“If this is the expectation that people have of a new pastor coming to Gary, I need to live in Gary.”
This story is part of our Flight Paths initiative. Produced by Rebecca Werner with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. www.storycorps.org
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Transcript for People Have Their Attitudes
The reason I moved to Gary was because it was an assignment—my first assignment out of the seminary. When we would travel as children between Western Canada, Regina, Saskatchewan where I grew up, we would drive along I-94, and we would come through Gary, and it was—so this is the late 70s, early 80s, and it was really, really polluted, and just one of those places that was just kind of notorious among us. So, I just assumed that it was a joke but that was what my assignment was.
There was a woman who lived in Crown Point, or was from Crown Point—
Yeah, so, there was this lady at the church where I’d done my internship, who had raised her family in Crown Point, and she came the weekend that I was there with the Northwest Indiana phonebook map photocopied, and she had highlighted all of the neighborhoods that I could live in and be as far away from Gary as possible, and I thought to myself, ‘If this is the expectation that have people have of a new pastor coming to Gary, I need to live in Gary.
Right. And, as part of your work at Our Saviour, you had some of the youth group over to the apartment for a pizza party?
I mean, just happened to overhear one of the moms saying to, I think it might’ve been her husband, ‘Boy, I had no idea he lived in the ghetto.’ People have their attitudes. But Miller was nice, and lots of the people that we hung out with in those days were pretty new to Miller, and everybody was convinced that, you know, this was the year that everything was going to turn around or this new development was going to come in, or this new mayor was going to come in, and everything was going to change, and everybody’s investments were going to pay off, and I mean, it never happened at that pace, though there has been kind of an incremental—
I think there has been a march forward and upward over the course of time, but as far as the big switch being flipped, I haven’t seen it yet.
No, no. And the racism that continues to exist in Northwest Indiana that gets in the way of Gary’s redevelopment, I think continues to be a really big issue. That just brings me back to the reactions that I would get from people in the broader church, you know, other pastors who knew that I had been in Gary and had been in Gary a long, long time, and would assume that that was as the result of some deep, deep commitment, and I don’t want to diss that, because we were really committed to the relationships, and that congregation, and to the—working in that neighborhood, and helping that community really, really thrive, but the talk was always like, you know, we were making these huge sacrifices, and yet, you know, we lived in a little house adjacent to a national park a mile from Lake Michigan and thirty-two miles and an easy train ride from the Art Institute in downtown Chicago. It was not—it was hardly, hardly a hardship, in spite of what people thought.
You’ve received calls to other places. And there’ve been a number of really nice places.
Right. Right. Other really, really nice places. Right.
And we would turn them down, and we would laugh. We decided to stay in Gary, again.