Monthly Archives: June 2010

Co-Chairs for the 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry

2011 Congress Co-Chairs

We are more than thrilled to announce Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, president and founder of the Healing of the Nations Foundation and Senior Minister Emeritus of Riverside Church, and Rev. Dr. Michael Pfleger, pastor of the Faith Community of Saint Sabina, as the Co-Chairs for the 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry!  These two gentlemen have proven themselves intrepid pioneers of what it means to be peacemakers in a culture of violence.  SCUPE is incredibly excited for their vision, passion, and leadership to shape and guide the 2011 Congress.

Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. is Senior Minister Emeritus of Riverside Church and President of the Healing of the Nations Foundation.  Riverside Church is an interdenominational, interracial, and international church built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1927. The church, whose pulpit has often served as the Conscience of the Nation, is where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his landmark speech “Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence”.  The 2,400-member church is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches and the United Church of Christ.

Forbes, who was installed as the fifth Senior Minister of Riverside on June 1, 1989, and retired on June 1, 2007, was the first African-American to serve as Senior Minister of this multicultural congregation. He is an ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches and the Original United Holy Church of America.

Upon his retirement, Forbes founded the Healing of the Nations Foundation to promote the healing of our nation and the recovery of the moral and spiritual values that inspired its founding by fostering a level of spiritual awareness that empowers individuals and communities to become a compassionate voice and a committed force that takes action for peace, justice, interfaith partnership and environmental responsibility.

Rev. Dr. Michael Pfleger is pastor of the Faith Community of Saint Sabina.  In 1981, at the age of 31, he became the youngest full pastor in the diocese when he was appointed to Saint Sabina in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood of South Chicago.  Since that time Pfleger has become well-known as a social critic, prophetic preacher, and spiritual leader.

Pfleger has been recognized nationwide for his fight against alcohol and tobacco billboards, drugs, gun proliferation, video gambling, the degradation of women, and racism in numerous magazines, newspapers, and television programs.  As an outspoken voice against violence he has organized hundreds of social actions promoting peace and community values in the face of violence.

As a minister, Father Pfleger has sought to break down the walls of racism and denominationalism by building unity among all people founded on truth and based on Jesus’ command to love one another.  Pfleger was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in 2009 and was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Office of Racial Justice of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2010.


The Promise Of Despair

“If death had a Facebook profile its interests would not be only putting people in the

grave but killing their dreams, their loves, their peace, their dignity”

The Promise of Despair: The Way of the Cross as the Way of the Church

One of my favorite former professors has just released a brilliant little book called “The Promise of Despair: The Way of the Cross as the Way of the Church“.  Dr. Andrew Root is a practical theologian and professor of Youth & Family at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN.  Though Root is primarily an academic he draws extensively from his experience in L.A. working with an as urban youthworker and as a gang prevention counselor, in his insightful writing.

Dr. Andrew Root

Allow me to begin by being upfront: this book is not an urban ministry book.  If fact, if there is one critique I would hold up about this book is that it seems woefully unaware of much that is beyond white, suburban, middleclass concern.  What this book does espouse however, is a way of being church together which takes seriously context – the context of people within the community and served by the community – in an entirely different facet that neither race, nor locale, nor class can claim exclusively.

Root’s book supposes that, for the typical American church, the context most easily/often ignored is that of despair.  How many  churches have you been involved with which seemed to have a holy presence in our lives until misfortune reared its head and then suddenly, as if someone had hung a quarantine sign around our neck, the church was wholly distant?  There is a natural temptation in life (and churches are not exempt from this) to actively avoid pain – to go to great lengths to outrun the despair that stalks us like a predatorial beast.

In church language, one might call this orientation towards a non-existent deathless reality a “theology of glory”.  What Andrew Root does so brilliantly with this book is remind us that Christianity is a faith based around a crucified God: a savior hanging from a tree after being publicly executed.  Root’s book stares directly into the cold, beady eyes of death and makes the bold proclamation that: death blinks first.  To be true to this core of Christianity it to be involved in a “theology of the cross”.  Luther’s classic phrase reminds us that just as Systems and Empires constantly destroy our hopes, in an attempt to relegate us to permanent despair, God is the one who meets us in our despair.  In the midst of our suffering, the resurrection takes its hold.

We live in a culture which is involved in the endless task of creating despair within each of us.  The finest example of this despair creation can be found in advertising (which I would argue has become the cultural engine and religion of late-capitalism).  Advertising works by creating a rift between what you have and what you want, between who you are and who you want to be.  The more you can be convinced that your face is too wrinkly,  your belly too bulgy, and your wardrobe too square the more likely you are to spend money on a facial, a weight-loss system, and Calvin Klein jeans.  The brilliance of the constant bombardment of images, telling us to “despair” of ourselves, is that it creates an environment in which you are doomed to never be satisfied with yourself the way you are – the way you were, dare we say, created.

The connection here then is that talking about “the despairing church” and “the urban church” are both ways for the church to become church more fully.  They are both paths to becoming church in a way that authentically and urgently responds to the reality of the community.  We encounter God in the midst of God’s people, not on some holy ground but in the unaltered, unadulterated context of their authentic reality.  And you can bet your bottom dollar that if you are truly encountering people where they are at you are encountering a heavy helping of despair.

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry

Relationships Unfiltered

Other books by Andrew Root:

+ Root’s BlogTalkRadio site.


Silence The Violence Rally

Last Friday a beautiful summer afternoon was suddenly transformed into a brutal Chicago summer storm just hours before a crucial anti-violence rally and march led by Mayor Richard M. Daley and Father Michael Pfleger.  By the rally’s start time the skies were back to their clear, calm, early-summer brilliance but the violent storm served as a reminder of the violence that erupts in Chicago and cities around this nation.

While the event was, predictably, under-covered by the local media (video here and briefly here) there was quite a list of mentionable civic and community leaders present for the empowering rally and march.  Joining the hundreds of concerned citizens in attendance were U.S. Senator Roland W. Burris, IL Senator Jackie Collins, Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis, CPS CEO Ron Huberman and many others.

The crowd read together a list of Community Take Back Demands as prepared by Father Pfleger that were concrete, detailed, and focused on addressing the violence in our communities with the assets of our communities.  Here is the list:

  • Whereas, we acknowledge that our community has been unlawfully seized from us while we were silent, and that we have not only the right, but the duty to take it back;
  • Whereas, we desire to improve the quality of life of those living in our community and acknowledge that all people deserve to live in a safe, loving and nurturing environment;
  • Whereas, violence and abuse in all forms are serious social problems that can be prevented and that everyone must work to end.
  • Whereas, as adults we are responsible for providing safety for our children and are called to secure for them their future.
  • Whereas, the strength of any community is found in its citizens living and working together in a spirit of cooperation across lines of class, culture, color and creed to develop, rebuild and sustain that community; and by working together, all are enriched.
  • Whereas, preventing violence and abuse begins with each one of us as individual stakeholders in our community;

We make the following demands of each citizen of our community.

  • We demand that every business that benefits from our patronage, whether uptown, downtown, or here in the community, whether small or large, employ at least one youth part-time or full time this summer.
  • We demand that park districts establish attractive quality programming for our youth.
  • We demand that every church, mosque or synagogue open its doors for youth, and develop and maintain quality youth programs to draw our young people off the streets. And call them to meet outside before Bible Study and choir rehearsal to create a presence in the community.
  • We demand that each citizen commit his/her support to community organizations and faith-based organizations worldng to end all forms of violence.
  • We demand that the residents of each block maintain the cleanliness and order of their property and turn on their porch lights at night.
  • We demand that each resident take charge of the safety of that block watch and patrol that block, hold outdoor block club meetings and activities for the residents and youth on that block.
  • We demand that CAPS hold their meetings outdoors during the summer.
  • We demand that every parent provides for and ensures the supervision of their children and enter into partnerships with the schools that their children attend.
  • We demand that all schools continue to make adequate yearly progress on strengthening the curriculum and teaching conflict resolution so that our youth become aware of their relationship to each discipline, are able to compete on the world stage and can see themselves and others depicted accurately in history.
  • We demand that the violence plaguing our cities be seen as a National Emergency and that Federal financial resources be given to cities for jobs for adults and youth, youth alternatives and strategies to stop the violence.
  • We demand that elected officials in Springfield and Washington ban assault weapons and stop the easy access to guns by titling guns like cars.
  • We demand that each citizen work collaboratively with the schools in their community to expand programming and improve their capacity to serve the needs of our youth and prepare them to give service to themselves, their families, their communities and society.
  • We demand that every parent, teacher, mentor, neighbor and street organization member challenge our fellow community members to recognize that they can be powerful without making others powerless.
  • We demand that each member of our community commit to treating one another with dignity and respect.
  • We demand that each citizen take a stand and never commit, condone, accept or remain silent about violence.
  • We demand that each citizen does that which is necessary and within his/her realm of influence and power to foster a community which is respectful, safe, and fair for all people.

For a detailed account of the rally with quotes from the various speakers, read this article by Chinta Strausberg.

Mayor Richard M. Daley