LAKE STREET CHURCH WELCOMES NEW MINISTER, SOCIAL JUSTICE PIONEER, FATHER OF THREE
After an extensive, multi-year search process, the progressive Lake Street Church is thrilled to welcome Reverend A. Stephen (“Steve”) Van Kuiken as its senior minister, a prophetic social justice pioneer once literally accused of heresy for marrying same-sex couples, and featured in the CNN documentary Fight Over Faith, reported by journalist Carol Marin.
His first sermon, delivered January 27, received enthusiastic applause.
Over the course of numerous meetings last fall, Steve impressed the Lake Street community with his quiet vulnerability and authenticity in sharing his own spiritual journey, as well as his deep knowledge, personal courage and amazing fit with the congregation’s values and interests.
With 27 years in the ministry, Steve believes in the power of spiritual communities to impact positive change in the world. He views this as an outer expression of inner awareness – an ability to cultivate awareness of “the inner voice, the inner authority, of the Sacred Reality we call God.”
“We are changed by this Inner Presence when we open ourselves up to it,” says Steve.
“It deepens our awareness, compassion for ourselves and others, and offers a sense of peacefulness, wholeness and greater understanding of our interconnectedness - what it means to be truly human. Becoming more and more aware is our reason to be as a religious community. Lake Street is a community that focuses on the inner authority, engaging that inner voice.”
Steve most recently served as pastor of Rincon United Church of Christ in Tucson, Arizona.
Steve was in the local and national news while serving as pastor of the progressive Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati from 1999 to 2002. He had been recruited by the congregation, in part, to challenge church doctrine that forbade same-gender marriage.
“My congregation and I engaged in ecclesiastical disobedience, following in the tradition of Martin Luther King, to disobey unjust laws. We saw these as unjust laws of the denomination. When you engage in civil disobedience, you have to engage openly, lovingly and willing to accept the penalty. The purpose of civil disobedience is to raise the consciousness of the larger community.”
Steve was formally accused of heresy, and removed from office or “defrocked.” He was one of the religious leaders included in a 2004 CNN documentary, Fight Over Faith, produced by Don Moseley.
Ironically, during the controversy and related publicity, Mount Auburn saw attendance soar, notes Steve.
Steve was ultimately vindicated and reinstated, but chose to leave the Presbyterian Church, which still does not allow same-sex marriage ceremonies.
The experience, which he said, “cost me everything – my income, my identity as a preacher,” lead to a deepening spiritual study, particularly contemplative traditions, meditation, reading the mystics, and “a much more profound life-giving experience of God and the presence of the Sacred.”
Steve became the organizing pastor of The Gathering, an alternative, progressive Christian church in Cincinnati, serving it before joining Rincon.
The core concerns of Steve’s ministry have been economic justice and worker rights, affordable housing, health care, immigration and LGBT equality; an interest in mysticism and contemplation, recent Jesus scholarship and dialog with other religious traditions.
Steve says it is exciting to be “part of a community that gets it,” and that he looks forward to helping “Lake Street continue to become who it is, and live into its covenant.
“This is a church that values independent thought, the freedom to ask questions. This is a church that likes heretics, ” says Steve, who had read the book by its previous minister, Rev. Robert V. Thompson, A Voluptuous God: A Christian Heretic Speaks when it was published several years ago.
While meeting with the church’s Senior Minister Search Committee, Steve shared his belief that “Ministry at its core is about transformation. The church exists as an agent of transformation on both a personal and global level.”
Steve has served as pastor to four Presbyterian congregations and two United Church of Christ Congregations. He earned his B.A. at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and his Master of Divinity degree from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
He and his wife, Jenn Hackman and daughter Isa live in Evanston. He is also the father of two adult children, and the son of a minister.
Rev. Dr. Douglas Sharp has served as Part-Time Head of Staff and then Interim Minister for the last two years during the search for a new Senior Minister. The congregation is deeply grateful for his service.
Lake Street Church is known for its popular annual interfaith World Community Sunday, celebrating all faiths and active social justice committee.
Lake Street Church, which is led by elected lay co-directors, is a vibrant community of independent thinkers and learners with wide interests. Members create and offer an array of intriguing programs, study groups and events on such topics as meditation, mysticism, creation stories, why evil exists, The Baghavad Gita, dreams, music, Spanish language, Dances of Universal Peace, gender-based affinity meetings, equinox celebrations and outside speakers, such as the Medium for the Oracle of the State of Tibet.
Founded in 1858, Lake Street Church is welcoming and affirming and includes members from sixteen spiritual traditions. Formerly The First Baptist Church of Evanston, it is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches. The current church building, which opened its doors in 1875, is Evanston’s oldest public building and hosts Connections for the Homeless. The Lake Street Church offers weekly services on Sunday at 10:30, and many other weekly programs. It is located at 607 Lake Street in Evanston, Illinois. For more information:www.lakestreet.org, 847-864-2181.