grow the church community?
Absolutely. You know, there’s a bunch of them. Actually, so when they come for the food we have a monitor in our facility, and we have the sermons playing from the video screen. It’s not that we’re trying to force the gospel on them, but you’d be amazed at how many people stop eating and watch, or they’d break down and start telling me their life story. The thing that really inspires me is when you talk to the people that are addicted.
You have teachers and hard working people that made a mistake who’ve had something tragic happen to them. You have people who were kidnapped and dumped in Kensington. You hear these stories and you’re like, wow. You just can’t get yourself together because you just want to have a good time, and that’s not the case more often than not. One of our mantras is we love people, with no strings attached. Come here to eat the food and see the love of Jesus exhibited through our acts of kindness. That’s what we’re here for and because of that people see that we’re sincere.
What do you think strong church leadership does for the community?
I think it shines a light on people that you don’t have to fit the status quo. You don’t have to run with the lemmings, but you can stand out. I think in Kensington we annoy people a little bit because we’re in your face loving Jesus. And a lot of times people don’t understand. We have a lot of criminal elements, a lot of addiction, a lot of drug abuse and a lot of human trafficking and we’re out there and we bring them inside the church. So what I think it does in the community is that it inspires hope.
-Text and images by Julia Clements, William Rockenbach and Brett Lane.