By Terry Dean
The Rev. M. Randolph Thompson did not have a problem with people viewing him as a role model. If fact, he welcomed it.
He said so in an interview with Wednesday Journal in 1997 after our paper that year named him Villager of the Year.
"I would hope my children and my congregation would look to me as a role model as I attempt to live and be the kind of person I preach about," said the founder and former pastor of Fellowship Christian Church in Oak Park.
Thompson, 55, died on July 21 while serving as senior pastor of Community Covenant Church in Calumet City. His funeral was July 30 at Covenant, where he was pastor since 2002. A "lifelong church boy," as his family describes him, Thompson was known in Oak Park as larger-than-life community leader.
Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley recalled Thompson as someone who was always available to help people. Tanksley's parents were both members of Fellowship Christian Church and later followed him to Community Covenant.
"He treated my parents like family, and that showed me how much he cared about them, and the feeling was mutual," said Tanksley, who attended the same graduate school as Thompson.
The two had several classes together at Jane Addams School of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago, but lost track after college until Thompson moved to Oak Park in 1995.
Thompson's outreach extended beyond his own congregation. Fellowship Christian sponsored programs in the Oak Park schools, including Friday Night Place at Julian Jr. High, an activities night for minority kids. He also facilitated an initiative between Oak Park and River Forest High School and African-American parents to help come up with solutions to close the "achievement gap" and to improve relations between black parents and the high school.
The pastor was steadfast about his church's role in helping improve Oak Park.
"We see ourselves as part of the community," he told Wednesday Journal in 1997. "It's no secret that in this community our schools are struggling with some of the issues of black children and black families. ... We have some sense of trust from that part of the community, and why not use those opportunities? I think we can help. ... So if people see that as social activism, we really see it as a practical part of the mission of the church."
Mark Randolph Thompson was born in Chicago on Nov. 14, 1955 to parents William and Wardella Thompson. After graduating from Harper High School in 1973, Thompson attended Bethel College in Newton, Kan., graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology in 1977.
His parents were active in the Civil Rights Movement, including working with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Chicago's Operation Bread Basket, headed by Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. As a young man, Thompson participated in the movement in various ways, including working with the poor.
The family became members of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago's South Side. Thompson would eventually become an assistant minister there. He would go on to receive three post-graduate degrees, as well as a doctor of ministry degree from the University of Chicago's McCormack Theological Seminary. He initially wanted to become a psychiatrist but, after completing his social work degree, was "called to the ministry" in 1981.
In 1995, Thompson, his wife Barbara, and their two daughters moved to Oak Park and founded Fellowship Christian. Services were held at the local YMCA until 1997 when the church purchased and soon moved into the old Ahern Funeral Home at 1106 Madison.