Riverwest Churches: Neighborhood Offers a Wide Variety of Church Options

by Peter Reese St. Casimir

Bong! Bong! Bong! The bells of St. Casimir on Bremen and Clarke ring out twice every 60 minutes signaling the top and the bottom of the hour and at other times during the week signaling Mass. To many, this is just another of the thousands of sounds making up the rich aural tapestry of Riverwest, but to others, it is a reminder to take a few seconds to look upward and inward in quiet reflection. St. Casimir Parish is one of many Riverwest sanctuaries where the spiritually afflicted can go for comfort. A look through the Milwaukee Yellow Pages will turn up almost 40 churches in the Riverwest / Harambee / Brewer’s Hill area bordered on the north by Capitol Drive, on the west by Martin Luther King Drive, and on the south and the east by the Milwaukee River. Some of these congregations, such as Jerusalem (Holton and Chambers — Wisconsin Synod Lutheran) and St. Casimir (Roman Catholic) were founded when the area just north of downtown Milwaukee was populated almost solely by non-English speaking immigrant laborers from Europe. Jerusalem has served those of German Lutheran heritage from 1893 until the present day. Polish immigrant laborers made up most of the constituency of St. Casimir when it was founded in 1894 as an expansion of St. Hedwig’s on Brady, but today the parish shares the services of Rev. Gerald Hessel with St. Mary’s of Czestochowa (pronounced chest-a-hoe-va), located on Burleigh and Fratney. The church holds Mass in English for the third, fourth, and fifth generation descendants of the founders and in Spanish for the sizable Hispanic population it serves. Other churches have been founded more recently to serve the needs of a population that continues to change ethnically and socio- economically. St. Philip’s congregation (Wisconsin Synod Lutheran) has a fiftyyear history of ministering to African- American Lutherans in Milwaukee, but only within the past eight years has it found a permanent home at 3012 N. Holton (the same building in which Jerusalem holds services). According to Pastor Kai McClinton of Solomon Community Temple United Methodist Church at 3295 N. Martin Luther King Dr., for the past three years and into the future she is working on growing her church’s membership and trying to get the neighborhood to come together to reduce the amount of violence. In addition to the Lutheran, Catholic, and Methodist traditions, churches in Riverwest preach the gospel from almost every Christian background imaginable — Baptist, Pentecostal, African Methodist Episcopal (AME), Church of God in Christ, and more. Why so many Christian churches? Pastor Saffold of Ebenezer Church of God in Christ (3132 N. Martin Luther King) says, “Count the population of the area and then count the seating capacity in all the churches; we could have more.” According to Father Hessel (St. Mary’s and St. Casimir), people are often connected more strongly by cultural and economic reasons than they are by doctrine. Whatever the reason people go to church, whether it be tradition, with friends, for education, day care, after school programs, counseling, looking for a friendly face, or seeking the answers for those deep questions (Where do we come from? Where are we going? What is my purpose?), Riverwest residents can be sure that there are caring pastors and church members eager to help. Peter Reese is the Principal / Staff Minister of St. Philip’s Evangelical Lutheran School (WELS). He will soon be moving to the Woodlands on 96th and Brown Deer to start a school at Risen Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church (WELS). Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 6 – July 2002
by Peter Reese