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Paths Seen and Paths Taken: Some Insights on the Retirement of The Rev. Dr. Richard Dwaine Freeman

By The Rev. Ross Putnam

Rich Freeman

The Rev. Dr. Richard Freeman

Whatever else the year 2016 brings — a new president, continuation of or end of the draught, prosperous economy or a downturn — it marks the end of an era in in Chula Vista, California.  As of January 1, 2016, the Rev Dr. Richard Freeman will, for the first time in sixteen years, no longer be the Senior Pastor of Community Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.  In spite of not being able to find a biblical mandate to support his decision, he is retiring.

People retire from the work force every day, of course.  Rev. Freeman’s departure from the daily responsibilities of being a clergy person is significant because his ministry spanned a period of organized religious growth and influence that shows no signs right now of being repeated.  The years just preceding and including his professional involvement are perhaps the most dynamic period of religious practice in America since Europeans began exploring and wresting this verdant land from the natives.

The entire ecclesiastical world was riding a wave which had been building since the nineteen thirties.  Leaders — both clergy and laity — from what are known as the “Mainline Churches” found a society hungry for ecumenical cooperation and expansion.  Collaboration was the watchword.  The richness of the many fed the increasing desire for togetherness.  New ideas and resources for bringing prosperity together with faithful discipleship exploded across the land.  “Mending the rent garment of Christ” became a major focus of the churches.

There was a widespread sense that the church in general and the United Church of Christ in particular was coming into its own.  The denomination was strong and its people enthusiastic.  There was a growing hope (bordering on consensus) that a new, better and long lasting balance between church and state was emerging.  And that from that relationship would come solutions to society’s ills.

Richard Freeman felt a call to ministry and earned a Master of Divinity degree from United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities located in New Brighton, Minnesota.  He was, subsequently, ordained in August of 1971.

Congregations grew in prominence.  People both in the public and private sectors of society turned to the church for spiritual and temporal guidance.  The church was believed to have successfully bridged the mysterious gulf between the here and now and between things religious and secular.

It is easy from the vantage point of these years later to see that the wave had crested.  Still the dream of denominational restructuring and mutually beneficial priorities and programs would continue to be dreamed, designed and carried out.

Over the years Richard Freeman did his share to breathe life, energy, ideas and time into the connections being made throughout the ecumenical world.  Because he was concerned about church growth, he undertook and completed (in 1985) a Doctor of Ministry degree at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

Even a partial list of the ways he brought congregations and communities together reflect the overall commitment to give time to the evolving place the church holds in communities today.

Among a plethora of posts, positions and projects are these: he was Moderator of community radio and television programs.  Moderator and committee member of (UCC) denominational bodies in every area he ministered in.  He served as Chairperson, 17/76 Achievement Fund Committee, Chicago Metropolitan Association.  From 1975 to 1979, he was secretary, of the Professional Association of Clergy, Illinois Conference of the UCC.  From 1981-1987, he was president, United Church Foundation Board of Directors.  From 1990 to 1995 he served as a member of the UCC Office for Church Life and Leadership (OCLL) As if that weren’t enough, during those same years he was involved with the UCC Campus Ministry Program at the University of Illinois. and president of the Illinois Consortium on Governmental Concerns, Illinois Conference of Churches.

In New Mexico he did everything from being secretary for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Multicultural Celebration Committee to being Lead Chaplain for the Rio Rancho Department of Public Safety.

It didn’t take long to become involved in the Chula Vista community when he moved there.  He was President of the Ecumenical Council of San Diego County.  He served as, convener for the South Bay Interfaith Alliance Member, Community Congregational Development Corporation Board of Directors and treasurer of the Justice Overcoming Boundaries ministry.  And the impressive list goes on, which was typical of that generation of church leaders.

The world has changed.  The unpredictable spontaneity of humankind’s journey through space and time has taken a toll on the once thriving relationship between religious institutions and secular organizations.

Everything from social media to computers in general and ever-expanding ways to invest money and time conspired to eat away at the influence of church in society.  The unsatisfactory (read prophetic) answers faithful clergy like Dr Freeman gave to questions facing people as they struggle to maintain their equilibrium also dissuaded potential parishioners.

The UCC is different today at every level.  It may seem to some to be a mere shadow of its former self.  By hoped-for projections, perhaps.  On the other hand, the UCC has remained true to the essence of its framers and founders.  It is the gold standard for speaking out on social issues.  The prophetic voice of the founders remains strong and clear.  It is because of the bold, faithful, selfless ministry of clergy like Richard Freeman and so many others of his generation that the true church is thriving.  It is still innovative, adaptive, faithful to its core message that God is still speaking (and listening).  Thanks are due a generation faithful in its work.

Finally it can be said of Dr. Freeman and the other ministers of that special era, that they have known and held to one truth.  The empowering grace of Christ will be made known to all even to the end of time.  One generation moves on after cultivating and supporting the new suggestions, needs and resources of the next so that they “might all be one.”


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