Looking for a City: A Calling to Urban Ministry

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My faith and ministerial calling is deeply tied to the city of Chicago. I have lived here twice. First as a young Pentecostal preacher’s kid from the age of 8 to 14. Moving to Chicago from a small downstate town of about 3000 meant culture shock and challenges. It also meant grand new horizons opened for me in learning and friendships. While attending an experimental public school that was racially balanced, I began to understand the divisions within our world between Black and White persons as never before.

My father and grandfather were both Pentecostal preachers and I was nurtured to become a minister in the tradition. Ministry is the family business going back to my great-grandfather, who was a deacon in the Pentecostal street mission where my grandfather was called from a broken traumatic family life into a new religious family. My grandfather married the deacon’s daughter some years later, and the rest is history. I have ministers in all living generations to this day.

Yet my path wasn’t so straightforward. My younger brother is a Pentecostal bishop, but my faith called me to a different path. Early on, I was impressed by the 1960s, the antiwar movement, and the Civil Rights movement. And, there was also a “movement” tailored made for me, the “Jesus Movement.” I was drawn into their countercultural faith and music and even made a teenage decision to find a Christian commune as soon as possible. After one semester of Bible College, a young marriage, and the birth of my oldest daughter, I knew that it was “now or never” to find that commune. I did find it very close to Chicago, literally walking distance from that city, in Evanston IL. I ended up at Reba Place Fellowship and became a Mennonite trying to fit in to this odd thing, with which I fell in love. 9 years of living and healing brought me far beyond my Pentecostal faith. My family of origin was highly dysfunctional and I needed years of counseling to find my way to real adulthood.

This healing journey still impacts me directly to this day. I am currently in therapy for Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Neither of my parents came from healthy families and their abusive experiences were replicated on my body. I have shed hours of tears trying to free my heart from the pain. Living with Reba Place Fellowship and learning how healthy adults raise children and simply navigate life was a powerful healing in and of itself.

But, even peace-loving Mennonite communalism could not really contain my calling to serve the Source of Love. I said goodbye when I could no longer say I believed the confession of faith. I found my way to a progressive Quaker meeting. For the past two decades, I have found that within the silence of worship there is a Spirit that enriches the thirsty soul. I found my first steady employment and left behind what now seemed like childish dreams of professional ministry.

Although Quakers don’t ordain ministers, we do ministry on a deep level and I was drawn into as much of this work as I could. Years of working as a Yearly Meeting representative to our Friends General Conference Central Committee began to give back to me in a new form the vision for full-time ministry that I had lost. This culminated in a decision in 2013 to attend Bishop Carlton Pearson’s new congregational project, New Dimensions Chicago. It ended in a few short years, when Pearson’s parents became terminally ill and he relocated back to Tulsa.

I renewed my quest now knowing that it would be within Unitarian Universalism that I would find my path to ministry. After some seeking, I joined The Peoples Church of Chicago which embodied so many of the principles I had come to hold dear. Peoples Church houses needy men every night and gives anyone a free lunch 6 days a week. I learned many invaluable lessons from Rev. Jean Darling and Rev. Seth Fisher. I knew that I was now ready to make it official. I requested congregational endorsement from Peoples Church, and enrolled at Meadville Lombard.

My years of healing work and lay ministry were brought together in the MLTS program. I packaged and delivered meals to needy families during my volunteer service experience. I served Third Unitarian Church as intern and saw firsthand the needs of an elderly mostly white congregation that doesn’t quite fit in to the mostly Black neighborhood. I learned to integrate my Pentecostal and Quaker impulses for spontaneous preaching with the sensibilities of UU churches. My CPE experience reopened some of the wounds of my past, and I have worked hard to get through all of the challenges. I remain dedicated to becoming a servant-leader of transformative community.

My wife, Teresa, and two adult children, Melissa and Christopher, support me in this journey. Teresa is especially eager for us to find our way to the next phase. Since graduation, I have continued guest preaching and leading a small group at Peoples Church. I conducted a wedding for two young adults who are members of that small group. In an unseasonably warm day in a lovely public park in the middle of big city Chicago, they and I stood up for love that breaks through barriers and transforms the world.

 

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