By Stanley Campbell
Rockford Urban Ministries (for which I work) will be celebrating 50 years of service to the city.
RUM (as it is affectionately known) was started back in 1962 as a way for the United Methodists to pool their resources and do urban work. In 1963, RUM received formal support from the Northern Illinois Conference, and a director was appointed. But the story I would like to relate concerns the second RUM director, the Rev. Charles Jordan.
Rev. Jordan was appointed by the Chicago Bishop to come to Rockford and direct the urban ministries of the church. Rev. Jordan, an African-American pastor, went on to become Bishop of Iowa and presently resides in California.
At the time he moved here, Rev. Jordan sought good housing for his wife and two young children in a north Rockford neighborhood. Funny thing and highly coincidentally, he purchased a house right next door to my family. I was in high school at the time, attending Holy Cross Seminary in Lacrosse, Wis.
My mother relates the story of the neighbors being none too pleased at having a black family move into the neighborhood. Rev. Jordan might have been greeted with a burning cross, except my mother went from house to house asking the neighbors to be more neighborly. The Jordans were received without incident.
I met Rev. Jordan over Christmas break, 1967, during a heavy snowstorm. My mother “asked” me to shovel their driveway. They were returning late from a long trip and expected the worst. They were pleasantly surprised to arrive home to a freshly shoveled driveway. Decades later, he still relays his appreciation. Little acts of kindness last long.
When I was hired by RUM in 1985, I searched the local history for references to Rockford Urban Ministries. The only article I found was about the city’s response to Dr. Martin Luther King’s murder. Rev. Jordan led the first integrated march through the city of Rockford. At the time, there were many people who thought Dr. King was “moving too fast,” or worse, part of a Communist conspiracy. The John Birch Society was quite active in the city back then. But Rev. Jordan overcame those obstacles and brought a large part of Rockford together.
I’ve since met with Bishop Jordan, who still works for inclusiveness and who still holds Rockford Urban Ministries and the city in his prayers.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.
From the Jan. 11-17, 2012, issue