Rev. Sally Iberg, pastor of Pilgrim Congregational Church, 460 Lake St. in Oak Park, is retiring. She made the announcement in a letter to her congregants late last month. After retirement, the Evanston resident plans to do some traveling and visiting relatives with her husband, Jim, who is a deacon at the church. Church officials said it could take up to 18 months to find a permanent replacement.
Iberg’s last day is Feb. 4, 2018, but some of her congregants will need every bit of time between now and her last sermon to say goodbye.
Josephine Simmons, Pilgrim’s moderator (a position similar to a lead administrator or manager), said, “I began to interact with her as more than just a member about two years ago,” she said in a recent phone interview. “In January, I accepted the call to become moderator, which led me to work with her frequently. As a matter of fact, we made a pact to meet at least once a month, just the two of us, and that’s when I really got to know her not only as my pastor but as a person.”
For parishioner Susan Sporte, who has attended Pilgrim for 15 years, Iberg was a welcome source of stability when she started pastoring at the 143-year-old church in August 2010.
“During that time, the church was going through some upheaval,” Sporte recalled. “We had lost a longtime pastor, who moved to Great Britain, and there was a period of short-term leadership. The church was looking for someone who’d be around and carry out some of the things we believe in.”
Iberg said protocol in the United Church of Christ denomination, calls for pastors who are seeking churches and churches who are seeking pastors to write profiles.
“Pilgrim’s profile went on for pages and pages because it’s a very active faith community,” Iberg recalled during an interview Monday.
The church, she added, has a long history of diversity and openness. People of all cultures, ethnicities, gender persuasions and sexual orientations are welcome, but the church’s engagement in Oak Park and the wider community had waned somewhat, she said.
Notably, the church’s association with the Community of Congregations, an interfaith organization made up of religious bodies in the western suburbs and Chicago’s West Side, had weakened.
“What got buried in one of the paragraphs of Pilgrim’s profile was that the church would like to be more active in the Community of Congregations,” Iberg said. “That wasn’t at the top of my list when I started but eventually I checked it out.”
Iberg would eventually host a Community of Congregations Thanksgiving service at Pilgrim in 2012 and served as president of the organization for two years. When the mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina occurred in 2015, Iberg was part of a group of Oak Park area pastors and Community of Congregations members who decided to work on mending the divide between Oak Park and Austin.
“I couldn’t have done a fraction of what I’ve been able to do in the wider community if Pilgrim didn’t have my back, and the church couldn’t have done a fraction of what it has been able to do if the community didn’t have its back,” she said.