The Rev. S. Sturgis Poorman Jr., 73, of Bryn Mawr, a Presbyterian pastor and founder of Welcoming the Stranger, a nonprofit that helps educate immigrants and refugees, died Monday, Sept. 24, at Bryn Mawr Hospital of complications from a stroke.

Rev. Poorman started his career as a Presbyterian pastor in 1970. He served until 1983 as pastor of both the West and East Hebron Presbyterian Churches in Upstate New York.

He was assistant pastor at the City Presbyterian Church in Harare, Zimbabwe, until 1986, and pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Phoenixville until 1999.

Rev. S. Sturgis Poorman Jr. founded a nonprofit to help newcomers ease into American society.
Courtesy Meg Eubank
Rev. S. Sturgis Poorman Jr. founded a nonprofit to help newcomers ease into American society.

After retiring from the Phoenixville church, he founded Welcoming the Stranger in Langhorne, Bucks Country, and ran it for 16 years.

The group takes its name from the Bible passage  "I was a stranger and you welcomed me" (Matthew 25:35), in which Jesus exhorts his followers to extend the same kindness to the sick and needy as they did to him.

Meg Eubank, who replaced Rev. Poorman as the group's executive director in 2015, said the impetus for creating the group came from his faith and egalitarianism.

"I think he felt a deep calling to help immigrants and refugees," she said. "He was open to everyone. He expressed God's love through his work. He believed that everybody had worth and value, and that's what drove his work."

The group holds free classes in English as a second language, computer skills, and preparation for U.S. citizenship exams.

Since 1999, Eubank said, 4,000 immigrants have taken the classes, which are held in churches and community centers. Students come from Bucks County and the surrounding counties.

Although he stepped down from a leadership role at age 70, Rev. Poorman continued to volunteer his time teaching for the group. He also helped start a second group, which mobilized local churches to offer refugees and asylum-seekers temporary housing.

"Sturge," as he was called, was born in Nashville to Dr. S. Sturgis and Christine Freeland Poorman. He grew up in Ardmore and graduated from Lower Merion High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in history from Haverford College. A soccer and baseball player, he was awarded the 1967 Varsity Cup as the outstanding senior athlete.

He met Joanne Rainey when the two attended Ardmore Presbyterian Church as teenagers. They married after his college graduation and had two sons.

Rev. Poorman earned a master's degree in divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1970. He and his wife approached his ministry as a joint project.

Rev. Poorman "was willing to take risks when he heard God's call," his family said. The first was reflected in his decision to move his young family to Zimbabwe in 1984, only four years after that country had gained independence from Rhodesia. "I was 10, my brother was 12," said his son Garth.

His second was a decision in 1994 to become an ecumenical peace monitor through the World Council of Churches during South Africa's first free elections, which ended 50 years of apartheid. Though violence was feared, the election was generally peaceful.

He enjoyed keeping in touch with friends across the globe. "He loved talking and listening — about faith, about family, about whatever was in the heart of the person in front of him," said his son. "To talk to Sturge was to feel welcome and to feel heard."

In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by another son, Aaron; Keli Dzordzorme, whom he regarded as a daughter; four grandchildren; and a brother. Another brother died earlier.

A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, at Ardmore Presbyterian Church, 5 W. Montgomery Ave., Ardmore, Pa. 19003. Burial is private.

Memorial donations may be sent to Welcoming the Stranger, P.O. Box 1156, Langhorne, Pa. 19047, or Ardmore Presbyterian Church at the address above. Checks for both should specify "Sturgis Poorman Memorial."