Our 2018 Lenten series invites us to "Choose Love!" Each Wednesday, we explore that theme by examining people, and communities of people, who "lived" those words.
At our Wednesday March 14 evening service, Pastor Paul Meltzer adopted the persona of Reverend William Bradford Dodge (pastor of what became the nearby Millburn United Church of Christ). "Father" Dodge was a temperance and anti-slavery advocate, so much so that in 1846 he was named as president of the Lake County Anti-slavery Society!
Reverend Dodge spoke to us as he did his parishioners during mid-1850's, in the time leading up to the US Civil War (1861-1865). The work of the Underground Railroad was one that especially claimed his sympathy. We found out about the "branch line" running through Lake County, with stops in several Lake County communities. Rev. Dodge risked his livelihood by hiding slaves in a root cellar at his home, coordinating with other "Station Masters" to shepherd slaves on the way to Kenosha WI and other points north until they could find passage on ships headed for Canada... which presented the only "true" freedom of the time.
Compounding this work was the "Fugitive Slave Act of 1850", which imposed severe penalties on anyone not taking action to return an escaping slave to their master. This made the risks involved with "aiding and abetting" runaway slaves by transporting, feeding, or sheltering them even greater.
This isn't the only time Pastor Melzer has assumed the identity of Reverend Dodge. Here's a link to a 1999 Chicago Tribune article where he is doing the same to educate hundreds of children about the Underground Railroad:
LINK: "Pastor Is Kids' Conductor On Underground Railroad"
Pastor Paul Meltzer and his wife Yvonne joined Saint Stephen as members when he retired from active preaching several years ago. They moved away from our area last year when it was "time to retire the rest of the way". We rejoiced at the opportunity to spend some time in fellowship with them and to share a "Simple Supper" during this brief "working visit".