Community of Congregations
of Oak Park and River Forest
The past year began on a personal and intimate note. The highlight of last year's annual dinner was a powerful exercise in introspection as we broke into small groups under the leadership of Hal Edwards. At that time we shared and reflected on our individual backgrounds and our first experiences of faith. For some of us this may have been the first time we looked at our own experiences in this way.
With the sensitivity gained from this experience we embarked on another ambitious year.
In March, the Community Meeting took place at the Woodbine Convalescent Home under the leadership of Deborah Spector, our outstanding vice president who has proved to be a wonderful addition to our board. At that meeting Amy Papageorge presented a "Litany of Peace and Love," inviting us to become sensitive to the issues in the Middle East, encouraging us to work for peace and social justice.
Our May meeting at St. Vincent Ferrar focused on various ministries or programs that are supported by the Community of Congregations. In addition to reports from many of the programs, Six dynamic young people from the Youth Advocacy Program at OPRF High advocated a creation of a new Teen Center and discussed ways to “give back” to their community.
During the Summer we participated in the Festival of Potluck Foods, put on successfully this year once again under the dynamic leadership of Jim Boushay and Rickie Sain. This gathering in the street west of the Conservatory included the most incredible variety of Oak Parkers I have ever seen in one place -- eating, talking, sharing, enjoying and celebrating each other in that variety.
In September we met at Oak Park Temple. This meeting included introducing Fraternite Notre Dame to our community. This worldwide Catholic Order, with its Mother Church in Austin, provides a wide variety of services to that area. The energy and humility with which the nuns and priests of this order serve the community is inspiring. Their participation in our activities throughout the year has been a wonderful addition.
At that meeting David Sokol proposed a new book "Oak Park, Illinois, Continuity and Change" and solicited interest in the project. The meeting also focused on the needs and accomplishments of the Hunger Task Force Food Pantry.
In November, we held our annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at Ascension Catholic Church. Each year the service is unique and wonderful in its own way. This year's service, under the leadership of Gene Orlando, was simply the most musically beautiful Thanksgiving service I recall. You can find pictures of the Thanksgiving Service on our website at http://www.lgrossman.com/comcong.html. Just click on the picture of the Ascension Choir. Among those pictures you will find one that includes representatives of Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Baha'i and a number of Protestant congregations. It has been a dozen years since we opened our doors to include a variety of faith communities. We are truly becoming a Community of Congregations.
Finally, in December, the Holiday Food and Gift Basket Program, once again under our leadership, continued to build on its success of the previous year. This year 665 families were served.
During the past year we continued the informal "Sacred Space" program through which many of us learned more about the architecture and traditions of our host congregations. This has led to renewed interest in a substantive series of interfaith classes, similar to the series on life cycle events we sponsored several years ago. We invite your ideas as to the content of such a program and for other programs you would like to see.
Even though we have accomplished much, there is much to do. In spite of the efforts of Linda Abrams and others, the Student Religious Exchange Program did not get off the ground. And the after school mentoring program we talked so enthusiastically about two years ago remains to see the light of day. There are other needs that must be met.
Our treasury remains bare and attendance at regular community meetings must be improved. We need to involve congregations who have fallen by the wayside and others who have not joined us in the past. Still, the attendance here tonight is a tribute to our success.
Of course naming anyone is dangerous when there is not room to name them all, but I cannot end the year without expressing my thanks to so many of you. The work of this organization and its ministries could not have been done without the tireless energy of many volunteers. I am eternally grateful to Pat Koko for her energy, advice and work throughout the years. And I thank Dorothy Patinka for the detailed and accurate minutes that let me prepare this report. I have had the pleasure of working with outstanding executive board which also included Rev. Mark Reshan, our treasurer, and Joyce Marco. I am also grateful to Rev. Ed Hiestand who in addition to serving on our board, served as a mentor and who, along with others, gave me strength throughout a difficult year.
I especially look forward to the coming year under the leadership of Rev. Dwight Bailey of Austin Boulevard Christian Church and Deborah Spector, a lay leader at Oak Park Temple. They bring an energy and excitement we have not seen in some time.
It has been a privilege to serve as your president for the past three years. I have learned much and been lifted by the experience
May this organization continue to go from strength to strength.
Programs and activities with which we have been involved included
1. PADS: PADS which was now in its 11th season
2. CROP: Three schools and 29 churches participated in the 2002 Crop Hunger Walk.
3. Faith and Fellowship: This organization discussed providing small groups for the mentally ill in the community. They are looking for more faith communities to provide meeting space.
4. Clergy Lectionary Groups: The meetings have been taking place for over 20 years.
5. Housing Center: 5,000+ people have been assisted by the Housing Center.
6. Oak Park Township Youth Services: COC worked with OPTYS last year to successfully head the Holiday Gift Basket Program, taking the administrative responsibilities for the first time. This year, building on that experience the program was again an outstanding success, serving over 665 families with gifts tailored to their needs.
7. Food Pantry: Donations continue to be needed, they are looking for congregations to provide one item or money consistently. They are located at 225B South Blvd.
8. Peer to Peer Tutoring: A group meets every Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Pine Ave. Church in Chicago, volunteers are invited to participate.
9. Seguin Services: Providing services to developmentally disabled and mentally ill in area. Reductions in state funding have greatly impacted their programming.
10. Project Unity: Builds on the strength of diversity.
11. Walk of Faith: 23 congregations/groups participated in a wonderful event.
12. Centennial Legacy Program: Provides ways to leave a legacy to different
organizations of your choice through Planned Giving Program.
13. Fraternite Notre Dame, 502 North Central Ave. in Chicago was represented by Sister Marie Christine.