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Our History

Books about Reba

Living Together in A World Falling Apart

By Dave and Neta Jackson

One of the earliest books about Reba, from 1974. When Living Together in a World Falling Apart was first published in 1974, tensions in society—an unpopular war, racial divisions, fearful economics, the seeming futility of “success,” and widespread alienation—were not addressed in most churches.

Glimpses of Glory: Thirty Years of COmmunity, the Story of Reba Place Fellowship

By Dave and Neta Jackson

A selected history of Reba Place Church and Reba Place Fellowship published during the 30th anniversary. It contains the authors’ historical narrative plus interviews with people involved with important historical moments at Reba. It may be difficult to find on the market at a reasonable price. Ask around at church to see whose copy you can borrow.

Cynicism and Hope: Reclaiming Discipleship in A Postdemocratic Society

Edited by Meg E. Cox

A collection of talks from a November 2007 conference at Reba Place Church.

Reba Place Church was born out of the Reba Place Fellowship, which began in Evanston in 1957. The driving vision for the early members of the Fellowship was to live out a life of radical Christian discipleship as they observed it in the Gospels and the book of Acts: open and loving relationships, full sharing of material resources, a visible common life, active witness for justice and peace, and a priority on living out the word of the Lord rather than talking about it. They believed the words of the earthly Jesus were meant to guide the community of his disciples in every area of life—not only then, but now. 

The first 14 years at Reba were full of blessings for many members and visitors, as well as notable stories of God’s providential care for the community as a whole. But they also left many unmet needs throughout the congregation—-for more spiritual power to live out the sacrificial Christian life, for more expressive worship, for more freedom to express the Gospel openly to seekers, etc. These generally unarticulated needs were the kindling onto which God was soon to pour the fire of His Spirit.

In 1971 Reba members took the then radical step of approving Virgil Vogt’s sense of leading that he should quit his job with the state mental health system and be available full-time for pastoring and other leadership at Reba. Some months later he returned from a charismatic renewal conference convinced that Reba needed to hear the teaching of Rev. Graham Pulkingham, rector of Church of the Redeemer in Houston, Texas. Others from Reba who talked with Pulkingham confirmed the proposal.

Graham’s powerful teachings and direct prophetic words to the gathered Reba community had a transforming effect. Many individuals experienced a season of spiritual healing and renewal. Personal devotions and corporate worship became much more free and expressive. Speaking in tongues and words of prophecy broke forth in our midst. A new willingness to give testimonies and talk “evangelistic” talk appeared. The variety of gifts in the body was strongly affirmed, as was the role of designated leadership. The ministry households at Graham’s Church of the Redeemer in Texas were a powerful model of fruitful life together; several Reba households formed. Certain old-timers found the changes to be too much and moved on.

The heightened spirituality and intensification of life and leadership roles during the 1970's brought blessing to many, but they also revealed the very real dangers of grandiosity and group conformity. Certain households and pastoral relationships became authoritarian and coercive. At one point it seemed that almost everyone at Reba was living in one of the twelve households. The excesses and violations which occurred were a reflection of several elements: faith that almost anything was possible for those who believed; overcrowded living arrangements; lack of wisdom about the need of persons and families for space and varied accountability arrangements; unduly strong leadership roles; and much more.

By the end of the 1970's the practical and spiritual desirability of having a congregational identity distinct from Reba Place Fellowship led to the formation of Reba Place Church. After extensive discussion, the leaders brought forth the “Rochelle” proposals (named after a place of retreat) for forming non-communal ways for persons to be at Reba. These were approved, and several leadership couples left RPF to spearhead the formation of the new “congregational” small groups and clusters in 1981.

The strong establishment of Reba Place Church was a notable new development in Reba’s history. By the early 1990's Reba as a whole had become a large and vigorous congregation with about 25 small groups and about 300 members. More were non-communal than were communal. But the absence of persons of color, except as visible exceptions, was conspicuous in this large white congregation meeting in an interracial neighborhood. Reba’s problems dealing with diversity were visible in the lack of a common intake and formation process, the drift from a united common life within common expectations, and the simple reality of size.

In 1991, John Bedford, a charismatic Baptist leader from England, visited Reba and among other things lifted up Isaiah 54 as God’s prophetic word for Reba: Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; hold not back, lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. This word was received and over time became a shaping vision for what God wanted to do in reshaping Reba to become a center of evangelistic outreach.

At a cluster retreat in 1991, Anne Stewart and Julius Belser expressed their deep conviction that God wanted Reba Place Church to reflect in its life the mix of African-Americans and European-Americans in the neighborhood. The cluster, then the church leaders, then the congregation as a whole responded to this call, eventually hiring an experienced African-American pastor to take leadership. Developing common perspectives among blacks and whites proved to be far more challenging than anyone realized.

By 1997 what was most clear was that Reba had embarked on a course which involved profound changes and an uncertain outcome. The changes were coming in response to two major developments: the accumulation of some unresolved stresses from internal developments over the years, and the sweeping consequences of the commitment to become an evangelistic and an anti-racist congregation.

All of this led to the need for the widespread review undertaken by the Transitional Leadership Council in 1997. The TLC process was an explicit attempt to address some of those needed changes in the church’s life and to invent a new congregational structure that would facilitate them. But the underlying dynamics proved to be much stronger than the process created to manage them. TLC proved to be cumbersome and unable to cope with the continuing stresses upon the congregation’s life and ministry. By 1998 the process had reached an impasse.

In 1999, RPC decided to begin another attempt at reorganization and renewal. A Church Council of seven RPC members was elected and was given a mandate to write a new set of by-laws and appoint new pastoral leadership. In subsequent years the issues of leadership and mission continued to be a challenge. With the retirement of Virgil Vogt in 2002 and the appointment of Ric Hudgens as new Lead Pastor, Reba Place Church entered a new chapter in the ongoing process of embracing of a strong heritage even while hungering and thirsting for God’s new day.

Reba Place Fellowship also went through extensive changes from 1997 to 2004. Two separate “clusters” were re-united after functioning quite separately since the 1980 launching of Reba Place Church. Greg Clark, professor of philosophy at North Park University, was selected as spiritual leader of the Fellowship. Cana Household formed in the large house at 727 Reba where the Fellowship had had its origins. Patterns of weekly and monthly life were established (Monday evening potlucks and seminars, monthly all-member meetings and potlucks). An intern program was initiated under the leadership of David Janzen and plans were underway for a partnership with The Ekklesia Project to establish a new Ekklesia House for area seminary students. In 2003 Allan Howe was selected to serve as leader of RPF. The Fellowship business office was relocated from 735 Monroe to 737 Reba Place. The Fellowship and the Church developed separate leadership circles and organizational patterns, even while maintaining very close and mutually supportive ties.

Since 2004 Reba Place Fellowship has seen significant changes in its membership, average age, and day-to-day life. Several nine-month interns in 2004 became two year interns who evolved into the nucleus of the current large pool of 30-40 interns, apprentices, and practicing members who live in the Reba neighborhood and share in RPF’s life, meetings, and projects.

This growth at RPF reflects widening interest in Christian community, especially among young people. Many contact or visit Reba in search of an alternative to the pervasive individualism, consumerism, injustice and violence of the modern world. For years Reba’s Cana Household has held a potluck on Monday evening, followed by a seminar discussion on various aspects of Christian discipleship. 2004-2007 saw expanding numbers at these Monday evening events—so much so that in the spring of 2007, Monday potlucks were spread out into five different Reba households followed by a regrouping at the RPC Ministries Center for seminar time. Another part of Reba’s growth has been the 2006 establishment of a new household of young people—“The Patch”—at 720 Reba Place.

Some of the earlier-arriving interns began work on a used bicycle shop in 2005, which has become the well-established Recyclery Collective. 2006 and 2007 also saw five RPF-related young couples get engaged and married, some adding to the long tradition of “Reba weddings” in the RPC Meetinghouse.

In August 2007, Reba Place Fellowship and Church celebrated a great milestone—its fiftieth anniversary! Five hundred people from Reba’s past and present (and perhaps future) gathered for a weekend of sharing, memories, stories, music, and dance. It was a time of great joy as well as healing for many people who had poured their lives into Reba Place Fellowship and Church over its first fifty years.

620 Madison St. 

Evanston, IL 60202

535 Custer Ave., Evanston, IL 60202

(847) 869-0660

rpcoffice@gmail.com

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