Every year the pastor of Second Baptist Church in Wheaton, Ill., travels to schools and churches in the greater Chicago area in an attempt to bring the message of King to life. But his impassioned impersonation isn't the only thing that resurrects dead words from the pages of a history book.
Those who know Andre know that for him the "Dream" speech is more than a dream. It's a way of life. He may know those famous phrases by heart, but his heart pulsates with a commitment to racial reconciliation. Beyond the social aspect, Andre found a friendship that benefited his church and his ministry.
"I preach what Jesus taught about loving our enemies," Andre says. "But I also attempt to do what Jesus did. I spend time with folks who are different than me."
Second Baptist Church is the oldest African-American congregation in Du Page County, one of the wealthiest, "whitest" and most conservative counties in the country. As such, those who have been part of this historic church in past decades have known the pain of latent prejudice. But when Andre came as pastor 17 years ago, he was determined to make a difference in the community as well as in his church.
"Wheaton is home to the premier Christian liberal arts college in the nation," Andre says. "It's the school where evangelical heroes like Billy Graham and Jim Elliot graduated from. But curiously it's a school that was begun by Jonathan Blanchard, an anti-slavery leader. Long before King, Blanchard, a contemporary of Abraham Lincoln, had a dream for a prejudice-free world."
Although he never attended Wheaton, Andre is determined to hold the mission of Wheaton's founder before the city of 50,000 people that has grown up around the school. For this 40-something pastor that means developing personal friendships with those of other races.
"When members of my congregation see me practicing what I preach about racial reconciliation," he says, "they are more apt to wrestle with the implication of the Scripture for themselves than simply saying 'amen' when I preach."
One such friendship Andre invests in on a regular basis is with a ministerial colleague by the name of David Mains.
"When David and I break bread together, we aren't mindful of what kind of food we were raised on as kids," Andre says. "Sure it was different. But when we're together we take time to chew on issues that confront our ministries and the challenges facing our families."
David, who oversees a parachurch publishing organization in Wheaton, is old enough to be Andre's father, but delights in the fact that the younger pastor thinks of him as a brother.
"Andre and I have become great friends over the past 10 years," David says. "I love to hear him preach, but I love the way he cares for me even more. I feel like I can open up with him and bear my heart."
The benefits of bridging the racial barrier are not new to David. During the '60s when King was marching and preaching in the South, David was a young clergyman incorporating values of the civil rights movement into the church he was planting. Circle Church's reputation as an innovative interracial congregation extended far beyond its location in inner city Chicago.
"I learned through my experiences at Circle Church that racial reconciliation requires more than understanding the distinctions that color our backgrounds and values," Mains recalls. "Obviously, that's important. But what is more important is intentionally getting to know people of another cultural orientation and committing to shared experiences. The more I modeled Jesus' words about unity and inclusion before my congregation, the more apt they were to emulate my example."
The two ministers don't always see eye to eye. Sometimes their political opinions offset one another. Their interpretation of a certain passage of Scripture at times betrays the fact they went to different seminaries (Andre attended Garrett Divinity School, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, whereas David attended Southwestern Seminary, affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention).
"Even when David and I disagree, the tension we feel is a creative one," Andre acknowledges. "Part of making the dream of reconciliation a reality is owning up to the fact that there are issues which separate people."
Often Andre and David participate in each other's ministries. David will attend Second Baptist to encourage Andre or offer a critique of his sermon. From time to time he will read Scripture or even preach.
"My congregation loves David Mains," Andre says. "They appreciate his heart and his message. His style of preaching is different than what we're used to. But that's good. Mostly the people know that he and I are close." In turn, David solicits Andre's participation in workshops for pastors that Mainstay Ministries conducts around the country.
"When I travel with Andre, we room together," David says. "It gives us a chance to pray together and compare our personal goals."
But the friendship also extends to their families. When Andre's daughter Le Shawn needed a job, David found a place for her at Mainstay. Then, a few months back Andre sensed David was going through a hard time. Andre discovered that David's father was dying and Mainstay was going through financial challenges. Andre comforted as if he were David's pastor — a role welcomed by David.
"In David Mains, I have a relationship that provides me with more than a friend. What we enjoy together is a foretaste of what's to come when we all get to heaven. Like we sing at Second Baptist from time to time, 'What a day of rejoicing that will be!' "
Ever feel like you need to wear a mask to cover up who you are? Are you concerned that, if people knew who you really are and how you really felt, they wouldn't understand?
One minister, two jobs and the family that's at the top of the list. The number of bivocational ministers, those in full- or part-time ministry who carry an additional job, is estimated by some researchers to be as high as 30 percent of ministers nationwide.
"You should see the church they attend," Lucille said, armed with bulletin and newsletter. Creases formed across my brow as celebration gave way to comparisons a trap that had sprung too many times.