Douglas Cedarleaf, a Civil Rights Advocate

kurt 2During the 1940s, a growing number of pastors educated at North Park Theological Seminary committed themselves to urban ministry and the cause of social justice. Douglas Cedarleaf, who would eventually pastor North Park Covenant Church in Chicago, was a student at North Park Theological Seminary in the early 1940s. He recalled a certain chapel message delivered during the Christmas season by a “white-haired lady” who worked at the Erie Chapel Neighborhood House on Chicago’s west side. Erie Chapel was a white church in the heart of Throop Street, a Polish-Italian community on the west side of Chicago. He and his wife Carolyn, moved by this woman’s commitment and call for justice and mercy, became active at Erie Chapel Neighborhood House’s ministry to children. After graduation Cedarleaf accepted an invitation to be senior minister of Erie Chapel Presbyterian Church, the body which sponsored the social outreach ministry.

During the first year of his ministry Cedarleaf confronted widespread social injustice in his community. On a Sunday morning in February 1945, Cedarleaf preached a sermon entitled “Vandalism in Throop Street,” in response to reports of violence against the Strongs, a black family that had recently moved into the white community.  Mr. and Mrs. Strong, along with their son and niece, had barely settled into their second-floor apartment when white neighbors hurled rocks, shattering many windows, and the neighborhood buzzed with threats that a mob would burn down the house. In the midst of this madness one of the Strongs’ neighbors, John Vilna, invited the Strongs to his church, Erie Chapel Presbyterian.

Equal Rights Demonstration led by Cedarleaf (image, CAHL 1984)

Equal Rights Demonstration led by Cedarleaf (CAHL 1984)

With the Strongs sitting among his congregation, Cedarleaf condemned the violence from the pulpit, urging his listeners to “love their neighbors as themselves” and resist the temptation to fear those who are different. After the service was over, he taught his congregation “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and invited them to join him in escorting the Strongs home. An overwhelming majority of the congregation accepted his call. Doug Cedarleaf, clad in full ministerial regalia led the singing band through the streets of Chicago to the Strongs’ front door. Once they arrived, the congregation sang “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds” and formally welcomed the family to the church and neighborhood.

The story was reported on the front page of The Chicago Sun and was eventually picked up by Time magazine. The press coverage sparked a firestorm of letters from across the United States, some laudatory and others threatening and condemning. Cedarleaf received a Distinguished Service Award from the Chicago Branch of the NAACP, and official recognition from the Urban League and the National Conference on Christians and Jews.

According to Cedarleaf,

The Good News the Master promised was something more than “pie in the sky and then we die.” His spirit of love was incarnated in the communion practiced by the Jerusalem church. Evidently these people felt as Rauschenbush puts it: “It is impossible to have men sit beside you as your brother and let him go hungry while you feed. Therefore as the usual thing we do not let him sit beside us or we deny that he is our brother.” The church moved out of these low income areas and had gone ‘high society,’ or at least strongly middle class, denying the basic relationship.

He did not propose social service as a substitute for a vital, personal relationship with Christ, “but rather as one of the channels through which the grace of God can flow.” By taking Christ’s call to social ministry seriously, Cedarleaf stood as a prophet on the threshold of one of America’s great social movements, publicly denouncing racism and economic injustice years before the civil rights movement caught fire.

Read excerpts of Cedarleaf’s 1963 sermon here; full text here.

Kurt Head ShotKurt Peterson is assistant dean and director of development for the College of Arts and Sciences at Loyola University Chicago. Prior to joining Loyola in 2012, he served as professor of history at North Park University. Peterson’s doctoral dissertation (Notre Dame), “Constructing the Covenant: The Evangelical Covenant Church and Twentieth Century American Religious Culture, 1920-197,.” contains more information on Cedarleaf and Covenant responses to race & racism here.


Congregational Vitality: The Board Game

In March 2015 North Park Theological Seminary, in cooperation with the Start & Strengthen Churches Congregational Vitality team of the Evangelical Covenant Church, launched a certificate in congregational vitality. The certificate is a collaborative initiative between the seminary and denomination to put the expertise of church and academy in service to current students and pastors.

The 12-credit certificate is comprised of courses in Foundations of Congregational Vitality, Leading Healthy Missional Change, and Strategic Ministry Planning, capped with an elective of choice.

Box Cover

Board game, created by Kendall Churchill

Kendall Churchill (MDiv, NPTS), pastor at Calvary Covenant Church in Evansville, Minnesota, is part of the certificate’s inaugural cohort. For his final project in Foundations in Congregational Vitality, Churchill developed a board game, now being promoted by the denomination. The game allows users to simulate the vitality pathway. According to Churchill,

“A major goal of congregational vitality is helping people understand what vitality is and how it works. I designed a game to help churches explore that concept. As a church begins the vitality pathway, people are given a lot of information to process. My game instructs users in the different types of churches, healthy missional markers, the pathway, and consequences of choices in each type of church. Playing the game helps users better understand the state of their own church and the consequences of upcoming choices.”

Churchill names the congregational vitality courses a “huge asset” in his ministry, giving him tools and confidence for church leadership.

Kendall & Tracy Churchill

Kendall & Tracy Churchill

“[Prior to completing the course] I didn’t feel ready or called to take a leadership role but that class gave me both confidence and a new perspective. Coming to Calvary Covenant as my first call was made much easier. The classes gave me language and perspective to understand church culture. The particular tips from the classes regarding starting in a rural church have been invaluable.”

While his design is intentionally simple, Churchill says users “can expect to find a depth of meaning” as they play the game. “I highly recommend playing it twice – once to understand the game play mechanics and a second to grasp the meanings behind the game play.” Churchill’s wife Tracy, graphic designer for the project, notes that the absence of words on the game board and pieces was also intentional, making the game accessible to non-English speaking congregations.

Find more information on the congregational vitality pathway board game, including ordering instructions here. Learn more about North Park’s Certificate in Congregational Vitality here and here.

The Five-fold Test & Chaplaincy

Jeff Pate

Jeff Pate

The ECC’s Five-fold Test is a tool to assess and strengthen the Covenant’s progress in genuine diversity. The five dimensions outlined are population, participation, power, pace-setting, and purposeful narrative. Here we put one of these markers, power, in conversation with chaplaincy ministry – and consider how elements of chaplaincy ministry may in turn help all clergy as they seek to grow in authentic community.

Chaplains carry authority within the institutions they serve by virtue of their position, badge, dress, cultural background, etc. – with the power differential exacerbated when ministering to the sick and vulnerable. The core components of chaplaincy training – group learning, action/reflection, self-awareness – are designed to increase sensitivity to the reality of power dynamics. Core competencies required of board certified chaplains address power sharing and advocacy. Applicants must demonstrate their ability to “function pastorally in a manner that respects the physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries of others,” to “use pastoral authority appropriately,” and to “advocate for the persons in their care” (read all competencies of the Board of Certified Chaplains Inc. here).

Page Brooks

Page Brooks

One of the most effective ways a chaplain can share power is as one who “comes alongside.” Christ exercises his authority as one who comes alongside, walking with his grieving disciples as he opened Scripture to them on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). Christ sends the Paraclete, “the one who comes alongside,” who empowers Christ’s followers. William E. Hume draws on the (initially!) silent presence of Job’s friends as an example of “sacramental silence” we would do well to imitate: “Most of us have had the experience of not knowing what to say when ministering to someone overcome with grief, and fortunately have had the good sense to say nothing. Our presence spoke for itself and was the basis for whatever words we may have said at a later time.” (Dialogue in Despair, p. 23).

Admittedly, one does not typically care from a place of total silence; there are times where talking is appropriate. But the words come out of a posture that is sensitive to the needs of the family. Eugene Peterson calls this “willed passivity,” which he connects to love. “We learn soon that love does not develop when we impose our will on the other, but only when we enter into sensitive responsiveness to the will of the other, what I am calling willed passivity” (The Contemplative Pastor, p. 108). We have experienced the power of presence in our respective ministry contexts:

  • Not infrequently when I (Jeff) ask a patient or family member how I can support them, they will say, “Just in being here you already have.” I remember being called to the Emergency Department for a family whose daughter was found with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. In the midst of the trauma, fear, and in the face of death, all I could do was witness with my presence, and not my words, to the presence of Christ in their midst.
  • When I (Page) go out on maneuvers with my soldiers, I may speak a great deal or not much at all. But the point is that I am with and in the presence of my soldiers. When a situation does come along in their lives and they want to talk (such as in death), my simple presence has reminded them that they can come to me to speak when they are ready.

While most local church pastors are not dealing with trauma every day, they do deal with it, and the posture of their presence will go far more in extending the love of Christ than anything they could say in the midst of the chaos. The ministry of chaplaincy can model the power of a flawed, grace-filled listening and a merciful, self-aware presence offered to anyone the Lord brings into our path for the sake of the Gospel.

Jeff Pate (MDiv, Regent College) is a board certified chaplain, serving in hospital chaplaincy in New Orleans and as assistant pastor of Canal Street Church: A Mosaic Community. He has previously written devotionals for the Covenant Home Altar and is studying the intersection of chaplaincy and parish ministry. Jeff teaches healthcare professionals about burnout, sustainability, family systems, and vicarious and secondary traumatic growth.

Page Brooks (MTh, University of Stellenbosch; PhD, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) is lead pastor of Canal Street Church: A Mosaic Community, New Orleans. He is also part-time assistant professor of theology and culture at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches in the areas of theology and Islamic studies. An author of numerous journal articles, Page’s book Missional Mergers: A Guidebook for Churches That Don’t Want to Die is forthcoming. An army reserve chaplain, Page was deployed to Iraq in 2010.  

In-between the Icons

Three people in my family of four have AD/HD, and the fourth person has a non-verbal learning disorder in the presence of three very visual people. In seeking help and receiving diagnoses, we have lived in between the psychological images – or “icons” – of diagnostic definitions, while learning that those definitions do not define our personhood. We have lived in between the assumed religious “icons” of what “good” Christians are, knowing that we cannot live up to those images. We are learning what it means to live in the light and not remain in the shadows of reflections.


Isolation, © Kari Lindholm-Johnson

painting of Mary icon

Painting of Mary Icon, © Kari Lindholm-Johnson

Recently I have been introduced to using icons as visual prayer through Paul DeNeui‘s course, “Rethinking Mission: Lessons in Christian Art, History, and Practice.” Our class took a trip to St Gregory the Great Church in Chicago to see the beautiful icon writing of artist in residence Joseph Malham. I continue to contemplate this experience that is helping me look further into the Light. Christian icons are not stopping places but tools to lead one into prayerful seeking of God’s presence. They are visual prayers.

Like many visual artists, I’ll get images in my head that I must paint. Years ago I painted Struggle and Isolation, inspired by images that appeared to me. I have recently begun painting icons (and I say “painting” because I am not using traditional methods of “writing” icons). When I held two of these icon paintings next to the earlier works, I was struck at how they seemed to be speaking to one another. I feel as though the Spirit is whispering peace and grace within the reflective space of these visual conversations. These four pieces are part of what I hope will be a larger show, In-between the Icons.


Struggle, © Kari Lindholm-Johnson

Painting of Icon of Christ Pantokrator

Painting of Icon, Christ Pantocrator, © Kari Lindholm-Johnson

Using art as a tool for visual prayer and visceral expression can be powerful. We have found in art groups at Swedish Covenant Hospital that the very act of doing art can open up discussion and allow people to view and express their feelings in new ways. For instance, throwing paint at a canvas can help people visualize their anger, helping them turn anger from a force “against” into a tool of expression. We have also found that finding and painting colors in shadows can help people enter into places that feel dark and see that the darkness does not overcome the light – that even in shadows there can be color.

I was invited to share from my experience as artist in residence at Swedish Covenant Hospital. I decided to take the risk of sharing these personal paintings and stories in the hope that they would connect with others and generate conversation. Our story with AD/HD includes struggles of disorganization, feelings of isolation, fatigue, anxiety, depression and sometimes writhing in societal boxes that do not fit. It also includes the joys of creativity, humor, serendipity, wonder, and imagination. I decided to share my personal story because I didn’t think it would be fair to name others’ struggles without being willing to name my own. At the same time, it is my hope that sharing this will be a window of grace for others in the camaraderie of the question, “How goes your walk?” – as I know I often stumble along.

When we use art as a meditation tool, we can ask, What do you see? How do you feel? What happens when you make these lines? What happens when you paint this way? We can use art as a prayer. It is in this spirit I offer these pieces to you.

KariKari Lindholm-Johnson (MDiv, North Park Seminary) is an ordained minister of the Evangelical Covenant Church, currently serving as artist in residence at Swedish Covenant Hospital. She has served in various ministry settings, in a pastoral role of local churches and chaplain in various Covenant institutions. Kari is married to Timothy “Yak” Johnson. They have two children, Gabriel and Chloe. View more of her art at