Destine for greatness: Read this article published in Philly.com about Pastor Hinson on January 3, 2000.
A Young Pastor’s Inspiration Is Fueled By His Past Failures His Congregants Say He Is Their Role Model And Mentor.
By Tomoeh Murakami, INQUIRER SUBURBAN STAFF
Posted: January 03, 2000
AUDUBON — Pastor Chad Hinson remembers the frustration he felt growing up in inner-city Camden, the hardships of his nomadic life, and the calming feeling of liquor. When the 27-year-old pastor sermonizes about drunkenness and the evils of addiction, or the need to be strong enough to survive alone, he connects, said many of the members of his rapidly expanding New Strength Gospel Church in Audubon. That is because, they said, the pastor bears the years he spent bar-hopping in Camden and roaming in Oakland, Calif., where he went shortly after dropping out of Camden High School his sophomore year. “My fuel for preaching is the pain of my failures and people’s rush to judgment on my failures,” Pastor Hinson said. “I thought the way to be successful was ripping and running the streets.”
But he turned his life around, went to Bible school, and two years ago founded the church. Its 350 members of mostly young, working-class Camden residents say he is their mentor, role model and inspiration. “I used to sleep around,” said Sherri Watkins, 27, of Camden. “I’m not promiscuous anymore, and I don’t get high. When I heard about his lifestyle and how he came up, I felt like I could do the same. . . . My life is changed.” The church, based on a blend of black Baptist and Pentecostal thought, is a part of a local, 40-church grouping called the Abundant Harvest Fellowship of Churches. Sitting in his modest office in the church, Pastor Hinson, the youngest of seven siblings, recalled his youth with a faint, sentimental smile that made him appear slightly older than his years.
The pastor, who lives in Lindenwold with his wife, Ebony, and three children, explained in a deep, firm voice how he had grown up wishing for a figure to look up to, someone who would understand his needs, draw out his thoughts. “I was fighting, drinking,” he said of his four years in California, where he waited on tables and did other odd jobs to survive. He enrolled in a high school there, but dropped out again. “Finally, I had no other place to go,” he said. “I had burned so many bridges, I had no one to turn to. The only bridge I had not burned was that to Jesus.”
Frustrated with his life, Pastor Hinson, who grew up in a churchgoing family, returned to Camden at age 21, passed the General Education Development test, and enrolled in the Philadelphia College of Bible, completing his bachelor of arts degree in biblical studies two years ago. Driven with a passion to “feed” the needy, he founded the church in January 1998. After several Bible study sessions at his home, which was then in Camden, he started giving sermons at the Holiday Inn in Runnemede, with the help of friends and acquaintances from area churches where he had begun preaching.
It did not take long to establish a steady flow of followers, who spread word of the young, passionate minister. In September 1998, Pastor Hinson moved the growing congregation to a small white building at Nicholson Road and Brittin Avenue. These days, hundreds of people pack the place each Sunday for his two morning services. “We wanted to design a church that would take the needs of the people first,” Pastor Hinson said. “Our theme is just to keep it real, down to earth.”
The church has nine ministers, and they lead 25 spiritual leadership groups. The groups include ministries for drugs, youth, recreation, marriage and women, and they meet throughout the week at the church. “Our church is full of ex-prostitutes, ex-drug dealers, ex-drug addicts,” said Todd McNair, a deacon. “This is a spiritual hospital. [Pastor Hinson] is like nobody I have ever seen. He could apply the Bible to everybody.”
“When I met [Pastor Hinson in 1997], he was driving a Subaru Legacy with no door handles, and a doughnut on one wheel,” said McNair, who helped launch the church. “But he bought plane tickets for three women to go to a women’s conference in Atlanta. Really, he couldn’t afford to, but it changed their lives.” Although Pastor Hinson said he believed many of those who knew him when he was young “would drop to the floor” if they found out he was preaching, old friends and family members said they had seen it coming all along.
“He was always a people person,” said Tiffany Stark, a classmate at Camden High. “Even in high school, he was a leader because when he talked, everybody listened.” Val Lawrence, a cousin, remembered the teenage Hinson as “wild and adventurous.” “But he was also down to earth and really, really truthful. He’s always been like that,” she said. After back-to-back sermons yesterday, Pastor Hinson said slowly and with the calm of a person who had found his place in the world: “This is me. I’ll do this till the day I die. If I have to preach on the corner, I’ll never stop.”