It’s no small privilege to spend 60 years as a resident in these parts. I’ve received that benison as one who came fresh from the seminary to River Forest in l954, an era when churches were well filled on Sundays and every woman wore a hat.

That era of good-feeling religion was tested in the l960s when black citizens with the wherewithal sought property in our mostly white villages. Congregational response was mixed. The Oak Park and River Forest Ministerial Council issued a statement supporting racial integration.

That wasn’t nearly as courageous or effective as what people like Bobby Raymond of the Oak Park Housing Center and Oak Park Village President Jim McClure did as faithful people in their respective roles of civic responsibility. A few of us clergy did gather up our Biblical courage to march with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Washington D.C., or Cicero and return to our congregations with the plea to do the right thing.

Grassroots ecumenical cooperation between Catholics and Protestants in town blossomed in the l960s in living-room dialogues, prompted by Vatican II and Pope John XXIII. Catholic and Protestant Christians began to find common ground in shared Christian faith as good reason to honor God and work for the common good. Along with adults gathered in living rooms to learn from each other was the great promise of children finding friendship across religious differences, as happened when the kids of St. Luke and Grace Lutheran schools exchanged visits. The memory I carry from pulpit exchanges between Grace Lutheran and St. Luke were the expressions on the faces of mixed marriage couples in the pew who had waited long and endured much before seeing such a day.

Rabbi Victor Mirelman of River Forest Har Zion Synagogue and I made common cause in behalf of housing homeless people in River Forest in the early l990s. For a year we were on the town board agenda, countering many oppositional voices with the clear message of Scripture, in behalf of the poor, and the equally clear call to do something about it.

Grace member Richard Martens, an attorney well experienced in village affairs, finally broke the logjam one meeting by simply quoting the First Amendment which forbids government from either establishing or interfering with the free exercise of religion. We at Grace took our turn in what Oak Park congregations were doing well beforehand, and still do.

Racial justice is still a profound need. Ecumenical cooperation, too. One thinks of how the homeless have suffered this past winter. When looking ahead after looking back, I wish I could be 25 and start all over again.
More realistically, my wish is that our congregations and clergy will take on current and coming challenges with a holy courage, firmly grounded in the power of Christ’s love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

Rev. Dean Lueking, pastor emeritus of Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest, will celebrate 60th anniversary of his ordination on April 6 with a hymn sing at 4 p.m., followed by a reception. People of all faiths are ecumenically invited.

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