This page is an adaptation of a document prepared by Chuck Neufeld for CMCs 50th Anniversary – July 27-29, 2007.
Previously written historic accounts, especially those penned by former Pastor David Ewert, were consulted and are extensively quoted in this rendition of CMCs history. The document on which this page was based was affirmed for publication at the 7/17/07 CMC Church Board Meeting.
For 50 years CMC has been a caring and nurturing congregation. For 50 years its effort has been to listen to Christ’s call and to act in response to that call. Sometimes that response has required courageous, even prophetic action. Other times it has allowed for a relaxed and calm response. God has been with us throughout! Read on and discover the story of CMC.
Visions – Realities – Dreams
Birthed in urban change and ferment, Community Mennonite Church of Markham, Illinois, has sought for fifty years to follow Christ in word and deed: to be a refuge, a place of reconciliation, a door of hope for all who would enter.
A group began to gather.
In response to the missional efforts of the Central District Conference, Mennonites and other persons who had moved out of Chicago to the south suburbs organized as an Anabaptist Christian communityof faith. The congregation wisely chose to build on Kedzie Avenue, a major north/south thoroughfare, thereby providing visibility and easy access — location, location, location! Being located where we are has indeed determined much of who we are.
From the start…
Under the visionary and caring leadership of Ron Krehbiel (1957-1961), CMC’s first pastor, the congregation accepted the challenge of being racially integrated. As social change swept through Markham and the surrounding communities, CMC leadership responded to the call of God expressed by the Apostle Paul,
“For Jesus Christ has brought us peace by making the two one people and has broken down the wall that separated and kept us enemies… Consequently, we are no longer strangers, but fellow members of God’s family.” (Eph. 2:14, 19)
Today we claim, as God’s mandate to us, the responsibility of being an inter-racial Anabaptist Christian alternative in the south suburbs. Besides seeking to be an inclusive congregation, many other strands define our life together.
Serving the community
One of these “defining strands” was initiated by our second pastor, Larry Voth (1961 – 1973). Under his leadership the congregation began the first of many programs designed to serve the community:
- Day Care
- Community Mennonite Early Learning Center — 1964
- Markham Youth Committee — 1969
- Sheltered Care Workshop
- Southwest Community Services — l97l
- Hope Community Services — 1979
- Chicago Mennonite Learning Center
- CMC members participated in starting
- and staffing this school. — 1979
- Brementowne Manor
- Senior Citizens Apartments — 1980
- Independence House — 1982
- Faith Housing Rehab — 1986
MVS, a long-time partner
Most of the above mentioned programs involved Mennonite Voluntary Service staff. Without MVS skills and commitment, many of these projects could not have begun or would have faltered in their inception. Nearly two hundred MVSers have come for a year or two and served the community. Some have stayed to become a part of us. Many of these programs continue as vital resources to our community to this day.
Lay leadership blossomed
Yet another strand that gained increasing importance during Ed Springer’s pastorate (1973-1976) was the development of small group life. For a period of time this became a congregational priority. These groups took various forms: task force, study and prayer, fellowship, etc.
Also, lay leadership blossomed at this time, so that when Ed Springer left, the congregation functioned without paid staff for a period of time. On August 28, 1977 the congregation voted to establish a lay leadership team, initially made up of three people: Orell Mitchell, Minister of Worship; Dave Ewert, Assistant Minister of Worship; David Suter, Minister of Stewardship. Over the next years others joined the team and positions were assigned as needs were identified.
Over time we discovered that significant needs were being left unmet. We also discovered the frailty of our life as an inter-racial congregation. The team, now with additional persons serving, remained in place when CMC called Menno & Margaretha Ediger to serve as co-pastors in 1978. The team continued as their coworkers. Although CMC returned to paid staff, the principle of lay involvement is still reflected in our worship and work to this day.
Peace & Justice a major emphasis
Peace and justice emerged as a dominant theme under the leadership of co-pastors Menno and Margaretha Ediger (1978-1984). Also, Margaretha helped form a group for the visually impaired called New Vision. In 1983 the congregation elected to become an official Sanctuary church for Central American refugees. Under the leadership of Paul Weaver (now Neufeld Weaver) an active peace education ministry evolved with sponsorship of classes, seminars, and special celebrations. George Thomas was added to the “Peace Ministry” staff through MVS and worked along-side Paul.
Other CMC peace and justice activities include: Phil Jackson traveled to Haiti with CPT on a peace mission. Ivorie Lowe served in Lesotho with Peace Corps. Keith Wilson traveled to Congo with the MC-USA delegation working on global connections.
Becoming what we are:
Reconciling and inclusive
Under the pastoral leadership of David Ewert (l985-96)
CMC focused increasingly on realizing the implications
of what it means to identify one’s self as a reconciling and
inclusive congregation. That focus led to the call of Les Tolbert (1989-1992) to
share pastoral leadership as paid staff, thereby giving more concrete expression to what we had claimed in principle. A renewed emphasis on prayer and outreach emerged during Pastor Tolbert’s time. Brent Foster (1994-1997) joined Pastor David Ewert in pastoral leadership following Les Tolbert’s term. For three years Pastor Foster participated in living out CMC’s commitment to being a “place of refuge.”
When David Ewert retired from pastoral leadership in 1996, Chuck & Bonnie Neufeld (1996 – present) were called to join the pastoral team under Brent Foster’s leadership. When Brent Foster moved back to Peoria, Illinois in 1997, Chuck & Bonnie continued their ministry as co-pastors.
Hold the course
Given CMC’s clearly stated vision for racial reconciliation, Pastors Chuck & Bonnie encouraged the congregation to “hold the course” on staffing; i.e., to make sure the pastoral team reflects the racial make-up of the congregation and surrounding community. Recent years give evidence of CMC’s increased resolve on this matter. CMC has not only declared itself committed to racial/ethnic diversity, but also to the hard work of anti-racism. Quoting from CMC’s website:
“As participants in God’s kingdom and agents of Christ’s reconciliation, we don’t only celebrate diversity, we see it as part of our mission to actively resist racism where we find it, to dismantle it where we can, and to name the dynamics of white power and privilege as they occur.”
One of the gifts of CMC is its “safe space” and it is into this space that we bring our brokenness. And so we have, and so we do — to the altar and to each other. One of the realities of living out the glorious vision of ”Unity in Diversity — Where Christ is Lord” is that no one gets exactly what he or she wants; at times not even what he or she needs! CMC has lived through painful times; times when both whites and blacks left the church over race-related problems. We lament every loss, black and white, young and old. The truth is that we have hurt each other, knowingly and unknowingly.
Still, as painful a journey as ours has at times been, it has also been filled with amazing grace and joy. Forgiveness has been extended and received — from God and from each other. When we recently were looking through the church archives, we were shocked to learn that the original Title Deed to CMC’s property legally excluded all but whites from ever owning, leasing or even occupying the church building. In a subsequent worship service, congregational members were invited to the altar to smudge that same document with ashes and oil as we confessed our sin and received forgiveness from each other. Thanks be to God for the leading of the Holy Spirit in this matter. The truth is that the intended power of that “old” document was harnessed, indeed bound, in the very first years of CMC’s existence when the congregation declared the doors of CMC open to all who would enter.
Being an inclusive, cross-cultural, inter-racial, anti-racism witness is not easy, but we continue to believe that that’s precisely what God has called us to. We are comforted to know that the same God who calls us to such work will be with us to the end.
Hospitality & Nurture
Out of CMC’s ongoing commitment to inter-racial staffing, Pastor Horace McMillon (2000-2005) joined the pastoral team in 2000 and served together with Chuck & Bonnie until 2005, at which time he moved to Jackson, Mississippi where he is now the pastor of the Open Door Mennonite Church. During Pastor Horace’s five years, CMC built on its many years of generous hospitality and nurture. From the very beginning, times of fellowship have characterized us as a congregation. “Food and fun” continue to hold us together through good times and bad. Praise God for this gift of grace.
Building on a strong foundation
Pastors Chuck & Bonnie are deeply committed to building on the many years of CMC’s faithful witness. Their eleven years of pastoral ministry since returning to Markham in 1996 has been characterized by a strong desire for congregational health and vitality. Whether ministries relate to children, youth, or adults, they are the result of longing for Christ’s Kingdom to be more established within and among us. Much work remains to be done.
Responding to ongoing needs
Open relationships with CMC’s surrounding community have resulted in many children and youth finding their way to CMC. Increased needs for ministry have compounded our desire for bolstering pastoral leadership. With great joy and anticipation we have now (Jan. 31, 2007) asked Cyneatha Millsaps to join CMC’s pastoral team. We are equally excited about her husband Steve’s gifts, especially as they relate to the vision we have for ministry focused on youth.
Not only does their presence relate to CMC’s commitment to multi-racial staffing, it also answers many of our needs for additional resourcing related to the increased needs we’ve identified in our congregation and community. Both are amazingly skilled in the precise areas of our most acute needs. We look forward to Cyneatha & Steve Millsaps moving to Markham just as soon as details can be worked out.
The visions given, the realities faced and the dreams still in formation are all gifts from a loving and gracious Creator God. May God’s creative nature, Christ’s redeeming grace, and the Holy Spirit’s power continue to guide us into ways everlasting.
As Vincent Harding recently commented about CMC:
“I [am] moved by the description of your ‘steady and increasing resolve’ as a congregation to realize your best possibilities. Please continue with your ‘steady and increasing resolve.’ The best is yet to come.” — Email from Vincent Harding to Pastor Chuck Neufeld, June 25, 2007