Left Justified: Rockford Urban Ministries is 50, part two

Stanley Campbell

By Stanley Campbell

As I said last week, Rockford Urban Ministries (for which I work) is celebrating 50 years of working for the city. I’ve served 26 of those years as director of RUM (as it is affectionately known). I’ve discovered it is difficult to entice churches into urban ministry. I found it easier to attract lay members who are passionate about helping than to encourage pastors or whole congregations to take on projects.

The Rev. Maynard Beal was the third RUM director during the early 1980s. He was an activist’s activist and encouraged the church to get involved in controversial issues. He took on redlining, which was a banker’s practice to draw a red line around a neighborhood and write it off by not underwriting loans. Without loans, a neighborhood devolves into a collection of boarded-up vacant houses. Maynard organized the West End Revitalization Council and proved the harm that local bankers were doing. RUM was able to stop this discrimination and to outlaw redlining, which probably saved some neighborhoods from further decay.

When I was hired, there were plenty of boarded-up houses around the city to keep a nonprofit busy for years. Second Congregational Church, with RUM’s help, started one of those nonprofits. The first thing we did was pray for a carpenter and for someone who could speak passionately about a project. David Stocker, a theater major from Yale with rehab experience, answered the call; and it was a religious call, since we paid him a “monk’s fee.” But David rehabbed houses throughout the west side and put families into homes where their payments were less than the rent they’d once paid. The church, though, used a lot of federal funds, and once those dried up, the program, like a house of cards, collapsed. Live and learn.

You are welcome to hear more stories from 50 years of RUM. The Rev. John Alan Boryk, a former council president, will regale us with stories and prayers. Join us at JustGoods Fair Trade Store at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 24, for a short ceremony and program.

And speaking of ceremonies, Rockford Urban Ministries hosts its annual Memorial Day Service at 7 p.m., Monday, May 28, at JustGoods Meeting Room, 201 Seventh St., free and open to the public. Besides remembering all those killed by war (and yes, we remember soldiers from both sides, as well as civilians who are becoming the main casualties nowadays), our service will also remember those who locally fought against war.

This year, we remember Britomar Lathrop. Quaker, friend of peace and justice, counselor and healer, Brit was an old soul who shared her wisdom and resources with those who needed both. I was one of the recipients who gratefully accepted advice in my early days as a peace activist. She continued to give of herself, and I and the community are much better for it.

This year’s Memorial Day service will be short and sweet. Music, some poems, a remembrance or two, and then some snacks. Nothing special, but memorializing the dead, especially those who died to make us free and keep us from war, is a very special time.

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

From the May 16-22, 2012, issue

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