By Stanley Campbell
I’ll be celebrating 25 years as executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries (RUM) Thursday, April 22, with a program starting at 7 p.m. at Bethany United Methodist Church. You are welcome!
The people who hired and directed me over the last quarter century will tell stories. Of course, we’ll pass the hat so RUM (as it’s affectionately known) can continue to pay my health insurance (wish the new legislation kicked in sooner). Please feel welcome to share 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 got the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review its construction. ComEd was later blocked from passing costs on, saving consumers billions. You’re welcome.
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 was mentioned somewhere in the Bible. My first chore was serving soup at the Emmanuel Lutheran Mission House. (I’ll be speaking there Sunday morning, April 18. Yes, you are welcome there as well.)
Finding jobs was high on Rockford’s list, and I soon worked with Carol Perrin to start Promised Land Employment Service. Their first office was above the soup kitchen. Even though it’s the United Methodists that fund RUM, I found no denominations on the street. Poor people don’t care how you serve communion when you’re trying to help.
Of the many lessons I learned: Churches love successful missions. The more service, the better the giving. Helping the poorest of the poor find gainful employment during an economic recession is something the church is supposed to do. Government can (and should) help during national emergencies, but a strong spiritual faith can help with broken lives. Religious communities, when they share love with those who need it, 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, the 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 fixing up older homes in rundown neighborhoods. Again, churches bring volunteers to work sites where they normally wouldn’t go.
It’s difficult for people to share with those less fortunate, unless a “go-between” is well trusted by both. I’ve seen lives change when the church works in the community. That brings the love of God together. When you share love, you gain so much more.
And it helps to have a government grant or two to multiply those loaves and fishes.
This next Sunday, April 11, I’ll preach at two morning services: 9 a.m. at Broadway United Methodist and 10:30 a.m. at Brooke Road UMC. “What I Learned in 25 Years” is my topic, and I’ll use the text from the epistle of James, second chapter, verses 14-22. I really enjoy explaining myself before congregations as part of my profession. I’m not an ordained clergy. In fact, I have only two years at Rock Valley, but I can tell a story or two and relate it to the “Greatest Story Ever Told.” And you are always welcome.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.
From the April 7-13, 2010 issue