Rev. Greg Dell: a remembrance

Opinion: Columns

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By Tom Holmes

Pastor Greg Dell died on Oct. 30, 2016 from the complications of Parkinson's Disease. Many older members of Euclid Ave. Methodist Church here in Oak Park remember him from the years he served that congregation from 1985 to 1995.

Those who didn't know him personally may be familiar with his name because he made the news as an advocate for the homeless and LGBT rights. 

He was a change agent, and he paid the price. In 1998, he led a "holy union" service at Broadway Methodist Church on the North Side of Chicago that celebrated the commitment of two gay men. He was put on trial by the Northern District of the United Methodist Church in 1999, found guilty of "disobedience to the order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church," and suspended from his pastoral duties. He was reappointed to Broadway in 2000 by Bishop Joseph Sprague.

While serving as pastor of Euclid Methodist Church, he co-founded what was then called West Suburban PADS (now Housing Forward). He was dedicated to the fight against racism and an active participant in the Community of Congregations.

Those who knew him well, however, including members of the congregations he served, admired him more for his humanity than his advocacy.

Marcia Schattauer was introduced to Dell when her husband took her to a service Euclid. That Easter morning was the first time she had been in a church in 20 years. Growing up in a fundamentalist congregation, she remembered feeling "less than a Christian." She didn't know her Bible verses well enough and didn't pray the way her relatives thought she should.

Instead of a lot of judgment, however, what she felt from Dell and the people assembled for worship was that "wherever I was and who I am is perfectly accepted as a Christian." With tears in her eyes she added, "I didn't have to prove myself. I didn't have to do anything to feel like I'm a Christian."

Katy Clusen, a member of Broadway Methodist Church, said, "Everyone knows what a soft spot Greg has in his heart for the babies and little ones. I think baptisms were always one of his favorite 'duties.' He beamed with joy and delight as he held our daughter aloft in a jubilant procession around the sanctuary, proclaiming, 'Welcome your new sister, sisters and brothers' as everyone clapped and cheered."

Dell had to leave the ministry in 2007 because his Parkinson's had progressed to the point where he could no longer function in that capacity. At a farewell and Godspeed event at Broadway Methodist Church, Carl Rinder, a Euclid Methodist member who knew Dell during his time in Oak Park, came to this conclusion: "Greg said many times at Euclid that part of a deep faith is an ability to be angry about situations involving pain and loss, but that [those situations] never have the last word. This disease will not destroy him. It isn't the last word."

The disease killed him, but it didn't destroy him.

Tom Holmes, a retired Lutheran minister, is a Forest Park resident and writes a column for our Forest Park Review newspaper. He is also a regular contributor to Wednesday Journal.

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