Fifteen Years in Oak Park
12:15 AM I'm supposed to be in bed by now, but I'm not, so I think I'll do my weblog entry right now. This is a big day for our family. Fifteen years ago today I became the pastor of Calvary Memorial Church. August 15, 1989, was a Tuesday morning. I remember walking into my office--the largest pastor's office I had ever seen--and wondered, "What do I do now?" I must have figured something out because 15 years years have come and gone. Actually they have flown by. I was 36 when I came to Calvary; I am 51 today. But it seems like yesterday.
In looking through my files, I found two columns that I wrote in those early days. I wrote the first one as our family was leaving Dallas on our way to Oak Park. I wrote the second one during my first week at Calvary.
ON THE ROAD TO CHICAGO
I write these words somewhere in east Texas. A few minutes ago we left our home in Garland for good. It was the end of a chapter that began six and a half years ago. We leave with a lot of good memories and so many wonderful friends we could hardly begin to count them all.
My mind goes back to my first day of work at Shepherd Ministries last January. That day I made seventy-seven calls on behalf of Dawson McAllister. I went home exhausted . . . and exhilarated. I couldn’t wait to go back to work. That same day six different people called Marlene to see how we were doing. And that afternoon our car broke down and had to be towed to the shop.
That night, reflecting on what it all meant, I jotted down three conclusions that were a portent of things to come:
1. We're going to make it.
2. It won’t be easy.
3. A lot of people are pulling for us.
About two months ago I wrote letters to a few churches around the country. Almost as an afterthought I wrote to a church in a place I had never heard of--Oak Park, Illinois. The whole thing was so unplanned that I didn't even stop to look it up on a map.
From such an unlikely beginning has come a major redirection of our lives. We're leaving Texas behind, and in an age when most people are going south, we'’re going north.
For a while I worried about that. How would we fit in? Would the people like us? Would they be able to understand us? Could we survive a Chicago winter?
But my worries were laid to rest two ways. First, by the outpouring of love from the people at Calvary. No pastor ever had a better welcome.
Then Michael Green talked to me. He's a professor at Dallas Seminary who hails from Buffalo, New York. He said, "Ray, don’t worry about it. 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."
We're at the state line now. In a few moments Texas will be in our rear-view mirror. And in the confidence that Michael Green is right, we're on the road to Chicago.
AT HOME IN OAK PARK
This has been a big week for me. It all started last Monday morning when I said goodbye to my mom and set off for Chicago. Thirteen hours and four states later I made it to Oak Park.
Since then I've been staying with Fred and Erlene Hartman (and Anthony and Danny). They have been extremely gracious to me, even on Wednesday when in my confusion I picked up Erlene’s keys and took them with me to work. That night Danny paid me back by beating me in basketball 16-10.
What else has happened? Well, Brian Bill and I went on a tour of the area. Along the way we stopped and had lunch at one of Chicago's most famous restaurants--the White Castle. The cuisine--if that's the right word for it--is unlike anything I've had before. We didn't have restaurants like that down in Texas.
Yesterday I took my first tour of our new home on Mapleton Avenue. Marlene was worried about whether I would like it or not because I had not seen it before--at least not in person. (My friends in Dallas were shocked that I sent her up here to buy a house by herself. But why not? She'll spend more time there than I will.) It turns out that Marlene made an excellent choice.
Just as I was typing this, Lee and Linda Balgemann came by and took some pictures of me that the church will send to the newspapers in a couple of weeks. It was pretty funny. While Lee was adjusting the lights, Linda and Judy cracked jokes and told a few stories. We took a few shots in front of the church and the people driving by would slow down as if they thought maybe somebody famous had come to town.
Quite a few people have asked how it feels to finally be here. The answer is, it feels great. I have never been around a friendlier church in all my life. The people of Calvary have gone far beyond what we expected to make us feel right at home.
The Bible tells us about Abraham who spent his life looking for a city which has foundations (Hebrews 11:10), I understand exactly how he felt. When you have a place to call home, and when you have people who are glad to see you, everything else just seems to fall into place. Abraham was looking for heaven, and so am I, but in the meantime Oak Park feels like home to me.
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