Transforming Traditions

Yesterday I was privileged to partake in the installation service of Rev. Stuart Barnes Jamieson at Carter-Westminster United Presbytery Church in Skokie. The installation service reflected the diversity of the membership and the community. The congregation describes itself as “a rich tapestry woven out of the ministry of three congregations.” These three congregations– Westminster, Carter Memorial (an Assyrian congregation which began in the chapel of Fourth Presbyterian) and Irving Park–make up the colorful tapestry of race, ethnicity, language, and culture that was on full display on Sunday. It was summed up in the Lord’s Prayer which was spoken in four languages! (Not all at the same time!!)

Maintaining this type of diversity takes commitment. It is part of the foundation and DNA which Carter-Westminster continues to live into. In his monograph entitled, Jacob’s Bones, Gil Rendle writes about the value of carrying forward the identity and mission of previous generations. He sees this exemplified in the patriarch Jacob requesting his bones be carried into the new land. Rendle writes, “Futures are not disconnected from the past. We can carry with us the critical gifts from the past, limited in number but well chosen, that will remind us of who we are. What we choose to carry forward will be used to sustain our identity and purpose in the changed conditions that will be faced.”

Since diversity is in the fabric and DNA of Carter-Westminster, it continues to have a strong Assyrian membership. Their future reflects their past. This membership reflects the community. Often congregations lose touch with changing demographics in the community in which they reside. They become “the hole in the donut”- a solid center surrounded by a different flavor of diversity.

What is the past your congregation is carrying forward? What rich history is your institution reflecting in this current time? These are questions we should reflect upon. As congregations, seminaries, hospitals, and other institutions served by leaders in the presbytery of Chicago, we should constantly ask the questions, “Who is God calling us to be?” “What is God calling us to do?” And, “Who is our neighbor?” Carter-Westminster is a model for this continual engagement with history, tradition, community, and mission.
Rev. Craig M. Howard