Chuck’s Calling to Plant HKCC
“God called me into vocational ministry in 2015 through a shared vision of the desire to see more and more churches planted throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Celine and I have always felt more called to New York City than anything else; it was through this shared vision that God called me, and my wife, into caring for and loving this city of ours by entering into ministry. There is no doubt in my mind that this call was not only about going to seminary and getting ordained as a pastor, but also about planting a new gospel-centered community in the neighborhood that I have loved since moving to New York City in 2010: Hell’s Kitchen.
Through significant internal and external affirmations, I am confident in this call. And though I pursue this with fear and trembling, I also pursue it with a desperate desire to live out this call that God has placed on my heart, and on the heart of my family.”
— Rev. Chuck Armstrong
Intentional Bi-Vocational Ministry
Chuck plans to work full-time in another industry as he also plants and pastors Hell’s Kitchen Community Church. This is desirable not only for the financial benefit of HKCC loosening the burden of a pastor’s full-time salary, but for its missional endeavor.
As Chuck believes, “This is a specific call to me; I grew up with a father who served, and continues to serve, as a bi-vocational pastor. He works six days a week in his community, and he preaches on Sundays; throughout the week, he’s pastoring everyone he interacts with.”
In Stay in the City, Mark Gornik and Maria Liu Wong write, “Instead of ministry as something just a ‘pastor’ or church leader does, we are seeing ministry and vocation encompassing the whole of who we are, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. One can be a minister in a church and work in business—both can be places of ministry, neither elevated over the other … there is an integration of our days and weeks, a purpose to everything we do as we live out our vocation in different spheres, each one reflecting back on the other … there is a single calling and purpose; both are work and both are ministry. For this reason, the term ‘bi-vocational ministry,’ which can elevate ministry over work, may not be the best term to use.”
Brad Brisco, writing for the North American Mission Board, seems to agree with Gornik and Wong: “A proper and biblical understanding is that all Christians are called to ‘full-time ministry,’ doing good work well for the glory of God, regardless of their specific vocation. If God reigns over all things, and He does, then all things are sacred … often the language of bi-vocational invokes the thought of two distinct vocations. We bifurcate, divide into two or compartmentalize, seeing little, if any, overlap between what a leader does to earn a living and his or her full-time ministry … co-vocation embodies the reality that if a person is called to be a dentist, a teacher or a plumber; and at the same time are called to start a church, the different callings are not isolated from one another, instead they are actually interlinked and equal. The language of co-vocation pushes against the temptation to compartmentalize different aspects of our lives. When we begin to understand that each of our callings are legitimate and necessary aspects of God’s mission; they can be leveraged together for His purposes.”
It is Chuck’s hope that his job and ministry would not be separated, but they would be partners as he plants and serves HKCC.
Why Hell’s Kitchen Community Church?
Planting a new congregation in Hell’s Kitchen is first inspired by the Bible, specifically the work of the Apostle Paul. His work reminds us all that this is not about what Chuck or anyone else does or is capable of doing, but completely and utterly about what God will do with his congregation: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
The result of a church plant in Hell’s Kitchen will be, God-willing, a growing congregation, and that will happen if and only if the gospel is what is actually being planted.
In Hell’s Kitchen, there are several churches currently laboring for the gospel, so is there a need for another church? With roughly 80,000 residents within the zip codes of 10018, 10019, and 10036, we believe there is much work yet to be done; not work that can be done better, but work that can be done by coming alongside and submitting to other missional communities, all with the intent to serve Hell’s Kitchen.
With a focus specifically on Hell’s Kitchen, Hell’s Kitchen Community Church will be able to hone its service, discipleship, and mission in this distinct area in the middle of New York City. As we’ve spoken with residents in the neighborhood, there seems to be a common thread of a desire for the longtime residents of Hell’s Kitchen to be “recognized.” It’s not uncommon to hear stories that span generations that feel brand-new, as if people haven’t been listening over the years. A large focus for HKCC will be on these stories and individuals; the church’s service, discipleship, and mission must not only be directed toward a geographical location, but also toward the real lives that inhabit this community. One resident said that they’ve found the neighborhood to be really welcoming, and so a church needs to reflect that warm and hospitable nature.
In 2019, 56% of the neighborhood was classified as White, 17% as Asian, 17% as Hispanic or Latino, 6% as Black or African-American, and almost 3% as Pacific Island or American Indian. Ethnic assimilation and tensions have been a significant part of Hell’s Kitchen for decades, dating back to the Civil War Draft Riots of 1863.
In 2016, writer and activist Walidah Imarisha wrote that following the Civil War, “Tenements were erected that drew immigrants to the area, where they were crammed together. Living in poverty, facing few job prospects and signs that read ‘No Dogs, Blacks, or Irish Allowed,’ many in Hell’s Kitchen turned to gangs for survival. According to the New York Irish, Hell’s Kitchen soon became known as the ‘most dangerous area on the American Continent.'” It is important to keep this history in mind when discussing racial issues because this is nothing new for those who have called Hell’s Kitchen home for generations. HKCC can learn both how to respond and how not to respond by acknowledging and challenging our history.
Diversity is not only found in the ethnic make-up of Hell’s Kitchen; as any resident will affirm, the neighborhood has become one of the biggest and most supportive for the LGBTQ+ community, e.g. during the 2019 Pride Weekend, Pier 97 was turned into Pride Island where Madonna performed for several thousand fans. A church that vows to dwell in and call Hell’s Kitchen home in order to see Jesus in the neighborhood will love and care for all those who also dwell in and call Hell’s Kitchen their home—whether it’s their residential home or the neighborhood in which they feel most accepted—while remaining true to the centrality of the gospel in everything. The LGBTQ+ community has found a home in Hell’s Kitchen; as one resident remarked, a church that doesn’t care about that community doesn’t need to be in this community.
The neighborhood’s diversity also rests in economic and household differences. In 2019, in the zip codes of 10018, 10019, and 10036, 53% of the neighborhood had a household income of $100,000 or more, 26% had a household income between $35,000 and $99,999, and 20% had a household income of $34,999 and below. Hell’s Kitchen is predominately a single-person household neighborhood (57%), with about 28% of households being made up of families and 15% of households reflecting multiple-person living situations.
What does all of this mean? It means that life is messy and complex in Hell’s Kitchen, but it also means that we are ready to enter into all of this with the neighborhood, along with the other churches and organizations who have loved and continue to love this community.
“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” — Lamentations 3:19-23