Saturday, July 2
I belong to a club. It has no bi-laws and no regular meetings. In fact it only has three members. We're the club of the LafayetteUrban Ministry Executive Directors – Ron Elly, myself and Joe Micon. Over the years we have remained friends keeping in touch with occasional meetings, emails and phone calls.
Last week we lost one of our members. Ron Elly died. He had been battling cancer for a long time, but at 76 years, cancer finally took him from us.
I was invited by the family to share my thoughts at his funeral in Lafayette, Indiana. In a whirlwind of a flight from Washington, DC, I share this eulogy...
July 1, 2016
Thank you for inviting me to be a part of celebrating the life of Ron Elly...my colleague in ministry and friend. Our lives intertwined through our work with the Lafayette Urban Ministry and our friendship grew over the years. During my last extended stay in Lafayette, we began having regular coffees together. No agenda – just a little reminiscing, laughter and friendship.
On Monday the phone rings. There's no premonition of the news it would convey. I learn Rev. Ron Elly died.
A wave of sadness slides thru my soul. “Oh no,” I mutter or something like that. I knew he had been battling cancer, but still the news hits me hard. Memories flood my consciousness. “Oh Ron, you're a good one. You made such a big difference. We'll miss you.”
For some reason, I find my thoughts returning to a bible verse from the prophet Micah.
What does God require? Do justice. Love kindness. And walk humbly with God
I first met Ron on the pages of the Green Book as I was interviewing for a new job with LUM. For those who may not know, the Green Book was a strategic report on the Lafayette Urban Ministry prepared by Dr. Jim Davidson, a sociologist of religion from Purdue University in collaboration with Ron Elly, Tom Hull, Don Nead and a host of others from the staff and board of LUM.
Dr. Davidson analyzed strengths and weaknesses and importantly saw great opportunities for LUM. Oh yes, It was called the green book not because of some deeper metaphorical meaning, but simply because its cover was a bright green.
I learned about Rev. Ronald Elly on those pages...recruited by Presbytery from Seminary in Louisville Kentucky to Hope Chapel – a small Presbyterian congregation on the south side of Lafayette. Here lived some of Lafayette's poorest families and most marginalized people.
The year was 1967. It was an activist time. Churches were beginning to realize that they would have to see beyond their stained glassed windows and get involved in their communities.
It was a time to connect with the marginalized. It was a time to correct racial injustices. The government was launching a War on Poverty. The times they were a changing and social justice was in the air.
Ron saw an opportunity at Hope Chapel. He felt that it was well positioned for renewal as a Servant Church – loving neighbors and doing justice in the world.
Unfortunately, leaders at this congregation did not share his passion for a Servant Church. They wanted to recapture a more traditional model for church life - One that served their own members and not so much the community. They balked at Rev Elly's ideas...Unfortunately.
Or was it fortunately. God does work in mysterious ways. Sure there were plenty of false starts, disappointments, conflicts and heart aches. We can only imagine the anxiety that Ron and Ellen must have felt as Hope Chapel back-tracked.
But Ron had persistence. Amazingly he didn't loose hope. Something new was beginning to happen in Lafayette, Indiana and Ron's ministry was at the heart of it. I'm not sure he realized it at the time, but looking back we see it clearly.
Ron was brilliant in his ability to gather people together. He was always out in the community. First through the NDP (Neighborhood Development Project) he reached out to Presbyterians and then to Methodists and quickly to a broader ecumenical circle. He had a knack for identifying people with a social justice gene and then he got them involved.
All of us, where would we be if not for Rev Elly's ministry? We have lots to be grateful for and so much to celebrate.
By 1971, the idea for a Lafayette Urban Ministry was taking shape. More people got involved. Seven churches became charter members. And in January of 1972, it became official when Dee Tritschler moved and Les Gaylor seconded a motion to create the Lafayette Urban Ministry and call Rev Ronald Elly as LUM's Pastor Director.
It was exciting times. Work with youth as well as a transportation program expanded. A Centralized Emergency Fund was created to help with emergency needs. Work on racial justice took off through an Integrated Hands Program. A Hispanic community festival was organized thanks to LUM securing additional church funds. Participation as well as budgets increased. More than 20 congregations were discovering new ways to do Church.
But Ron was not to remain Pastor Director. He sensed a calling to a more personal ministry of pastoral counseling. Soon hundreds of people were able to sort out troubling issues because of Ron's guidance. Imagine the renewal in their lives and the difference Ron's pastoral counseling ministry made. Many recall his deep concern and wonderful kindness to this day.
Still Ron Elly is and always will be the birthing parent of the Lafayette Urban Ministry.
Among his many gifts, he gave us vision. He taught us that through persistence, prayer and faith, many good things are possible. We can see beyond stained glass windows or self-obsessive lives. Ron's vision gave us hope and has already changed Lafayette.
It's true...isn't it?
Because of his vision, we catch glimpses of a servant church. Now churches, secular organizations and all people of good will are regularly engaged with the poor and embracing the marginalized.
They walk for hunger
They counsel at an immigration clinic.
They volunteer at the homeless shelter.
They support the Food Finders Food Bank and give away bags of groceries.
They write letter to legislators pleading for a social safety net.
They work on community task forces.
They give to the Good Samaritan Fund.
It's like we are echoing the words of the prophet Micah. Do justice...Love kindness...Walk humbly with God.
Indeed, Ron, we recognize what you have accomplished among us. You leave a living legacy and we are most grateful. We thank God for all blessings... And today, we, especially, thank God for you. Amen