By Chinta Strausberg
Showing their love and support for Saint Sabinaâ€™s Father Michael L. Pfleger, an ecumenical coalition of ministers called on Cardinal Francis George to make an exception to the parish tenure rule and allow an exceptional pastor to remain at his church with one clergy asking him to â€œLet the Spirit speak to your heartâ€ before making a final decision.
To do otherwise, they warned, would destroy layers of fragile, delicate and emotionally-dependent relationships Pfleger has with many of his members and the community that he counsels, guides, marches and battles for social justice, against crime, and seeks resolutions for ongoing marriage and counseling on personal domestic issues literally from life to death.
However, Cardinal George continues to remain silent on this issue with his spokesperson saying the Cardinal does not discuss private conversations.
â€œWe are standing today to show our support for Father Michael Pfleger. He has stood with the community and we as pastors and community leaders are standing with him today,â€ said Pastor Tyrone Crider, pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church, during a press conference held at the Josephineâ€™s Restaurant, 436 E. 79th Street.
While Father Pfleger was present at the press conference, he did not speak in honor of his confidential talks with the Cardinal. However, last week during his service, Pfleger said his desire is to remain at Saint Sabina, and Friday a group of ministers made a plea to the Cardinal to allow Pfleger to remain at his church and continue his work that so many people across the city depend on.
Joined by more than two-dozen inter-denominational ministers from both the city and the suburbs, Crider said in honoring Pflegerâ€™s desire and goal to remain at Saint Sabina they are asking the Cardinal and the Archdiocese â€œto allow Father Michael Pfleger to remain as pastor at Saint Sabina Catholic Church.â€
Rev. Rodney Reinhart, pastor of the St. Clementâ€™s Episcopal Church in Harvey and the St. Joseph and St. Aidanâ€™s Episcopal Church in Blue Island, said, â€œAll of us have worked with Father Pfleger over the years, and we all know that he is a profound Christian witness, an effective pastor, a beautiful and deeply faithful priest of the church, a man who has spoken up for peace, a man who has spoken up for justice, a man who has spoken up for the gospel of Jesus Christ, a man who represents the Catholic church in powerful and vital in life-giving ways.
â€œHe has spoken up for our young people and he said we must protect our children from violence and from crime, and from drugs and from all the terrible things that can touch the lives of young people today,â€ said Reinhart.
â€œHis witness, his voice, his power, his presence, his ministry in our community in Chicago and in all of Illinois, in all of America is so vital and so important, and so effective that we as pastors of the churchesâ€¦we stand together to say please, Cardinal George, give us the chance to continue to have Father Pfleger in our midst working such a powerfully vital and important church leader and voice of the gospel,â€ said Reinhart.
Apostle Carl White, Jr., pastor of Victory Christian International Ministries that includes 50 churches, said Pfleger â€œnot only touches Chicago. He touches the world especially in the south suburb. He has come there for usâ€¦â€ in their hour of need. â€œHere is a man who has done a mighty great work and to move him from his congregation we do not feelâ€¦people move people from time-to-time but there are exceptions to rulesâ€ he said that should in this case be considered.
â€œWe stand with our beloved brother, Father Michael Pfleger, for all of the great work and challenges. Weâ€™ve seen 79th Street changedâ€¦. We lift up a standard with Father Mike,â€ said White-urging Pfleger â€œto continue to do great work. â€œ
And to the Cardinal and the Archdiocese, White added, â€œThey should reconsider and look again at the community and what the people are saying in the spirit. Let the spirit speak to your heart about this decisionâ€¦,â€ he said standing in support of Pfleger.
Representing the Lutheran church was Pastor Booker Vance from St. Stephen Lutheran Church, said while he understands church politics, â€œwe are not going to let nobody turn us around. We need to stand up clearly and understand the importance of this fine pastor.., our pastor, because he has always stood up, and he always stands for the right.
â€œHeâ€™s cleaned up the 79th Street corridor, the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood has been impacted and not only that the ecumenical understands clearly the importance of this fine ministry and this fine minister. We stand this day with Saint Sabina and our pastor, Michael Pfleger,â€ said Vance.
â€œI proudly tell you that I am an old Catholic school boy, and when I made it to the Lutheran Church, one of the first ones to reach their hands out to me was Father Michael Pfleger,â€ said Rev. Yehiel Curry, pastor of the Shekinah Chapel in Riverdale, Illinois.
â€œThe city of Chicago and the Archdiocese may never know how up and coming pastors depend on this man for leadership and guidance,â€ said Curry. â€œHe met me in Riverdale at Chuckâ€™s Gun Shop when nobody else wanted to help us deal with commonsense gun laws. He met me there and with a bunch of young folks. We marched from Riverdale to Chuckâ€™s Gun Shop, and we said, â€˜enough is enough,â€™ and today we stand with Father Michael Pfleger.
Rev. Otis Moss, III, head of Trinity United Church of Christ, said Pfleger is more than a pastor. He is also a â€œcommunity pastor.â€ He praised Pfleger for transforming the 79th Street area but â€œbecause of his work and his witness, he has brought a prophetic word and a model ministry across the United States.â€
Referring to the ecumenical coalition of ministers supporting Pfleger, Moss said, â€œWe stand together to show love for our brother and the work that he continues to do and we speak to the Cardinal to let him know that you have a group of ecumenical ministers who support the work of Father Mike and the Saint Sabina community. Let his works speak for himself.â€
Representing the 34th Ward Ministers Alliance and the Pastorâ€™s United for Change, Pastor Leonardo Gilbert, pastor of the Sheldon Heights Christian Church, said, â€œWe support him (Pfleger) because he supported us because he has been there consistently when it has been popular and unpopular. We want the Cardinal to know. We want to send a strong message that as he has stood with us, we stand with him.â€
Rev. Dr. Attorney Janette Wilson, associate pastor at the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church, told reporters, â€œI remember the parish concept that the Catholic Church is built upon. He has implemented the parish concept in the city of Chicago. It is a model for social justice and social changeâ€¦. He fought the drug lords along 79th Street. He has purchased billboards to deal with the sale of crack materials in our neighborhoods and grocery stores.
â€œHe has marched and put his life on the line to protect our children against violence in the street. He has continued to lift up the history of African Americans not just in Februaryâ€™s Black History Month, but he has brought some of the most profound and prolific preachers and leaders in the African American tradition to the community of Saint Sabina and to the city of Chicago,â€ said Wilson.
To the Cardinal, Wilson said, â€œJust as many of us prayed with you when you were in this city wrestling with the abuse in the Catholic and we supported you then, weâ€™re asking that you support us by allowing Father Michael Pfleger to remain in the parish that he loves and that loves him and to allow him to continue to serve this city and this community from Saint Sabina Catholic Church.â€
Father James E. Flynn from Holy Name of Mary Catholic Church has known Pfleger since he was in the seminary â€œand from that time to this day, Iâ€™ve found him to be a consistent faithful minister of the gospel. It is the hope of the ministers and priests of this area that pastoral, positive solution can be found that Father Mike, the Cardinal, the people of Saint Sabina and the whole community can celebrate.â€
Representing churches around America, Rev. Stephen Thurston, pastor, New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church (MBC) and president of the National Baptist Convention of America, said, â€œFather Mike has given his life not only to God, not only to the Archdiocese, but he has given his life to the people at Saint Sabina.â€ He said Pfleger â€œhas allowed himself to be a servant to the people of God.â€
â€œThe relationship that Father Mike has to the people at Saint Sabina cannot be broken in this most critical period,â€ said Thurston pointing to the relationships with wives who have lost their husbands to drug abuse, those single mothers who are raising their children, and the relationships with people who lost their homes to foreclosures â€œwho had nobody else but their pastor to go to and be embraced. That is the story of Father Mike and Saint Sabina.
â€œWe pray that God will touch the heart of the Cardinal and God will speak on his behalf even as we know God will hear his prayer and embrace his passion to continue to pastor at Saint Sabina,â€ Thurston said praying for a resolution to this stalemate. â€œWe transcend denominationsâ€ on this issue. â€œWe thank you for the legacy that you have allowed him to demonstrate even nowâ€¦,â€ prayed Thurston.
â€œWe asked that you would become the director, that you would speak even in a moral voice as he speaks against the demons of drugs that are killing our community, as he speaks against the demons of violence that are taking the lives of our children, as he speaks against everything that would tear us apart. We pray right now that you build a fence of protection all around him and that you would touch the Cardinal and lead him in the way he should goâ€¦,â€ prayed Thurston.
Concluding the press conference was Crider who said while he understands the tenure issue stated by the Cardinal â€œthere are exceptions to a rule, and we pray that an exception will be made for an exceptional pastor.â€
Other ministers present at the press conference were:Â Rev. Anthony Richardson, New Covenant MBC, Pastor Gregory Macon, Rev. Marvin Hanson; Apostle John T. Abercrombie, Truth & Deliverance Ministries; Dean Wallace Tripplett; Rev. David Williams; Rev. Joseph Addison; Rev. Mark Kalema, Lady of Peace; Rev. Thaddo Ngimda, Holy Name of Mary; Father Thulani Magwaza, associate pastor, Saint Sabina; Dr. Kimberly Lymore, associate minister, Saint Sabina; Deacon David Williams, Rev. Joseph Addison; Rev. Mark Kalema, Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church; Rev. Thadeo Ngimba, Holy Name of Mary Church; Rev. James Flynn, Holy Name of Mary; Rev. DeWitt Harris; Rev. Yehiel Curry, pastor of Shekinah Chapel in Riverdale, Â Rev. Dr. Phalese Binion, president, Westside Coalition, Deacon Calvin Stewart, Mount Calvary Baptist Church; Rev. Davie Moore, Victory Christian International Ministries, Pastor Leonardo Gilbert, Sheldon Heights Christian Church; Rev. Joseph Harris, assistant to Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.; Josephine Wade, manager of Josephineâ€™s Restaurant, and others.
The religious leaders present at the press conference were: Pastor Tyrone Crider, Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ, Mount Calvary Baptist Church, Rev. Stephen Thurston, Pastor, New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church (MBC) and president of the National Baptist Convention of America and his son, Stephen J. Thurston, II, the co-pastor, Rev. Anthony Richardson, New Covenant MBC, Apostle Carl White, Jr., pastor of Victory Christian International Ministries, Rev. Dr. Janette Wilson, associate pastor, Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church; Rev. Rodney Reinhart, St. Clementâ€™s Episcopal Church, Harvey, IL and St. Joseph and St. Aidanâ€™s Episcopal Church in Blue Island; Rev. Booker Vance, St. Stephens Lutheran Church; Pastor Gregory Macon, Rev. Marvin Hanson; Rev. Dr. Walter B. Johnson Jr., Pastor, Greater Institutional A.M.E. Church who also represented the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Chicagoland & Vicinity, Dean Wallace Tripplett; Rev. David Williams; Rev. Joseph Addison; Rev. Mark Kalema, Lady of Peace; Rev. Thaddo Ngimda, Holy Name of Mary; Father Thulani Magwaza, associate pastor, Saint Sabina; Dr. Kimberly Lymore, associate minister, Saint Sabina; Deacon David Williams, Rev. Joseph Addison; Rev. Mark Kalema, Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church; Rev. Thadeo Ngimba, Holy Name of Mary Church; Rev. James Flynn, Holy Name of Mary; Rev. DeWitt Harris; Rev. Yehiel Curry, pastor of Shekinah Chapel in Riverdale, Â Rev. Dr. Phalese Binion, president, Westside Coalition, Deacon Calvin Stewart, Mount Calvary Baptist Church; Rev. Davie Moore, Victory Christian International Ministries, Pastor Leonardo Gilbert, Sheldon Heights Christian Church; Rev. Joseph Harris, assistant to Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.; Josephine Wade, manager of Josephineâ€™s Restaurant, and others.
Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host.
Photo: Chinta Strausberg