Various faith leaders for generations have stressed that worship isn’t limited to rituals and prayers but encompasses a passionate devotion to the larger community outside the walls of the religious institutions they serve.
In the Chicago area, a group of diverse spiritual leaders now plan to use a new series of columns in the Sun-Times to ask questions, rattle the status quo and identify solutions that address and attempt to eradicate the social ills that tear our region apart.
This new feature, “Just Relations,” will run in Sunday’s print editions and post Fridays at suntimes.com.
Chicagoans are hard-working, diverse, pragmatic, colorful, and busy getting things done. At the Sun-Times, we report the news and try to provide context from the perspective of trained observers.
“Just Relations” expands upon that news analysis from the vantage point of people who interact with varieties of congregants day in and day out — and also tell the stories of people who lift us up, not drag us down. The goal is to take some time each week to discuss what we owe each other as citizens and as fellow human beings.
Here’s a look at our “Just Relations” columnists.
• Theresa Dear is an ordained elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and currently serves as pastoral support minister at the DuPage AME Church in Lisle. She is a local NAACP leader and a member of the NAACP’s National Board of Directors.
Three years ago, Dear walked 550 miles in the Journey to Justice march from Selma, Alabama, to Washington, D.C. She also was an on-site responder to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina and longtime mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Dear is on the board of trustees at Roseland Community Hospital Foundation and is board chairman at One Hope United.
She also is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of HR4NON-PROFITS, a national human resources consulting firm and a partner at the Human Capital Strategy Group. She is the creator of the weekly “Let’s Get to Work Show,” that airs on Saturdays on WVON 1690 AM.
Dear received her Master of Science in Industrial Relations and Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Development from Loyola University. Her post-graduate studies have been at Northwestern and Harvard universities focusing on non-profit governance, theological studies and leadership.
• Omer Mozaffar, the Muslim chaplain at Loyola University, leads services and teaches classes at nearly every Islamic center in the region. He also was a student of late Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert, who appointed Mozaffar as one of his “Far Flung Correspondents.” The movie buff now serves as a consultant for Hollywood productions on Islam, Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians.
At Loyola, not only does Mozaffar provide pastoral care and spiritual instruction, he also teaches Islamic studies courses in the Theology and Modern Languages and Literature departments.
• Seth M. Limmer is the senior rabbi of Chicago Sinai Congregation, the oldest reform synagogue in the city, at 15 W. Delaware. His focus has always been to build and foster a community founded on a modern, liberal approach to religion, and strengthen his congregation’s connections to its Jewish tradition and commitment to helping the “larger world.”
Limmer previously served as the chair of the Justice, Peace &Civil Liberties Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and as vice-chair of the Commission on Reform Action of the Union for Reform Judaism
• Pastor Chris Harris Sr. is senior pastor of Bright Star Church, 735 E 44th. Seeing a need for more “community-minded clergy” given the city’s violence problem, the Chicago native founded Bright Star Community Outreach, an organization committed to providing enrichment and intervention activities along with jobs in the Bronzeville community.
Harris is a national council member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and travels the country to work on building relationships between African-American and Jewish clergy. His 2012 trip to Israel prompted the development of the TURN Center – The Urban Resilience Network – which is based on the Israeli model of the NATAL trauma center in Tel Aviv.
• The Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner is senior pastor at the Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut. Raised in Waco, Texas, Kershner graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio and received her theological training at Columbia Theological Seminary, earning a Masters of Divinity degree. Kershner has been published in The Journal for Preachers and Lectionary Homiletics and currently serves on the strategy team for NEXT Church.
• The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, has built his ministry on social justice activism. Moss practices and preaches a black theology at his church, 400 W. 95th St., calling attention to mass incarceration, environmental justice and economic inequality.
He recently led the team that created the “My Life Matters” curriculum; which includes the viral video “Get Home Safely: 10 Rules of Survival,” made in light of Michael Brown’s fatal shooting by police in Ferguson, Mo. Moss’ earlier publications include: “Redemption in a Red Light District,” and “The Gospel According to the Wiz: And Other Sermons from Cinema.”
A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Moss is a graduate of Morehouse College. He earned a Master of Divinity form Yale Divinity School, and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Chicago Theological Seminary.