The Forever Family in Allentown 1973

In May or June of 1973 I moved from Middletown, PA, to Allentown, PA, where the Forever Family had started. I had been in the F.F. for about five months and so had already attended many Saturday night meetings at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Allentown.

I never moved in to the Grant Street fellowship house in Harrisburg, PA, but I spent much time there. Ray Richards was the fellowship leader and my guardian. Judy Richards, Janet Costa and Joyce Bissett attended Harrisburg and all had different last names then. Joel and Karen Vooz were part of it, too. We usually went witnessing at the Harrisburg East Mall.

When I moved to Allentown, I cleaned out the basement of 137 South Church Street and used it as an office and sleeping area. Zach moved in with me, since I had bunk beds. Rem and Janet Lederer also lived at 137 and I think Skip and Pam O’Neil did, too. Next door were some apartments called, “the dorms.” Across Church Street was 128 South Church Street, where some other brethren lived. The other half of 137 was 135 and was inhabited by a retired eastern European butcher named Mr. Zekky. He was a Romanist and disliked Stewart, being evangelized, the F.F., and the Church Street alley often being packed with fellowshipping FF’ers (often late at night).

Chris Blaise owned a VW bus with a sun roof. When he drove around Allentown, I would lean out the sun roof and preach while waving a Bible at people. If any FF’ers could get someone to visit 137 while Stewart was there, it was almost certain that that person would say the sinner’s prayer. He/she more often than not would never be seen again, but the prayer would get said. There was a story that Bobby Whipple had forcibly brought people against their will from Dorney Park to 137 so that Stewart could witness to them.

Stewart lived at “The Projects,” a low-income housing area several miles from 137. He also rented a house known as “the summer house.” I think it had this name because it had no furnace. Shirley and the children, and sometimes FF’ers, would go there to polish and bag “reconditioned” vacuum cleaners. Then Stewart would go on a “vac trip” to sell them. He also rented “the warehouse” behind 137. This was a large cinderblock building where he stored vacuums and parts for them. Brothers would fix vacuums in this building.

While in Allentown, I worked at Manpower and often ate with Stewart. Many times we’d go to Walp’s Restaurant, but he also liked steakhouses. He would often get chopped steak and a baked potato with which he demanded “lots of extra butters.” As we drove around selling vacs, Stewart would often say, “The life of a prophet [Stewart] and his scribe [Ed] is not an easy one.” He was riffing***(definition below), for he would also say, “People call me a false prophet, but I never claimed to be a prophet.”,

The typical life was to get up between noon and 2 p.m., then eat breakfast and check where concerts, ethnic festivals, etc. were going on; do some desk work; make phone calls; study the Bible; when others returned from jobs, eat and go out witnessing; have a Bible study late (after witnessing), whether any strangers came back or not. They were referred to as “interesteds.” If no “interesteds” were available to listen to a John 3 Bible study, we would have a fellowship meeting. People who opened up would usually get trounced. Or single brothers would get rebuked for leaving dirty dishes in the sink. After this was the glorious diner riff. We’d to an all-night diner to argue the Bible, riff, witness, harass the waitress, and take uneaten food off other patrons’ plates before tables were bused. Often we got kicked out. But in big cities, there are many diners…

*** Riffing is horsing around in public. The riffer puts on shtick or some sort of performance for companions and strangers who happen to be there. This may be an impression, joke, short dance or shuffle, or some sort of kookiness. The companions pay rapt attention and comment out loud about the riff. This draws in others who then get evangelized: "Did you see what he did?! Since we're both watching the same riff, have you ever gotten saved?"

This is not to be confused with circusing wherein two or more Christians ask each other questions that they both know in earshot of strangers who are nearby: "Have you ever heard of getting saved/ No, what's that? John 10:9 says...."

Riffing may also occur among companions wherein they enjoy each other's company by drawing one another out by story telling, cute antics, jokes, etc. One's comments about the riff reveal attitudes. Comments and questions about comments about the riff may eventually reveal deep heart issues.

If anyone has any questions or comments, feel free to contact me.

Ed Gaster