Cross-Cultural, Urban, Reformed, Ecumenical

Reaching Out, Lifting Up

01-26-2021

The ministry of one church changed the life of one young boy. Rev. Dr. Jorge Morales went on to change the lives of countless others.

Jorge Morales was nine years old when he, his mother, twin brothers and two sisters came from Puerto Rico to live with an uncle in Chicago. Soon his grandmother arrived, and they settled into their own apartment on Sawyer Street in the Lawndale community. Some days, there was money to purchase kerosene and some days, the apartment was cold. But the blessing of those early years was the Warren Avenue Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ. “One Christmas, they came to our door with food, toys and Jesus,” remembered Rev. Dr. Morales, “and they never stopped reaching out to us.”

That was Rev. Dr. Morales’ introduction to lived faith, one that he’s never forgotten, and one that he made a commitment to follow. When he retired in 2018 as conference minister of the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ, Rev. Dr. Morales, McCormick’s 2020 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year, had earned his own reputation for reaching out to others.

“In the 1960s, my consciousness grew enormously,” began Rev. Dr. Morales. “A friend introduced me to the Black Church and organizations such as Operation Breadbasket. I realized that the Black Church was a powerful influence in the life of African Americans. I thought that the Church could be the same in the Latinx community. I became interested in becoming a pastor.” After earning a bachelor’s degree at Northeastern Illinois University, Rev. Dr. Morales enrolled at McCormick in 1973, earning Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees by 1984. While a seminarian, a Latinx theological studies program was in its early stages, and Rev. Dr. Morales got involved. Soon, he was its coordinator, helping to recruit students, recommending Latinx theologians for lectures and teaching positions, and assisting in curriculum development. He continued to work with the program while pastoring at St. Lucas United Church of Christ; several of its members became McCormick graduates.

During his years in ministry, Rev. Dr. Morales reached out to Latinx communities through his work with the Community Renewal Society and Advocate Health. He established and was a founding member of the Center for Community and Leadership Development, Latinas in Illinois, First Congregational Church Preschool and Day Care Center, and Sembrando El Futoro (Sowing the Future) Youth Center. He has served on national boards for the United Church of Christ and the World Council of Churches.

“The role of the church is to empower people and raise their level of awareness about what can be,” said Rev. Dr. Morales. “Through the outreach of one congregation, my life was changed. That’s what the church is called to do.”