Left Justified: 20 Years as RUM executive director

I’ll be celebrating 20 years as executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries this Thursday, April 28, with a program starting at 7 p.m. at Court Street United Methodist Church. You are welcome!

The people who hired and directed me over the last 20 years will tell stories and sing songs. Of course, we’ll pass the hat so RUM (as it’s affectionately known) can continue to pay me. But please feel welcome to share in a piece of Methodist pie, a cup of coffee and some good tales of mission in Rockford.

I was hired in 1985 by the then-United Methodist District Superintendent Jim Sciorgi, who was skeptical of my faith (I had just returned to the church) but liked my political acumen. I’d opposed the Byron nuclear power plant and gotten the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review its construction. Com Ed was later blocked from passing costs on to the consumers, saving them billions.

But I digress. My first Urban Ministries’ chore was establishing an office on East State Street and encouraging churches to support basic missions. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the imprisoned had been mentioned somewhere in the Bible.

Finding jobs was high on Rockford’s list and soon I’d gotten involved with Carol Perrin and helped start Promised Land Employment Service. Their first office was above the Emmanuel Lutheran Church Mission House soup kitchen. Even though the United Methodist Conference of Northern Illinois funds Rockford Urban Ministries, I found there is no denomination on the street. The poor do not ask how you serve communion when you are working in a soup kitchen.

One of the many lessons I learned: churches love successful missions. The more people helped, the better the resources. Helping the poorest of the poor find gainful employment during the worst economic recession is something the church is supposed to do. Government can help during national emergencies, but a strong spiritual faith is needed to work with broken lives. Religious communities, when they share their love with those who need it the most, can create miracles. And as I’ve found, it usually takes one or two saints who step forward to bring this love to those who need it the most.

When David Stocker was hired to rehab houses on the near west side, Rev. Haines Moffat of Second Congregational Church and I knew we’d found one of those saints. Housing rehab is not for the faint of heart. The city would rather knock down the boarded-up houses, and I don’t blame them. But we learned a lot while fixing up older homes in rundown neighborhoods. Again, the churches can bring volunteers to work sites where they normally wouldn’t go. It really is difficult for the wealthy to share with the poor unless there is an agent who is well trusted by both. The government tries, but neither trusts. When the church works in the community, that brings the love of God together, and when you share love, you gain so much more.

This next Sunday, April 24, I’ll preach at the two morning services; 8:45 a.m. is the contemporary and my favorite worship mode. When I am not preaching anywhere else, I try to attend. At 10:45 a.m., I’ll preach at the traditional Court Street service. “What I Learned in 20 Years” is my topic, and I’ll use the text from the epistle of James, second chapter, verses 14-22. I really have enjoyed explaining myself before congregations as part of my profession. I’m not an ordained clergy and have only two years of associate community college training in human services, but I can tell a story or two and relate it to the Greatest Story Ever Told. I will be looking forward to preaching in the largest downtown congregation.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the April 20-26, 2005, issue

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