The death of Pastor Jim Harvey this week marks the third setback for church-based social activism in Lodi in less than a year.
Harvey, pastor at Lodi Community Church of God on Turner Road since 1995, died suddenly Monday at his home at the age of 54.
In August, Norm Mowery stepped down as pastor of First United Methodist Church after 11 years. He is taking a 10-month sabbatical, but the regional United Methodist Church Conference dictates that if Mowery returns as a pastor, it must be at a different church.
Also in August, James R. "Bo" Crowe, a popular pastor at United Congregational Christian Church, left Lodi to become senior pastor at a large church in New York City.
Harvey, Mowery and Crowe championed efforts for social reform and justice in Lodi.
They participated, either directly or behind the scenes, in the Breakthrough Project, a group formed after a cross burning took place on the lawn at Tokay High School in 1998.
They were also involved in a grass-roots effort to socially unite Christians, Muslims and Jews in what became called a Celebration of Abraham last June. Mowery, Crowe and Harvey signed a document called a Declaration of Peace, which basically promotes respect for the philosophical, cultural and religious differences among Christians, Jews and Muslims.
The group decided to focus on Abraham because he was an integral figure in all three religions.
"I don't see the leaders speaking out today on justice issues," said Mowery, who still lives in Lodi and remains a Lodi Unified School District trustee. "Where is the leadership in that? You know, I really don't know. Is it our leaders are not standing up, or have the issues just changed?"
Randy Rosa, a Lodi attorney who is active in social issues, said he thinks Lodi has what it takes to fill the large shoes vacated by Harvey, Mowery and Crowe.
"One of the things I've noticed in life is when someone steps down, someone steps up. The only question is who it will be," Rosa said.
"Lodi is a community that has grown tremendously," he said. "There will be people who will fill the wonderful shoes of these wonderful men."
Rosa cited examples of pastors who have taken over community leadership roles. They include Michele Bagby of United Congregational Christian Church, Alan Kimber of First United Methodist Church, Steve Newman of First Baptist church and Ken Fujimoto of the Buddhist Church of Lodi.
Although he has been a pastor in Lodi for six months, Kimber has already made his mark, addressing segregation in his native South Africa during Lodi's Celebration of Unity on Martin Luther King Day, Rosa said.
Civic leaders including Mayor Susan Hitchcock and City Councilmen Keith Land and Larry Hansen are Breakthrough Project supporters as well, Rosa said. And Taj Khan of Lodi Muslim Mosque has increased his role as a community leader, and there are others in the community, Rosa said.
Kevin Suess, who is filling the big shoes left by Harvey's death in his role as interim pastor, admits that some churches aren't as community active as others at feeding the hungry and helping the homeless, but he doesn't see it as necessarily a bad thing.
"Sometimes the Christian community has been criticized for that, but I don't think that's a fair criticism," Suess said.
"Church is a Christian version of Baskin-Robbins," he said. "Sometimes people want vanilla or jamocha almond fudge, and we may or may not serve that at our church.
"That's not to say you can't get ice cream at our church," Suess said. "It may not be the flavor that you want."
Mowery and Rosa say that leadership is continuing with the Breakthrough Project with Pastor David Hill of Grace Presbyterian Church leading the way.
Leaders in last year's Celebration of Abraham continued their spirit of cultural diversity recently by celebrating the bar mitzvah of the son of Rabbi Jason Gwasdoff of Temple Israel in Stockton. Mowery and his wife, Linda, Rosa and his family, Khan and two other members of the Lodi Muslim Mosque joined Gwasdoff and other Jews in the bar mitzvah celebration.
Rosa has been busy in not only making Lodi's Celebration of Abraham an annual event, but spreading the word to other communities. He's met with religious leaders in Stockton and Modesto and plans to discuss the idea with leaders in Yolo County, Bakersfield and San Diego.
Natalie Reyes of the Baha'i Faith of Lodi is optimistic that progress made with the pastors will continue.
"We hope that the impetus given by these community leaders will be a continuing influence in the community and that more people will take up the causes they held so dear and promoted so ably," Reyes said.
"We trust that others will rise to the challenges facing Lodi as it grows more ethnically diverse and that they will help to bring the community into a united whole," Reyes said.
Reyes said the Baha'i Community of Lodi will continue to promote cultural and ethnic diversity through the Breakthrough Project and the annual "Celebration on Central," a street fair on South Central Avenue designed to promote racial and cultural unity.
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