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The Aftermath of Leaving Renewal Magazine

My leaving Renewal Magazine was a long process that began in late 1965. At the apex of the magazine's rise to considerable success, the Chicago City Missionary Society itself began to grow in national prominence. It eventually renamed itself  the Community Renewal Society. In the process overtures came to expand Renewal Magazine and I agreed to add a New York office and to bring on Jim McGraw as New York Editor. Growth of the magazine continued but I was less and less at ease with the direction we were taking. Precisely when this was happening, I began to work on my book The Grass Roots Church. In the summer of 1965 I took my family to Europe and worked exclusively on the book, It became pretty obvious to me that Renewal could function without me. Jim was a well-connected and capable editor and a good writer. I had made some initial overtures to see if we might consolidate the progressive media - uniting Renewal with Christianity and Crisis and The Christian Century - but there were no takers for this idea. The upshot was that as 1966 dawned  I had at some level already said goodby to Renewal as the vehicle for whatever it was I might want to achieve. It happened that a prominent renewalist from the World Council of Churches spoke to our staff and that as I rode down in the elevator with him, I said, Hey Albert, when am I coming to Geneva. It took about three weeks to arrive at a decision to move lock stock and barrel to Geneva and become editor of yet another publication RISK. But the break was not complete. I remained Editor at Large and Renewal continued to flourish. In fact it widened its scope since I was able to include some material from abroad, notably discussions of ekistics and C. A. Doxiadis and material on development which I was working on in Geneva.  My time in Geneva was personally volatile. I became anxious and subject to panic attacks. I was confused about things. I felt the World Council was a largely irrelevant island where one could live pleasantly forever. And that the action was all back in the US of A. I became close friends with the incoming head of the WCC, Eugene Carson Blake, but even his offer of a job working directly with him could not conquer my reservations. I moved back to Chicago and shared the editorship of Renewal with Jim and took to the road to defend the premises of the newly-published Grass Roots Church. As I look back, it is hard to avoid the fact that I had a profound ambivalence problem. I was ambivalent about the church, Ambivalent about a career. And ambivalent in general. It amazes me today to think of how I might have acted if knew then what I know now. Then too, one might suggest that I was being swept along,  along with everyone else, by events. By 1967 the fissures that would help turn the 1960s into a trauma ward were palpable. The notion that the center could hold, that the mainline churches could exert influence, that the Civil Rights movement could win - all these were no longer tenable. Most of the premises of renewal were therefore equally tenuous. We essentially sleepwalked through the months that culminated in the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. I had corresponded with Bobby Kennedy when in Geneva and I believe I was among the first to seriously propose that he run in 1968. I had interviewed Martin Luther King but by now Renewal magazine had dipped its finger into the growing factionalism of the time. We had opposed King's's move to Chicago. It was in the shadow of the assassinations that I wrote a letter of resignation, setting the end of summer 1968 as the date of leaving. I should mention that the Society had moved its offices and expanded and my reaction to that was largely negative. It seemed to me that something was being lost. The Society had become more a bureaucracy. My reason for leaving was clear - it was to dig deeper into the crisis I was feeling every day. Renewal would continue until the early 1970s when it eventually would move to New York and  to the National Committee of Black Churchmen where it soon expired. I did not follow it after leaving Chicago. In a later conversation with Don Benedict, I said to him, Maybe I never should have left. And he agreed emphatically. But we were talking about a project that was already destined to end within a few years of its beginning. And I lacked the capacity at the time to guide it any differently. The Society survived as a largely secular agency in Chicago doing good work there. Christian renewalist journalism is almost nowhere to be found. Christianity and Crisis bit the dust. The theological problem I saw at the time was not simply the inadequate theology of the church at large. It was also the failure of any opponent to arrive at anything that had traction. There was no counter-movement. The result is today's largely right-wing tending church. It took a long time to come to terms with the theological piece of this narrative. I don't think a day has passed since leaving Renewal that I have not  been  moving toward what these days is at least a framework, a framework that, had I had it then, might have altered everything.

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