Freedholm: His Passion for Justice Runs Deep

Post a Comment » Written on December 17th, 2004     
Filed under: News
By Don Meyer

CHICAGO, IL (December 17, 2004)  – Don’t let his quiet and composed demeanor  fool you. Beneath the surface lies a passion for God and for the mission  of the Evangelical Covenant Church that runs very deep.

That comes as no surprise to those who know retiring Central Conference  Supt. Herbert M. Freedholm, who concludes his conference service at the  end of December. He comes from a long line of Covenant pastors and  relationships that have helped shape his life and ministry over the  years – the first half of his four decades as a parish pastor and the  last half as a superintendent.

His father grew up in Ravenswood Covenant Church in Chicago and was a  pastor for more than 50 years. His father was a friend of T.W. Anderson  while at Bethlehem Covenant in Minneapolis, where Herb was baptized by  pastor Nathaniel Franklin.

“I’ve long roots and a deep love for the Covenant,” Herb says. “If I  have a concern for the future, it is that the Covenant could someday  lose the genius of that balance between our Pietistic revival roots –  we’re not fundamentalists, but rather evangelical – and our churchly  side. That balance makes us distinctive among denominations. That’s what  drew people early on – they couldn’t find that kind of balance in either  a mainline or fundamentalist church group. The Covenant found that balance.”

Going into the ministry was not a difficult decision for Herb, who grew  up in the faith both at home and as part of a church family. “It  (ministry) has been part of my faith journey, both in the church and in  my dad’s modeling of what ministry is,” he notes. “I am first of all a  son of parents who modeled faith and ministry, but also a church that  modeled who we are – open to disagreement, but not rigid fundamentalism  that boxes you in.”

Herb’s father and a few of his friends were the first to earn  undergraduate degrees “and grasp the essence of bringing together the  churchly and the revival sides of our faith,” he observes. “Sunday  mornings was high church. Sunday evenings were revival services, where  they talked about coming to faith in Christ.”

It was one specific incident during his youth that may have planted the  seed of passion that would eventually drive the roots of passion deep  into his soul. Herb recalled the time when noted newspaper columnist  Carl Rowen and his family moved into the neighborhood – the first black  family to do so. “I remember the evening my dad went to their home. A  group was outside, protesting that a black family was moving into the  neighborhood. My dad went to stand with the Rowen family. That  profoundly influenced my sense of social justice issues.”

He also was touched by the experience of Ezra Oberg, who taught at  Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, and the way in which the church family  gathered to encourage him. Oberg lost his sight and in order to support  his family, began selling greeting cards and brooms door-to-door in the  neighborhood. It was the church family that nurtured and encouraged him  during that time.

Freedholm served 21 years in local Covenant pastorates (a list of those  churches appears at the end of this story). He loved local parish  ministry and may have remained in that arena were it not for a tragic  event that would eventually reshape his focus – the death of the  couple’s 11-year-old son, Peter, who died 25 years ago of Reyes  Syndrome. One who had counseled countless numbers of others over the  years would have to face the same piercing question from a very personal  perspective: Where is God at times like this?

Referring to the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People by  Harold Kushner, Herb believes the author faces the question squarely.  “In a fallen world, God doesn’t will or want bad things to happen,” Herb  says in paraphrasing the author. He also cites author Leslie Weatherland  who draws a distinction between God’s “perfect will” and God’s  “allowable will” in describing the influences that have helped shape his  own theology. He believes this transforming time may have influenced his  decision to leave parish ministry for his administrative leadership role  as superintendent of the Central Conference, a position he has fulfilled  for more than two decades.

“It’s been wonderful,” he says of conference life, noting that “you  don’t always love what you have to work with (in reference to clergy  failures or the divided congregations he has counseled over the years).  “But, I didn’t leave ministry – I’m still a pastor, one who has enjoyed  nurturing and mentoring other pastors over the years.”

There are two areas about which Herb is particularly passionate –  encouraging women in pastoral and leadership roles at all levels, and  supporting and promoting ever-expanding ethnic diversity in all areas of  church life.

“We’re nowhere where we need to be with respect to encouraging women  pastors and encouraging an openness to their pastoral leadership,” Herb  says of the Covenant as a denomination, quickly noting that his  assessment is not intended as criticism. He points to the Covenant’s  leadership in 1976 to approve the ordination of women – he was part of  the initial effort. “We’ve made progress, but I still hear the pain of  women who do not see more doors opening – not so much because they’re  women, but because they are gifted.

“And then, the diversity in our conference,” Freedholm continues. “It  was there when I came, but it’s grown. Craig Anderson (retired associate  superintendent) and I decided years ago that our conference staff needed  to look like the conference itself with respect to ethnic and gender  diversity,” Herb recalls. “We called Jerome Nelson, not because he is an  African American, but because he is gifted – he just happened to be  ethnic. I am pleased with his selection to assume my position when I  retire at the end of December – and the fact that he becomes the first  African American superintendent in the history of the conference and the  denomination.”

Freedholm finds the growth in ethnic diversity in the Covenant to be  both wonderful and scary – “scary in the sense that we do not want to  simply be another group that fails to live up to its commitments,” he  stresses.

Looking ahead, Herb sees engaging young adults in the faith as a  continuing challenge. He sees an excellent model in churches like Fourth  Presbyterian in Chicago and many other Covenant churches, reflecting a  blend of good worship and ministry outreach to the surrounding  community. “That’s what attracts the young today – a commitment to  justice issues, but also the churchly side of our faith,” he believes.  He contends that the young generation of the future is more interested  “in the mystery of our faith – in the liturgy and sacraments – while  maintaining an interest in worship styles that are more blended in  nature. It’s a continuation of the key to understanding the Covenant’s  historical success – that blend of the churchly side (reflecting our  Lutheran/liturgical heritage) and our Pietistic/revival roots.”

And what does he recommend as key areas of Covenant focus in the future?

  • Inclusiveness – growth in diversity and women in ministry
  • Church planting – there has been renewed energy that has contributed  to the growth the Covenant enjoys
  • Revitalization of existing churches – he sees this as vital to the  church’s future and is pleased the Covenant is seeking a director for a  new denominational push in this direction
  • Outreach and evangelism – a crucial part of the balance that has  buoyed the Covenant for more than a century
Herb and Rlou (accompanying photo) have been married 45 years and likely  will remain in Chicago for the immediate future where they have owned a  town home for many years. They have four children: David and Debbie, who  have two children and live in Princeton, New Jersey; Diane and Glen, who  have two children and live south of Boston; Dan and Linda, who have  three children and live in Massachusetts not far from Diane, and Peter.

Churches Freedholm served in the early part of his ministry include  Grant Street Covenant Church (internship) in Milford, Massachusetts;  Community Covenant Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Evangelical  Covenant Church in Princeton, Illinois; Our Savior’s Covenant Church in  Oak Forest, Illinois; Covenant Congregational Church in North Easton,  Massachusetts; Excelsior Covenant Church in Excelsior, Minnesota; and  Bethesda Covenant Church in Rockford, Illinois.

He has served on the Board of the Ordered Ministry, the board of  Covenant Ministries of Benevolence, the board of Church Growth and  Evangelism, the Council of Religious Leaders in Chicago and the Covenant  Council of Superintendents, among other activities.

Copyright © 2011 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

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