A prominent and historically significant Oak Park church recently appointed an interim pastor to temporarily serve for a few years as the church seeks a leader to permanently replace its former pastor, Rev. Sally Iberg, who retired earlier this year.
Rev. Michelle Hughes, a native of Chicago's South Side, will begin serving as Pilgrim's interim pastor in May. During a phone interview on April 12, Hughes said that she'll be at the church for one to two years until its leadership can select a permanent pastor.
"The work of the interim is to help the congregation look forward to the future," she said. "When you've had a long-sitting pastor, it can be hard to envision new leadership. This is a way of helping them to let go so that they can come up with a new vision for the future."
Under Iberg, who pastored for eight years, Pilgrim, which was founded in 1874, enhanced its longtime reputation as a progressive force in both Oak Park and Austin — a stance that at points proved costly.
Several years ago, during the thick of controversy over police-related shootings and as African American activism, particularly among millennials, was taking shape, Iberg kept a Black Lives Matter sign on the church's entrance.
And after the 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, Iberg collaborated with a group of Oak Park area pastors and Community of Congregations members to develop relationships with religious leaders on the West Side.
Last August, the church's basement was vandalized when someone wrote swastikas and the N-word on a sign in the men's bathroom and on a staff photograph in the nursery.
Hughes said Pilgrim's progressive reputation "made me want to serve this congregation, because they are very much standing in the prophetic voice of our denomination's tradition, which is about social action, peace and justice."
Prior to joining Pilgrim, Hughes was an associate conference minister for the United Church of Christ's Connecticut Conference. She's also served as interim pastor of multiple other churches, including one in Lombard. For over 20 years, she's been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side.
Hughes is the founder of Hughes & Associates Consulting, which specializes in pre-employment and personal development training. She's provided consulting services for numerous government entities such as the Chicago Board of Education, the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Hughes is a graduate of Chicago Theological Seminary and the founder of Diaspora Spirit, "a woman's group dedicated to connecting women of the African Diaspora in the Chicagoland area," according to her biography.
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