Tag Archives: Auburn Gresham

The Call towards Peace

Called towards Peace in a Culture of Violence

[originally published in the 2/11 issue of the Concord, the literary journal of Luther Seminary – St. Paul, MN]
[painting by Alex Roulette]

Driving past that spot became a sort of ritual for me – a litany my body would recite.  An act of devotion to a child who had been gunned down on a sidewalk I couldn’t, for the life of me, distinguish from the others around it.  A sidewalk I couldn’t distinguish from those I had grown up on two states away.

Weeks earlier the evening news had described details more concretely: South Side of Chicago, 15-year-old African American boy, sophomore in high school, robbed at gun point, fatally shot in the chest.  Within hours of the initial report he had a name: Marquell Blake.

In any sensible world these details alone would have been enough to unhinge an average day.  Chicago though, like many American cities, has been awash in tragic details all too similar to these in recent years.  By April, Marquell Blake was the 32nd Chicago Public School student shot and killed in the 2008-2009 school year.  Several journalists had already remarked that the death rate of students from Chicago was 24 times higher than that of soldiers from Chicago serving in combat zones in Iraq.

Even so, it wasn’t until I heard the final detail that something shook loose within me: 7700 block of South Carpenter Avenue.  This shooting had occurred a mere four blocks from the church where I had been doing my internship for a Masters in Urban Ministry through SCUPE and Luther Seminary.  Something about the proximity to a place that had become dear and personal to me through daily work and connections meant that I couldn’t just excuse this as just another tragedy in another part of town.

In Auburn Gresham I had heard the stories of the diligent work of tireless community members to better their neighborhood, had heard the sermons and the press conferences calling city and church leaders to no longer simply provide the vigils and eulogies after acts of violence but to actively work to prevent violence.  This was a community like all of the others I had lived in: people cared for each other and came together to address mutual concerns.

Suddenly, I came to see that I had been sold a false bill of goods.  Since childhood, I had been taught that some neighborhoods were safe and some weren’t.  It was implied that, as long as I stayed within the respectable racial, cultural, and socio-economic borders I would float through life excused from the impact of violence.  This de facto division of the world into safe and not safe, into good neighborhoods and sketchy neighborhoods, was as a veil drawn over my eyes.

In a flood, I recalled the teenager who was shot dead on his bike just up the hill from my childhood home in suburban Minneapolis.  I saw the face of the middle school student in pristine Rochester, MN who had taken his own life with his father’s rifle.  I felt a pang go up my side like I used to get on long runs with a friend who abruptly ended his own life after returning from active duty to civilian life with his family.

Now I am convinced: there is no safe and no unsafe America.  We all breathe the common cultural air of our environment and that air is currently polluted with the toxins of violence.  On streets, in families, in schools, at our borders and across the oceans, America has come to rely on the intoxicating atmosphere of violence often as a pathway to power (individual, institutional, international, etc.) but sometimes merely senselessly.  As a result, we have lost the creativity and hope to imagine a world that doesn’t opt for violence as a first resort.

Prior to the recent shootings in Tucson, Arizona, faith leaders had been wrestling with concerns over an ever increasing tolerance for violent rhetoric, random shootings, domestic violence, and war zones as they prepared for a conference on violence in March of 2011.  The unrest and concerns of these religious leaders have been highlighted by the tragic events in Tucson and the continuing gun and community violence in Chicago and other metropolitan areas.

It is in critical times such as these that faith and community leaders from across the nation will gather at the SCUPE Congress on Urban Ministry to commit ourselves towards Peacemaking in a Culture of Violence.  The faith community is finally finding its collective voice on this issue – teachers, social workers, psychologists, and law enforcement have all weighed in – but the church has not.  Now is the time for faith institutions to join in action and in voice on actively resisting violence in our streets, in our cities, and throughout our nation.

Theologians and faith leaders like Walter Brueggemann, Shane Claiborne, Renita Weems, James Forbes and Michael Pfleger have answered our call to be prophetic voices of peace at the conference.  What is needed now are individuals committed to adding their voice to the growing call for peace by participating in the gathering.

As future and current church leaders will you join leaders from communities all across the nation in taking a stand against violence and discerning a path forward in which our churches can play a vital role in creating a more peaceful future for all people?

We hope to hear your voice at the 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry.

For more information please visit: www.congressonurbanministry.org

Peacemaking in a Culture of Violence


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.


Radical Disciple: The Story of Father Pfleger

A couple nights ago Roger and me from SCUPE went with our Swiss friends to Columbia College for their screening of the new documentary (10 years in the making) about Chicago’s Father Michael Pfleger.  The 58 minute film, entitled “Radical Disciple: The Story of Father Pfleger“, was begun under the vision of David Axelrod (yeah, the White House Senior Adviser) who passed the helm on to Evanston filmmaker Bob Hercules in 2005 when attention was turning to a young presidential hopeful by the name of Barack Obama.

Father Michael Pfleger

Pfleger is the pastor at Saint Sabina’s Catholic Church in Auburn Gresham, a church with a long history of fostering urban transformation within their community as well as working toward policy change on the city, state, and national level.  As Father Pfleger has worked on various movements during his 29 year tenure at the church he has become a public figure of sorts, love by some and reviled by others, particularly through his fearless use of the news media in the church’s campaigns.

The stakes for the event were heightened by the fact that both filmmaker and film-subject were present at the screening and afterwards would take questions.  Even having met and worked with Father Pfleger I must admit there is a certain level or oddity when watching someone’s life story with them present.  Especially, in tense moments that dealt with some of the controversy that has surrounded Father Pfleger there was an odd sense of his presence being misplaced at a viewing of his own life.  Still, the film dealt quite evenhandedly with the controversy that undoubtedly follows public figures and, to its credit, the film often sought to get beneath these issues to a sense of what compels and inspires Father Pfleger in his drive for social change.

This is the real heart of the story: uncovering the inner spiritual fire that fuels the activist priest who is consistently ambitious enough to believe that real change is possible and then to work towards it.