By Stanley Campbell
Rockford has a checkered past when it comes to inclusivity. During the 1850s and 1860s, abolitionists (anti-slavery activists) were strong in these parts, electing Republicans and progressive Whigs to Congress. After the Civil War, churches invited newly-freed men and their families to move here.
But in the 1920s, the KKK held rallies at Fairgrounds Park, and restaurants touted their “American only” customer policies. The Swedes, when they first moved here, were not welcome downtown because they didn’t speak English. They built up Seventh Street instead (which is now a mini-United Nations).
Certain businesses were segregated in this town until a coalition of pastors visited theaters and eating establishments after World War II, opening up commerce to everyone.
The Rockford Interfaith Council was founded by yours truly in response to attacks on the Lao Buddhist Temple. Seems every patriotic holiday, someone would exercise their right to discharge their weapons into the side of their building. I organized a welcome prayer service where pastors spoke about our right to worship as we pleased. Most of the attacks stopped (thank God).
Christian and Jewish congregations had been working together under the leadership of Paul Whitham, and that was the basis of the Rockford Interfaith Council. We welcomed the fledgling Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist faiths, and started a tradition, the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, which will take place this Sunday, Nov. 22, beginning at 3 p.m., at Rockford College’s Fisher Chapel. This year’s theme will celebrate our common belief in “giving thanks” through interfaith songs and thanksgiving prayers. Former Mayor John McNamara will share some thoughts. We all should be thankful that we can worship in our own way.
Bring some canned food with you, because there’s a great need to fill the food pantries. You are also welcome at a Mini Hunger Luncheon (simple soup and bread) Friday, Nov. 20, starting at 11:30 a.m. and serving until 1 p.m. Hosted at Katie’s Cup, 502 Seventh St., a $10 donation to local food pantries and the CROP Hunger Walk will get you soup from Kiki B’s and bread from Great Harvest (thanks, guys!).
At 12:15 p.m., Roger Thurow will read from his new book, Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve In An Age of Plenty (the program is free and open to the public). Roger is a World Hunger Prize winner. For more than 30 years, humankind has known how to grow enough food to end chronic hunger worldwide. While the “Green Revolution” succeeded in South America and Asia, it never got to Africa. We’re lucky to have him at Katie’s Cup.
Rockford has a good heart, but aching tired muscles, and I think we are so busy working that we forget to celebrate the life and loves of this community. I encourage you to join in any interfaith, interracial or diverse community you can. And remember to be thankful on Thanksgiving.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.
From the November 18-24, 2009 issue