Left Justified, Forty years of Rockford Urban Ministries

Left Justified, Forty years of Rockford Urban Ministries

By By Stanley Campbell

I work for Rockford Urban Ministries, which is turning 40 this year. That’s right, 40 years of serving Rockford and the church community. It was started back in 1962 as a way of getting the church involved in the nascent civil rights movement of the area.

The then-head of the Methodist Episcopal District (which went on to become the United Methodists) wanted to bring a very vocal African-American pastor named Edsel Ammons to Rockford. He could “shake the rafters,” but at the time, there was no congregation that wanted to accept him as their pastor. So the District Superintendent created Rockford Urban Ministries and placed Rev. Ammons as director.

I spoke to Rev. Ammons when he came here to celebrate the 25th anniversary. He said he just shuffled papers for the first few weeks, but then went out into the community and did lots of interviews and investigating. The secretary says she didn’t see him for two months, and everyone was wondering if they’d lost him. Rev. Ammons returned and set up programs to mix the white and black communities and get people together in living rooms, over a dinner table, at prayer meetings, and in churches. He also encouraged the City Council to re-gerrymander the southwest corner of Rockford so that the black population could elect an alderman, giving them a voice.

When I was hired in 1985 as the director of Rockford Urban Ministries, some of the older Baptist ministers told me that RUM “laid the foundation” for the election of Mayor Charles Box. I knew then that I had big shoes to fill. Edsel Ammons went on to become bishop of Detroit. He is now retired, living in the Chicago area, and is considered quite an expert on urban ministry.

The second director of “RUM” (as it’s affectionately known) was Rev. Charles Jordan (he is now the United Methodist bishop of Iowa). He helped start one of Rockford’s best outreaches to youth—Shepherd of the Streets. “SOS” was a great program and had a lot of volunteers who searched for kids in places that adults are not apt to go. Almost every youth program now has had some connection with Shepherd of the Streets. Rev. Jordan was here during the height of the civil rights movement. Immediately after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he led a march through the city and ended with a very prayerful memorial service that some people remember to this day.

I think these men tried to get the churches active in this community. It’s easy for a religious congregation to become more concerned about the leaking roof or a bigger parking lot. Or to rail against the evils in the world without leaving the church. And if the neighborhood begins to grow old and have too many problems, just pack up and do what everybody else does—move east. But to try to wrestle with the problems, and make a better community, that is the churches’ role.

Rockford Urban Ministries has been in this town for 40 years and has tried to make a real difference, putting first Jesus’ admonition to become peacemakers and to care for the poorest. I hope and pray we can do half as much in the next 40 years.

If you have a story about RUM, I’d love to hear it!

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

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