The Lost Renewal Movement of the 1960s Calling the Roll


The following is a no doubt incomplete list of folk who were active in the 1960s and who might be deemed to have been among the seminal folk in what we could call a renewal movement within US mainline Protestantism. By focusing on the folk below I can try to give a general sense of the different vantage points that existed at the time.

Gibson Winter
Don Benedict
Bob Spike
Jim Morton
Peggy Way
Letty Russell
North Side Cooperative Ministry Chicago
George Ralph

Gibson Winter was among the authors whose writings helped move things along. There were several others including Harvey Cox, Pierre Berton, Peggy Way and Lyle Schaller.

Benedict, Spike and Morton were all leaders within key institutions that were located mainly in New York and Chicago. Don was the prime mover, I continue to feel. Jim Morton ran the Urban Training Center in Chicago, Don's brainchild. Bob Spike was an enabling leader who moved in the area of racial justice and had a major role in launching church participation in Mississippi Freedom Summer.(1964). 

Both Peggy Way and Letty Russell were Benedict associates in Chicago and New York City respectively and both did much to pave the way for enhancing the role of women in the church. Renewal Magazine also played a part in this. 

Harvey and Pierre Berton were writers whose welcoming of the secular and the need for new relevance struck a popular chord  

I include Lyle Schaller to note the existence of a small group of leaders who were explicitly involved in structural efforts to bring about renewal. 

George Ralph along with me and others were specialized "ministers". George's effort took local root on the North Side of Chicago, integrating drama and art into the mix. Such ministries along with coffee house efforts are largely part of history now. 

The denominations reflected in the renewal movement were largely  main-line with Presbyterian and United Church of Christ folk prominent. In terms of actual thinking, denominational affiliation meant little or nothing.

We could widen our figures by including the large number who participated in both the civil rights and anti-war movements at the time. Bill Coffin and Dick Fernandez and John Collins played pivotal roles, particularly in Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam. Several thousand may have been actively involved in such efforts.

I should also mention that as the Sixties ended, so too did the commitment of these thousands. Commitment morphed into the sort of benign, distanced tolerance of the last four decades, as society has moved ever more rightward. 

In retrospect, I find myself in a quite constricted space in reflecting on these times. While I was heavily involved in civil rights and other direct action causes, and while I had always been conscientiously opposed to war, I was less interested in the permutations of movements than in the fundamental problem of addressing the church. I felt that this emphasis was being leeched away by the progress of events. I still feel that people have made a living by being a sort of antiphonal counter to the fundamentalist and right wing church rather that criticizing  the basic bankruptcy of the entire ecclesiastical enterprise. I remained and remain interested in what I see as a seismic challenge, one well worth seeing to understand and endorse. Today it is also the challenge facing the US as a whole.

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