Bishop C. Joseph Sprague preached in chapel today at Drew Theological School as part of our annual Tipple-Vosburgh Lecture series. His topic was “quivering signs of restoration” as we continue to seek the shalom of the city.
You can view the chapel service on the Drew Channel: Drew Worship
Here’s how I introduced the good Bishop:
Twenty years ago this very year, a progressive and prophetic pastor from West Ohio was targeted by the conservative United Methodist Good News and IRD watchdog organizations who exposed and condemned his liberal, social justice stands and actions. Still, Pastor Joe Sprague was elected as a delegate to General Conference 1992.
While the United Methodists gathered in Louisville, civil unrest and riots were occurring in Los Angeles after the “not-guilty” verdict was announced in the trial of the police officers accused of beating Rodney King in California.
James Lawson, civil rights leader and UMC pastor in Los Angeles (who we honored last week at our 20th Anniversary Shalom Summit) , gave a report to the General Conference about the social uprising in his city. Incredibly, the General Conference Rules and Order of the Day were as delegates listened and were called to prayer.
That night, as Pastor Sprague recalls and describes it in our newsletter:
“Sleep would not come. In my restlessness, I searched the Scriptures for a theologically sound response to the crisis in Los Angeles that was spreading across the land. The prophetic admonition to “seek the Shalom of the city” leapt off the page from the Letter of Jeremiah. What about organizing something like a faith-based Empowerment Zone–a Shalom Zone in Los Angeles and in other urban communities through which vast networks of religious bodies and servant leaders, along with the private and public sectors, would work together to transform urban America one broken neighborhood at a time?”
He drafted a proposal in hand-writing for creating “shalom zones”, and early the next morning passed it by as many people as he could. The Los Angeles delegation affirmed it enthusiastically and suggested that the first Shalom Zone be organized in South Central LA. He made the motion from the floor, which was discussed and passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support, including most Good News delegates. Funds were pledged and work began almost immediately. And, the rest is the history of Communities of Shalom, now based at Drew.
After 27 years as a pastor and 7 years as an ecumenical/interfaith officer, Bishop C. Joseph Sprague was elected to the episcopacy in 1996. He was assigned as Resident Bishop of the Chicago Episcopal Area and the Northern Illinois Conference. He served his Church as a faithful and consistent voice for informed biblical scholarship, progressive theology, racial justice, gender equity, ministry with the poor and incarcerated, an inclusive church, and Shalom for all.
Personally, I will always we grateful for his prophetic witness and leadership during the US invasion of Iraq in 2001, showing up at the White House, with other United Methodists, with prayers and protest, getting arrested as they urged President Bush, a fellow United Methodist, to meet with them as his Church leaders to discuss whether this was a just war or not.
Bishop Sprague has continued his activism in his so-called “retirement.” Recently, he was the Community Organizer of the Greater Hilltop Area Shalom Zone, an innovative network of congregation, public and private organizations focused on community development in a forsaken neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. Now hundreds of at-risk youth are mentored and served, legal and health clinics have emerged, non-violence and conflict mediation is taught, and private and public systems are working together joyfully within ‘The Zone’.
His interfaith engagement continues. Currently, he is President of the interfaith Horizon Prison Ministry and its work in 3 Ohio prisons. His justice work continues to be focused on full inclusion and marriage equality for same-gender-loving people. He is the recipient of the American Friends Service Committee’s “Courage of Conviction Award”, the Rainbow Push “Civil Rights/Peace Award”, and was the initial recipient of the “William Sloan Coffin Award for Justice and Peace.” He is co-author of a chapter in the seminary textbook, “Pastor as Educator,” and is the author of the 2002 book, Affirmations of a Dissenter.
I’m a huge fan, as you probably can tell. Please welcome to Drew, a faithful dissenter and Instigator of Communities of Shalom: Bishop C. Joseph Sprague!No tags for this post.