Left Justified: A blessing for the Rockford Urban Ministries’ Office

By Stanley Campbell

I’ve lived and worked on Seventh Street since 1993, and am blessed to have a job I enjoy and can see some successes. It’s been through the graces of Rockford Urban Ministries, an outreach of 25 member churches (20 of which are United Methodist). More than 2,000 people help pay me to come up with missions and programs involving churches that benefit Rockford.

I get to speak out about the needs of the poor, against guns and addictions, and for peace and the environment. This is a godsend of a job. I also help start ministries: JustGoods fair trade market, Promised Land Employment, Rockford Neighborhood Redevelopment, Harm Reduction Outreach, and Rockford New Hope, to name just a few. Some ministries work and others do not (win some…).

The greatest success has been working on Seventh Street. I quickly learned from 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 included boarding up the more notorious liquor establishments and supporting affordable and fair housing. The dream is a multi-cultural, multi-class neighborhood living together.

When Rockford Urban Ministries (RUM) acquired new digs at 201 Seventh St. (thanks to the generosity of members and 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 the drug counseling program. After a rancorous zoning battle, construction began. That was four years ago, and now everyone can enjoy the best nonprofit gift shop in northern Illinois.

I’ve learned a lot about building rehabilitation. 201 Seventh Street once housed Hedrick Electric, which boasted the largest supply of appliances and the greatest inventory of records. They once were picketed for selling Elvis Presley.

When outlying shopping malls took customers, a liquor store opened in their stead, 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. But the sales generated taxes for the city. It will take a lot of prayers to overcome.

When RUM acquired the building, we found the expense of bringing a storefront up to code almost prohibitive. Again, we learned from Zion Development to build as a labor of love, which can only be accomplished with people who know what they’re doing and want to do it right. Union labor combined with volunteers. We’re blessed with support and love that can refurbish an old “gateway” into a new renaissance of mission and outreach.

So, RUM celebrates and invites you to help bless the new office space in the basement of JustGoods, the fair trade store, at 201 Seventh St., at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 26.

The public is invited. No admission. A short tour will start at 6:30 p.m. The program will begin at 7 p.m., followed by a business meeting in which people are welcome to stay.

The actual service will take place upstairs in the community room. JustGoods will be open as well. All pastors of member congregations are welcome and invited to share a prayer. Musician Ron Holm will grace us with song. Alderman Karen Elyea will say a few words of welcome. It will be a short ceremony, but important for me, as I need all the blessings I can accrue.

In your schedule, please set aside a few minutes to pray for RUM if you cannot join us in person. In fact, pray for all the folks who want to make Rockford a more loving community.

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

From the May 18-24, 2011 issue

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