Ten Happy Years:


June 27, 1999 | Ray Pritchard

It all started late in 1988 when I was sitting at my desk at home in Garland, Texas wondering what I would do with the rest of my life. I was 36 years old, with a wife, three children, a mortgage, and no regular job. Five days a week I drove from Garland to Irving where I worked for Shepherd Ministries as a conference coordinator. I created that title for myself because it made me feel better. Actually I spent all day every day making phone calls to churches that were sending youth groups to Dawson McAllister Student Conferences. I guess you could say I was a kind of telemarketer. My first day on the job I made 77 phone calls to churches around the country. I would talk with pastors and youth pastors, answer their questions, and encourage them to bring their teenagers to the conferences. I also traveled to some of the closer conferences and helped set up and tear down the book tables.

Al MacDonald had offered me the job as an act of kindness (for which I will always be grateful). He also hoped I would sign on as a speaker to lead parent conferences around the country. Looking back, I have good memories of those few months between pastorates, when I was not a pastor but was a regular guy doing what he could to support his family.

Donald Trump Wouldn’t Take That Bet

When I left the church I had pastored in Garland, amid sadness and difficulty, I felt as if I would never pastor again. I truly believed that I had spent my last day as a full-time pastor in a local church. One moment remains etched in my mind. It was a late-November day, which meant that the temperature in Texas was in the mid-70s. I was lying on the grass, looking up at the sky, pondering my future, which was then completely hidden from my view. I told Marlene with conviction that I would never be a pastor again. I recall that she reached over, touched my shoulder, and said (with the calm confidence that has made her such a wonderful wife), “Sweetheart, you don’t have to be a pastor if you don’t want to. But I think you’re a good pastor, and I think you can do it again.”

She must have been right, because ten years have passed and I am a pastor again. On that day if you had asked me to name the odds that I would today be finishing my tenth year as the pastor of Calvary Memorial Church, the odds against it would have been so high that even Donald Trump wouldn’t take that bet.

That day I couldn’t have imagined the road that would lead me, a Southern boy, to the north, to Chicago of all places, to a town that on that day I had not even heard of, a place called Oak Park, and to a congregation called Calvary Memorial Church.

I suppose I should pause and comment that it is good that we don’t know the future because if we did, it would no doubt frighten us to death. God’s will unfolds for all of us in exactly the same way—one day at a time. And as much as we say we want to know what will happen next week, next month, next year, or in ten years, it is good that the secret things belong to the Lord our God (Deuteronomy 29:29). When people ask if God has a blueprint for their lives, I answer “Yes,” he does, but I know of no way you can get a copy in advance. There is only one copy and it is locked in a filing cabinet on the 14th floor of the Administration Building in heaven.

A Coast-to-Coast, Full Court Press

That day I simply had no idea, no inkling, not a clue that in less than nine months I would be uprooting my family and driving hundreds of miles from Dallas to Chicago. Looking back I can see the hand of God in so many ways. Sometime near the end of 1988 I decided that I was probably going to end up back in the pastorate. Since there isn’t a great call for pastors who aren’t actually pastoring local churches, that meant I had better get moving. And so I did. I devised a plan I called a “coast-to-coast, full court press,” in which I set no limits on the Lord. I would talk with any church that wanted to talk to me. After a few days it became clear that churches were not lining up to talk to me—a humbling reality check. But I persisted, sending out resumes left and right, somewhere around 140 before it was all over. In the process God had much to teach me. Looking back I see clearly that everything had to happen in exactly the way it happened or else I never could have become your pastor. His ways are always best.

The first turning point came in early February when I was about to send out some more resumes and letters to churches around the country. I recall thinking that I had only ten left so I chose ten churches and began putting together the packets. It turned out that I had miscounted and had an extra resume. That meant deciding on whether or not to send out one extra packet. I decided to send that “extra” resume to a church I had never heard of in a place called Oak Park, Illinois. When I looked it up on the map, it was smack in the middle of greater Chicago. The very idea was appalling to me. In all my life I had never given one moment’s thought to living in the Chicago area. I remember holding the big envelope in my hand wondering if I should mail it or toss it in the wastebasket. Little did I know that ten years of my life was hanging in the balance. “Why not send it?,” I thought. And with no more thought than that, I tossed it on my desk to go out in the mail.

From such little decisions do great results come. Most of the other churches from that day’s mailing never responded. A week or two later I received a letter from the chairman of the board of Calvary Memorial Church, Paul Lavenau. It was a one-page letter that mentioned I would be receiving more information and a questionnaire that I should fill out if I was interested in being considered for the position of senior pastor. It was a friendly, non-committal letter, and I should remark that after ten years I am still waiting for the questionnaire to arrive.

Now at that point I did something I still don’t understand. The letter said if you have any questions, please give me a call. All the letters from all the churches said that, but I hardly ever picked up the phone. But this time, for reasons I am at a loss to explain, I told Marlene I was going to call Paul Lavenau long-distance and talk with him. I hadn’t the slightest intention of coming to Calvary, I didn’t intend on being a candidate, but that evening I picked up the phone and called. It must have been God. I can think of no other explanation.

Chatting With Phyllis

That night Paul was out seeing a client. So I talked with his wife Phyllis. This too was providential. If it had been Paul, it would have been church business. But since it was Phyllis, we just chatted. Somewhere in my archives I still have the letter Paul sent with the notes I wrote that night as Phyllis talked to me about Calvary. She didn’t try to sell me, she just talked about how much the church needed a pastor after three years without one, and she made the church sound like a family where even someone from Texas might be able to fit in.

I hung up the phone and said to Marlene, “I like this church.” Something was born in my heart, a love for this place that has never left and has grown and deepened across the years. That too was the hand of God. I began to love Calvary even before I had been here.

Much later I would learn that the hand of God was working on this end as well. My predecessor, Don Gerig, left in July 1986. By the time I popped on the radar screen the church had been without a pastor for almost three years. That’s a long time, and even in the best circumstances, people grow weary. I didn’t know it at the time but the church had just called a man as pastor, and he had turned them down. Because the courtship had lasted nine months, all the other good leads had temporarily dried up. After I came here, I learned that my resume had arrived here—unannounced, unsought, and completely unexpected—at precisely the moment when there were no other names on the list. This too is God’s hand at work behind the scenes.

Number 126

Much later, years later, I learned that the church had looked at 125 people during that three-year period. That has always encouraged me in many ways. I wasn’t on anyone’s list of favored candidates. It is perfectly truthful to say that no one here had ever heard of me. And at just the right moment, not too soon and not too late, God brought my name to the attention of the Pulpit Committee.

Since I wasn’t in the pastorate in early 1989, that meant I was available to preach any Sunday the church had an opening. I agreed to fly up from Texas by myself to visit the Pulpit Committee and to preach one Sunday in May. I still remember Paul Lavenau giving me a whirlwind tour of Chicago. I liked what I saw but it scared me to death. It was nothing like Texas or Alabama or Tennessee. It was nothing like anything I had even seen before. I felt like I had stepped off the boat to visit a foreign country.

That Sunday I preached at Calvary for the first time, not as a candidate but as some unknown guy from Texas who was here for reasons that were never made clear. That brings us to another turning point. At that time Calvary’s pulpit was back in the apse (the rotunda behind our platform). It was a massive pulpit and when you stood behind it, you felt like you were a mile away from the congregation. Earlier that morning, as I walked and talked and prayed about my message, I decided that since I wasn’t coming to Calvary, I could just shoot from the hip, be myself, relax, and if possible, have some fun. When the time came for my sermon, I did something completely spontaneous. I stepped out from behind the huge pulpit, tossed my Bible on the communion table, walked to the front of the platform, and began to talk to the people. At first no one knew what to do. I could see some people leaning back as if they feared I might jump right into the congregation. But about 15 minutes into the sermon, people started to relax and listen intently. When the service was over, a long line of people came up to meet me and to thank me for coming. Looking back, I realize now that God was already giving me the heart of the congregation. I didn’t know it then but God was bringing us together, one small step at a time.

By the Time I Get to Tucson

When I got back to Garland, I told Marlene it was a nice church but I knew I wasn’t going to move to Oak Park. I didn’t think they would ask me to be a candidate. How little I knew. A few days later Paul Lavenau called and said the committee wanted me to come as an official candidate. That threw me into a huge tailspin of doubt and confusion. At the same time I had been contacted by a church in Tucson, Arizona that seemed very attractive to me. It was a church with a great history, a downtown location, plus the weather in Tucson seemed a bit better than the weather in Chicago.

Over the next few weeks God taught me a lesson I have not forgotten. I did everything in my power to open the door in Tucson, and I couldn’t quite get it open. And I did everything I could to close the door in Oak Park but I couldn’t quite get it closed. I threw up every roadblock I could think of, and one by one the Lord met them all. When the Tucson church finally told me no, I sat down and wrote God a rather angry letter telling him he had made a big mistake, that I would go ahead and accept his will, but I wasn’t going to be happy about it. Meanwhile, Oak Park kept calling.

“Grow up!”

In late June my family flew up to Oak Park for the candidating weekend. To say it was a grueling ordeal would be an understatement. In four days the church put me through 25 meetings and interviews. They did everything but check the fillings in my teeth. Some of you will remember that on Friday night I stood before a crowd of 225 people in the Dining Room and Parlor and answered questions from the floor for over two hours. When I finally got back to the hotel room, I blew up and told Marlene what I thought about everything. The whole process seemed unreasonably long and intrusive. For your sake I will not repeat what I said. When my emotional outburst was over, my wife said what wives have said to their husbands in similar situations since the beginning of time: “Grow up!” I didn’t like that advice at all. Then she reminded me that I didn’t have to come to Oak Park, that we could go back to Texas and see what God would do next.

The View From the Roof

That was another turning point. The rest of the weekend seemed to go much better. I also recall that after the Sunday morning service I was meeting with someone in the pastor’s office when I heard someone tapping on the window. My middle son Mark (who was 7 years old), had crawled through an open window and was exploring the roof of the church. When I looked up, he grinned at me through the window. It was a portent of things to come.

By Sunday night I was even beginning to feel at home. When the evening service was over, lots of people came by to wish us a safe trip back to Texas. When the sanctuary was nearly empty, a strong-looking man came hurrying down the aisle. He grabbed my hand, made a nice comment, and I said, “I hope I come back someday.” He was already walking off when he looked back, and with a deep voice Gary Olson said, “You’ll be back.” I guess that’s when it was a done deal. Who was I to argue with the Coach?

A Call From a Friend

My story is not quite done. Three days after we got back to Texas the phone rang. It was a friend from our former church. She told Marlene a strange story. “Last weekend I felt impressed to start praying extra-hard for both of you,” she said. “The Lord spoke to me, and I sensed that Ray was fighting God’s call to Oak Park. So I prayed that he wouldn’t fight the Lord, but that he would be open to his will.” She told Marlene that she felt led to pray that prayer on Friday and Saturday—the very days when I was struggling so much. There was no way she could know what we were going through, but God spoke to her and she prayed for us the very moment when we needed it.

There was one final hurdle. I had told the Pulpit Committee I wouldn’t come as senior pastor without a 90% vote. At the time it seemed unlikely the Apostle Paul could get a 90% vote. I remember that Dick Jahns called and asked if I would come if the vote were 89.5%. That would be close enough, wouldn’t it? No, it had to be 90% or better with no fudging. How else could I be sure?

On the night the church voted, I remember sitting in our home in Texas waiting for the call. I honestly didn’t know what to pray for, except that God’s will be done. Sometime that evening we got a call from Chuck Csakai telling us that the vote had been almost 94% in favor of calling me as the Senior Pastor of Calvary Memorial Church. What could I do? I truly had no choice. God had spoken and called me to this church as clearly as he ever called any ancient prophet of Israel.

It happened that I drove up to Oak Park by myself. Marlene and the boys came two weeks later. As I made that long drive, I was comforted with the memory of what my friend Michael Green had told me before I left Texas. “Ray, don’t worry about moving to Oak Park,” he said. “Things will be different, but you’ll get used to it. Besides, you have the same God, the same Bible, the same Gospel. And the needs of people are the same wherever you go. Nothing that’s important has changed.”

Jonah Comes to Oak Park

How right he was. And how good God has been to me and to my family. These years have been exciting, turbulent, and unpredictable. They have also been the most fruitful years of my ministry. Looking back, I marvel that God could bring a reluctant Jonah like me to the place of His choice. I did everything I could to go to Arizona but God had other plans. With very little cooperation from me, the Lord patiently guided me step by step from Garland, Texas to Oak Park, Illinois—a journey I would never have made on my own. For that reason I’ve never doubted that I am exactly where He wants me to be. As I think about it I am reminded of the gospel song that includes these words: “He doesn’t make you go against your will, He just makes you willing to go.” That’s my testimony. And though I may have doubted many things in the last ten years, I have never doubted that he called me to this place to be a pastor to the people of God at Calvary Memorial Church. And I am happy to say I love living in Oak Park. I may have grown up somewhere else, but for me and my family Oak Park is our home.

And now ten years have come and gone. My boys were 9, 7 and 4. Now one is in college, another is a senior in high school, and the youngest one will be a freshman this fall. I have been privileged as your pastor to marry you, to bury you, to pray with you, to laugh and weep with you, and to seek God’s will together with you. When I came here, I had not written a single book. Now I have written ten. I had not done a single radio or TV interview, now I have done over 350. When I came I felt in my heart that God wanted to raise up Calvary as a national voice. In many ways that has come true.

Ten Years in Review

Ten Years in Review

Our Church in 20 Words

And that just touches the surface of the last ten years. The real story is about lives being changed one by one through the power of Jesus Christ. Prayers answered. Sins forgiven. Marriages saved. Children following Christ. Backsliders restored. Families healed. Walking together through grief, hardship, pain, confusion. Holding on to the Lord and to each other. Learning about faith. Growing in the knowledge of God. Sharing the Good News. Investing our resources in the Kingdom of God.

By now you probably know our Mission Statement by heart. In case you’ve forgotten it, here it is: Helping people in our community and around the world discover the life-changing power of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s what we’re all about. Those 20 words describe the heart and soul of this church.

I must also mention the one thing that I consider the single most important accomplishment of my ten years as your pastor. In my very first year I told you that I dreamed of establishing an evangelical Christian school that would serve the near-western suburbs. It was a new idea and there weren’t many supporters in the beginning. It took years of work and prayer and more than a few moments of near-despair, but in the end God answered our prayers. In September 1995 Oak Park Christian Academy opened with 19 students. God willing, this fall we will begin our fifth year with over 100 students. The school is multiracial, multiethnic, with an unswerving commitment to evangelical Christianity, and a deep conviction that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” OPCA now reaches out to families from many churches and many communities. When we started, no one imagined that Marlene would become the administrator. But as usual God knew best. My eyes are on the school every day, and I thank God for allowing this dream to come true.

The Best Church Staff in America

I also want to say a special word of thanks to the men and women who serve with me on staff. I think Pastor Bob Boerman is the only one who has survived the entire ten years. Everyone else has joined the staff since I came. Last month Andrew Irvin became our first full-time Pastor of Worship and Music. In September, John Brooks will join our staff as Pastor of Student Ministries. I am looking forward to that day because after ten years we will finally be fully staffed with all positions filled. Since most of you don’t know everyone on staff, let me tell you about them. They are hard-working, energetic, incredibly dedicated to the Lord and to their work, devoted to their families, quick to laugh, ready to help, always glad to pitch in wherever needed. I believe we have the best church staff in America and I thank God for the privilege of serving with them.

So what is the state of the church at the end of the 20th century? In many ways it is very good indeed. The following things are true about Calvary today compared to ten years ago. The church is younger, more diverse, more conservative, more contemporary, more aggressive, with more ministries than ever before. Our congregation tends to be highly educated. We are also more transient as we draw an ever-larger contingent from outside the immediate Oak Park-River Forest-Forest Park area. We are very busy people. We find it difficult to balance career, home, school, church and community demands. We want a church that offers a great many options packed into a relatively small time period. We are more crowded than ever. Parking remains a serious problem almost every Sunday. It’s also true that we are no longer a small church in any sense of the word. It isn’t possible for everyone to know everyone else. We now have to hope that people will find a circle of friends where they will feel comfortable. That circle of friends might be an Adult Bible Fellowship, a small group Bible study, or a particular ministry team, such as Awana or the choir or Caraway Street. People who come only to Sunday morning worship are likely to feel like they don’t know anyone and that no one knows them. This goes with the territory of a growing church, and I see no way to remedy it other than to make it easy for people to get involved beyond the worship services.

A 21st Century Vision

Where should we be going as we enter the 21st century?

1) I believe we need a renewed emphasis on prayer. All churches pray in various ways and in varying degrees. In a busy church like Calvary it is easy to feel like prayer just happens in the midst of everything else we do. But often that is not the case. I hope that in the next year we can see a major revival and redirection of our prayer ministry. This will not be easy because the urgent always crowds out the important. But it must be done. Prayer is the key that opens the door to all of God’s blessings.

2) We must reemphasize our strong theological heritage, especially our firm commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The current issue of Christianity Today contains a major statement on the gospel signed by over 100 evangelical leaders. I was asked to sign the statement by my friend John Armstrong, one of the drafters of the document. This new statement is crucial because in the years to come we will face increased pressure to water down our convictions about the Word of God, the necessity of the new birth, the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and the historic Protestant doctrine that there is no salvation outside of personal faith in Jesus Christ. Many people in our pluralistic, politically-correct culture do not want to hear the truth. In some cases they will tempt us to compromise and occasionally they will attempt to intimidate us into silence. We must continue to risk unpopularity with the world in order to be faithful to Jesus Christ. Theology is always important, but in the 21st century it will be absolutely crucial to all we say and do.

3) I hope we continue to develop our Internet website. If you haven’t seen it lately, point your browser toward http://www.cmcop.org. I am grateful to webmaster Randy Birkey and the team of people who work with him to maintain the site. The day is soon coming when virtually everyone will have Internet access. I hope we are ready to meet the challenge. Each week I send out my Sunday sermon via e-mail to over 275 people around the nation and in several other countries. In the future we can do so much more than that. Through the Internet we can establish a worldwide ministry from right here on Lake Street in Oak Park. I predict that someday hundreds of thousands of people will visit our site each year, taking from it inspiration, spiritual help, and solid biblical teaching.

4) Planting a new church. For over a year we have been talking about planting a church in the Dearborn Park area. In the last few months real progress has been made. At one point we thought we had located a building. All we needed was a few hundred thousand dollars to purchase it. Moody Church has expressed interest in some kind of cooperative venture in the South Loop. We started a Bible study this summer that has drawn together a small core group. Yesterday morning I traveled to Dearborn Park for our first-ever prayer walk through the area. I found it fascinating and exhilarating to be so close to the massive skyscrapers of downtown Chicago. You could feel the pulse and energy of the city all around you. On every hand old buildings are being converted into apartments, condos, and town homes. The area teems with people and is ripe for a gospel-preaching church. I think the question now is, When will we take the next step? And where are the people who will commit to move into Dearborn Park to help establish the church? Please join me in praying that by this time next year the new church will be a reality.

5) Expanding our facilities. I have already mentioned our crowded conditions. That will only increase in the years to come as more people join with us. Over a year ago the elders appointed a long-range task force to look at the possibility of expanding our current facilities. While their work has centered around expanding our sanctuary to accommodate 1100-1200 people (up from the current 550 maximum), they have also looked at other ideas, including: 1) Converting the east lot to a multi-level parking lot, 2) Adding a floor to the west wing, 3) Adding a floor to the east wing, 4) Expanding the Parlor and Heritage room north to the edge of the west parking lot (to give us a meeting room for 500 people), and 5) Buying additional property. A few months ago they secured the services of Mr. Walter Carlson, an architect from Northbrook with huge experience in church design. He has done extensive research into our property and has prepared detailed drawings of various expansion plans. Suffice it to say, everything is possible as long as money is not an issue. In the next few months the staff and elders will be extensively discussing the various plans in the hope that we can develop a united vision of what the Lord would have us to do. Anything we do will be expensive and will challenge us all to new levels of sacrifice. It will require a long-term vision that looks ahead to the needs of our children and grandchildren and to reach people in the year 2020 and beyond. No matter how hard it is for us to expand our current facilities, it won’t be any harder than it was for the Presbyterians who built our sanctuary in 1901. What they did lasted for a century. I pray that what we do will last for a century as well. If we do this only for ourselves, we will not have done well. If we do it for generations yet to come, I believe God will crown our efforts with great success. How will it be done? Through prayer, humility, patience, and little steps of faith. Expansion will require hundreds of people participating in hundreds of ways. The various building projects may take six years to complete. Let’s pray for unity and for clear direction from the Lord as we move forward.

6) Here is a smorgasbord of things that I am personally excited about:

A) The prisoner book project. This involves sending free copies of my book Keep Believing to any prisoner who requests a copy. We are working with Prison Fellowship, Crossway Books, and Moody Press in a cooperative venture. So far over $16,000 has been donated, which makes it possible for us to respond to over 5000 requests from prisoners across America.

B) Celebration Sunday 1999—September 12 at Oak Park-River Forest High School. On that Sunday we will have one large combined service in the high school auditorium featuring all our choirs and all our musicians. We’re encouraging each person who attends to bring a friend with you and then to take your friend out for lunch afterward. This will be a wonderful opportunity to build bridges for the gospel.

C) The Bible Reading Marathon. We’ll be talking about this a great deal in the months to come. Basically, it involves a once-In-a-lifetime event where we as a congregation will participate in the public reading of the entire Bible from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. The Bible Reading Marathon will cover the last 90 hours of 1999. I hope that hundreds of people will gather in the sanctuary from 10 p.m.-12 Midnight on December 31 as we end this year by reading together the final chapters of Revelation. I can’t think of a better way to enter the new millennium. I expect hundreds of our people to volunteer to read the Bible from our pulpit during the marathon.

D) The personal ministry time after each service. This has been a longstanding dream of mine. In the last few months we have seen people coming forward for prayer after almost every service.

E) Compassion in Action. The CIA offers many creative ways for our people to get involved in people-helping ministry in Oak Park and the neighboring communities.

F) The growth of our Women’s Ministries. Under the leadership of Barb Duncan, we are now offering a wide variety of opportunities for women of all ages, including a much-needed outreach to our college students.

G) A waiting list of new missionaries from our own congregation. For the last few years God has been raising up a new generation of missionaries. Right now we have candidates “in the pipeline” who will be going to the mission field later this year, in 2000 and 2001.

H) The LifeCare Ministries. Lynette Hoy has done a wonderful job of expanding the helping ministries of our church. We now have a network of trained volunteers who can assist those going through a hard time. We want to offer encouragement that points people back to the Lord and to his Word. I believe this ministry will become even more important in the years ahead as God sends us more people who need a touch of his love.

I) The number of new people involved in ministry at Calvary. In the last few years God has sent us several hundred new people. It has been exciting to see those new people eagerly volunteering to teach Sunday School, to sing in the choir, to help with Day In Our Village, to be block parents for Caraway Street, or to help lead Vacation Bible School. Our church has always had a strong history of lay involvement at every area. I’m glad that trend is continuing.

How Big is Big Enough?

Sometimes I am asked how big I think our church should become. In one sense that question is impossible to answer because all true growth comes from God. Right now over 1100 people worship with us on many Sundays. It is not impossible for me to imagine that number reaching 1500 in a few years and possibly 2000 sometime down the road. But I do not think we should be motivated by numbers one way or the other. Our goal ought to be to reach as many people for Christ as possible. That’s what our Mission Statement is all about. As we help people discover the life-changing power of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, God will take care of how many people come here each Sunday. If we do our part, God will certainly do his.

A few months ago I came across this statement from Ray Bakke, perhaps the foremost specialist in urban church growth in the world today:

Next year, for the first time in human history, the majority of the SIX BILLION people living on God’s earth will live in cities; over 50 percent, up from nine percent in 1900. But city size is only one part of the equation. The nations are migrating to the cities. Nations are losing control of their national boundaries in the face of global migration to urban areas. In October of 1997, The New York Times reported that an astounding 123 nations were represented in just one New York City zip code. That is, nearly two-thirds of the world’s nations have representatives in one American community. The mosques and temples of other religions now exist alongside our church buildings and their children are found in schools and playgrounds with children from church families.

Al Capone and Deep-Dish Pizza

Consider our own ministry context. Greater Chicago has over eight million people. That is more people than Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Nevada, Utah, and Alaska combined. Chicago has a larger population than 42 states and 100 foreign countries. There are currently 20 Buddhist temples and 75 mosques in Chicago. Every nationality and every language is represented here. There are 36 newspapers published in foreign languages. Greater Chicago is home to: 1.25 million African-Americans, 1 million Hispanics, 500,000 Poles, 250,000 Greeks, 200,000 Ukrainians, 150,000 people from India, 100,000 Filipinos, 90,000 Koreans, 50,000 Romanians, 50,000 Hungarians, 25,000 Haitians, 20,000 Chinese, and 15,000 from various Southern Asian countries. Ships from 24 nations dock in Chicago. Over nine million people visit Chicago each year as tourists or business visitors. (Statistics provided by Pastor Vernon C. Lyons.)

What a great city Chicago is. It is truly world-class. Who else can claim Michael Jordan, Jesse Jackson, Sammy Sosa, and Al Capone (he’s dead, of course, but he’s still one of us)? Chicago has it all: Deep-dish pizza, the Shedd Aquarium, Soldier Field, Michigan Avenue, Italian beef sandwiches, the “Hillside Strangler” on the Eisenhower Expressway, Moody Bible Institute, the Taste of Chicago, the Merchandise Mart, a river that flows backwards, the Deep Tunnel, and those crazy cows all over the place this summer. What a fabulous place to live.

And what a fantastic time to be alive and ministering for Jesus in one of the greatest cities in America. Here we are in the middle of Oak Park, in the center of Chicago, in the heart of America. I can’t imagine a better place to be. There is a great deal more to be said, but I think you get the picture. Next year Calvary celebrates 85 years in Oak Park. We honor our ancestors who paid the price for the blessings we now enjoy. As we move forward, I believe our dreams should be greater than our memories.

When I look back over the last ten years, I am amazed at all that God has done. It is clear to me that God has done it and that most of the time I have simply been an observer watching the Lord lead his church forward. For anything good that has been done, God alone should get the glory.

I thank the Lord for calling me here. And I thank the congregation for your kindness to me and my family. Thank you for ten happy years. I hope we can share many more together. Amen.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?