Left Justified: Blessing RUM’s new office

I invite you to dedicate the new offices of Rockford Urban Ministries (RUM) at 201 Seventh Street. It’s taken a long time, but it’s well worth the wait. RUM (as it’s affectionately known and for which I work) is an outreach of 25 congregations, mainly United Methodist, that pay me to come up with missions and programs for the benefit of the city of Rockford.

RUM was started back in 1962 with Rev. Edsel Ammons, a dynamic African-American preacher who spoke out against injustice, warned of the coming desegregation suits in the schools, and led the city in re-gerrymandering the 5th and 7th wards. He was followed by Rev. Charles Jordan, another African-American who led a major integrated march through the city of Rockford commemorating the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Both former RUM directors went on to become bishops in the United Methodist hierarchy. When I was hired in 1985, RUM had fallen on hard times. Not only was I not ordained clergy, but I wasn’t even United Methodist. (I tell people I’m a “generic” Christian.)

It was a godsend of a job: speaking out, about the needs of the poor, against guns and addictions, for the environment. I also help start ministries: Promised Land Employment, Rockford Neighborhood Redevelopment, the Total Health Awareness Team, and Rockford New Hope, to name just a few. Some ministries still successfully operate, and others…(win some, lose some).

The greatest success came with working on Seventh Street under the mentoring of Zion Development Corporation. We successfully lobbied the city to zone out pornography and then helped purchase the storefront at 623 Seventh St., where my offices were located for 14 years. Watching Seventh Street turn around, and RUM helping board up some of the more notorious liquor businesses, were pleasures that keep me here.

When Rockford Urban Ministries acquired their new digs at 201 Seventh St. (thanks to the generosity of two special Council members and the donations of many friends), a firestorm broke out. RUM was accused of trashing the “gateway” of Seventh Street. Our planned “fair trade store” was described as just another “Christian thrift store.” And don’t even get me started on our planned drug counseling program. After a rancorous zoning battle, construction was allowed to begin. That was three months ago, and we are still hacking away at it.

But a small corner of the building (100 square feet) has been walled off and painted, and will be dedicated this Sunday, April 30, at 2 p.m. RUM Council President Rev. Ray Rhoads, former United Methodist district Superintendent, will preside.

It will be a short ceremony, but important for me, as I need all the blessings I can accrue. The building used to house Adens liquor store, which wasted so many lives while reaping the benefits of selling addicts their medicine. The pain and suffering outweighs the inebriated euphoria that the commodity produces. It will take a lot of prayers to overcome. Yours are requested whether you can be with us physically or spiritually.

I’ve learned a lot about building rehabilitation. The expense of bringing a storefront up to code is laborious, and a labor of love that can only be accomplished with people who know what they’re doing and want to do it right. Trying to work with the disparate groups in the city takes patience and tolerance. We’re blessed with support and love that can refurbish an old “gateway” into a new renaissance of mission and outreach.

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

From the April 26-May 2, 2006, issue

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