Memoir: Rev. Gregory Robert Dell

By Jade Dell

Personal Life, Early Period

Gregory Robert Dell was born in Blue Island, Illinois, a southwest suburb of Chicago, on December 28, 1945 to Anthony Dell, a railroad worker and police officer, and Jeannette Bingham Dell, a church secretary.

Greg was a Boy Scout and spent many summers as a counselor, swimming coach and sailing teacher at a Boy Scout camp in Benton Harbor, Michigan. He achieved the highest rank of Eagle Scout, and always said that he would either be a professional scout or a pastor.

The Dell family attended the Midlothian United Methodist Church beginning in the early 1960s, where the Pastor Donnell Jenkins preached about racism and the importance of fighting for social justice. Greg was an active member of Midlothian UMC. Against his parents’ wishes, Greg and his best friend from high school marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Berwyn, Illinois. King was fighting for housing equality in the north. Greg remembered being spit upon and screamed at by angry white mobs along the street.

Educational Background

In 1963, Greg left home to attend Illinois Wesleyan University on a theological scholarship, becoming the first person in his extended family to attend college. He met spouse, Jade Luerssen, on the very first day of classes. Greg graduated in 1967, cum laude with a BA in Religion-Philosophy and moved to Durham, North Carolina to attend the Divinity School at Duke University. During his graduate studies, Greg was nearly kicked out for organizing a service in the Duke Chapel following Dr. King’s assassination in 1968. Greg graduated, magna cum laude, with an MDiv in 1970.

Ecclesiastical Appointments

Greg returned to Illinois to serve the Community United Methodist Church in Naperville, Illinois. He was ordained elder in 1970 and became a member of the Northern Illinois Conference. In 1971, Jade and Greg’s son Jason was born in Hinsdale, Illinois at the closest hospital that would allow fathers to be present in the delivery room.

In 1973, Greg was appointed to the Minooka United Methodist Church, a very active, small rural congregation. On Tuesday mornings, he could be found sitting with the older women who met to weave rag rugs for missions. They always fed him pie. In 1977, Greg traveled to Cuba and learned about the challenges and successes of the Castro government first-hand. When he returned, he developed a slideshow program that painted a very different picture of Cuban life from what American newspapers were reporting.

In 1978, Greg was appointed to Wheadon United Methodist Church in Evanston. In 1980, Greg was invited to travel to Iran with a diverse delegation of 50 Americans during the Hostage Crisis. He was included in the group of 12 who met directly with the hostages, and he brought home letters and delivered them to families who lived in Illinois. Ed Bradley from “60 Minutes” came to the Evanston parsonage living room to do an interview with Greg the day after he got back.

In 1983, the Wheadon congregation voted to become a Public Sanctuary Church for refugees from Central America. The church illegally harbored 3 men from El Salvador and Guatemala who had fled repressive regimes supported by the U.S. government. Later, Wheadon became one of the first Nuclear Weapon Free Zones, and eventually also voted to become a Reconciling Congregation, welcoming gay and lesbian people into the full life and ministry of the church. Greg conducted his first Holy Union service at Wheadon.

In 1985, Greg was appointed to Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church in Oak Park, Illinois. During Greg’s pastoral appointment, Euclid adopted an Inclusive Language Policy, became a Reconciling Congregation, and was one of the initiating congregations in the area’s first homeless shelter program (Tri-Village PADS, now called “Housing Forward”). In 1987, Greg, Jade, and Jason traveled to Nicaragua during the U.S.-funded Contra war. They made presentations all over Northern Illinois, sharing with local churches and communities what they had witnessed of the Revolution in Nicaragua.

Greg made other international fact finding trips to China, Israel, the West Bank, Lebanon and Jordan. He was also arrested multiple times for acts of civil disobedience, protesting wars in Central America, the Apartheid Regime in South Africa, and the anti-LGBTQ policies of the United Methodist Church.

In 1995, Greg was called to Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago, a lively congregation in Lakeview, also known then as “Boys’ Town,” where about 30% of the congregation was gay or lesbian. In 1999, Greg faced an ecclesiastical trial for violating the United Methodist prohibition against conducting services of Holy Union for same sex couples. He was found guilty of “Disobedience to the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church” and suspended indefinitely from pastoral office. He was told that the suspension would end when he promised not to perform any more such services. Greg, in conversation with Jade, steadfastly refused to do so. On appeal, the suspension was amended to one year, and he returned to Broadway UMC for six more years. There was widespread media coverage of the charges against Greg, the trial, and the appeal.

BroadwayAwardToGreg2015.jpg

photo of plaque honoring Greg
Jade Dell

Text on plaque:

In honor of the ministry of Rev. Gregory Dell

Teacher + Preacher + Prophet serving Broadway 1995-2007

We stand on your shoulders to proclaim justice!

Broadway United Methodist Church

dedicated 15 March 2015

In March of 2015, Broadway UMC celebrated its 125th Anniversary by highlighting its history, storytelling, commemorating “Bloody Sunday” and remembering its ancestors. Greg was recognized as one of Broadway's ancestors with a memorial plaque which is now displayed in the Fellowship Hall.

Northern Illinois Conference and Other Church-Related Offices Held

Member of Annual Conference Committee, Conference Council on Ministries, and Conference Personnel Committee, 1974-77.

Chairperson, Conference Board of Church and Society, 1974-77.

National Vice-President, Northern Illinois Chapter, Methodist Federation for Social Action, 1977-80.

Treasurer/Member of Steering Committee, National United Methodist “Coalition for The Whole Gospel,” 1979-81.

Teacher, Northern Illinois Conference School of Christian Missions, 1979.

National Co-President, Methodist Federal for Social Action, 1980-82.

Co-Coordinator, General Conference Legislation and Strategy, National Methodist Federation for Social Action, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992.

Supervising Pastor for Deacons’ Ordination Candidates, Northern Illinois Conference, 1982-99.

Member, Board of Directors, Shalom Education, 1983-84.

Member, Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry, 1983-84.

Member, Northern Illinois Conference Metropolitan Commission, 1983-94; (President, 1987-89).

Member, Steering Committee, Congregation/Community Organizing Project of Chicago, 1984-87.

Certified Field Education Supervising Pastor, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, 1984; (Supervised students 1980-99).

Counseling Elder / Mentor for Elder’s Ordination Candidates, Northern Illinois Conference, 1984-92, 1994-99.

Member, Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, 1984-92; (Chairperson, Division on Conference Relations, 1988-92).

Secretary, Oak Park-River Forest Community of Churches, 1991-92.

Member Jewish-United Methodist Dialogue Project of the American Jewish Committee and the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, 1991-99.

Delegate, United Methodist North Central Jurisdictional Conference, 1992, 1996, 2000.

Member, United Methodist North Central Jurisdiction Committee on Rules of Order, 1992-96.

Chairperson, Northern Illinois Conference Legislative Section, 1993-96.

Chairperson, “Transforming Congregations” panel of the Bishop’s Conference Task Force, “Many Gifts, One Spirit,” 1993-94.

Adjunct Staff of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois, 1994-99.

Treasurer, National Racial Justice Connection, 1995-97.

Chairperson, Appointment Change Task Force, NIC, 1995-96.

Chairperson, Chicago Northwestern District Superintendency Committee, 1995-99.

Member, Clergy Compensation Task Force, NIC (Convenor of Theology and Housing Sub-Committees), 1996-98.

Member, United Methodist General Commission on Religion and Race (Chairperson, Planning and Evaluation Committee), 1996-99.

Co-Organizer and National Coordinator, In All Things Charity, clergy and laity movement of protest and conscience opposing United Methodist negative policies on sexual orientation, 1996-99.

Member, Executive Committee, United Methodist Jurisdictional Commission on Religion and Race, 1996-2007; (Financial Secretary, 1998-2003, Monitoring Coordinator, 2003-07).

Member, Northern Illinois Conference Governing Committee, 50-person interim Board of Directors for the Annual Conference, 1997-98.

Delegate, United Methodist General Conference, 2000; (Alternate Delegate, 1992, 1996).

Advisory Board, Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, Pacific School of Religion, 2001-06.

National Coordinator, Church Within a Church Movement, 2002-05.

Advisory Board, Equal Partners in Faith, 2003-06.

Visiting Committee, Chicago Theological Seminary, 2004-06.

Advisory Board, Chicago Theological Seminary LGBTQ Religious Studies Center, 2006.

Special Areas of Service Beyond the Local Church

Clinical Consultant, 1979-85 and President, Board of Directors (1982) for the Adult Community Outreach Network, an independent multi-service center for the homeless, ex-psychiatric patients, and other marginalized persons in Evanston, IL. Clinical Consultant, 1979-85. President, Board of Directors, 1982.

On-Call Chaplain at West Suburban Medical Center, Oak Park, Illinois,1987-94.

Resource Person and Speaker: AT&T Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Awareness Programs, 1990-92.

Co-President and Founding Committee Member of the Tri-Village PADS Homeless Shelter Project in Oak Park, Illinois, 1991-94.

Member, Citizens Police Oversight Committee, Village of Oak Park, Illinois (appointment by the Village Board of Trustees), 1992-95. Secretary, 1993-94.

Member, Lakeview Clergy Association, 1995-99, 2000-07.

Organizing Member and Steering Committee Member, Protestants for the Common Good, 1995-97.

Co-Organizer and Facilitator, 23rd Police District Clergy/Police Liaison Group, 1995-96.

Member, Board of Directors, Lakeview Action Coalition, 1997-99, 2000-03, 2005-07.

Pacific School of Religion, Adjunct Professor, 2004-05.

Member, Board of Trustees, Bonaventure House, 2004-05.

Awards Received

Northern Illinois Methodist Federation for Social Action Don Atkinson Award for Social Justice, 1993.

Oak Park-River Forest Volunteer Center “Volunteer of the Year for Persons with Special Needs,” 1994.

Illinois Coalition to End Homelessness Special Recognition Award, 1994.

General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church, National “Faith and Social Action Award,” 1998.

City of Chicago, “Chicago Human Relations Award,” 1999.

United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, “Faith and Social Action Award,” 1999.

Refuse & Resist, “Courageous Resister” Award, 1999.

Horizons, Chicago, “Human First Award,” 1999.

Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa, Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, Illinois, 2000.

Illinois ACLU Gay and Lesbian Rights/AIDS and Civil Liberties Project “John R. Hammell Award,” 2000.

First Annual “Gregory Dell, Justice Award,” Lakeview Action Coalition, Chicago, Illinois, 2007.

Resolution of Appreciation for Justice Work, City Council, Chicago, Illinois, 2007.

Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa, Chicago Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois, 2007.

Lifetime “Freedom Award,” Equality Illinois, 2008.

Gilbert H. Caldwell Justice Ministry Award, Church Within A Church Movement, 2009.

Resolution to honor the life and memory of Reverend Gregory Dell, City Council, Chicago, Illinois, 2016.

Publications

“An Appropriate Time to Die: Euthanasia,” Duke Divinity School Review, Spring, 1970.

“Just Taxes,” engage/social action, June, 1979.

“Where We Be-Long,” engage/social action, March, 1981.

“Should Churches Provide Sanctuary? Yes!,” The Circuit Rider, December, 1984.

“The Children’s Word,” Open Hands, the Journal of United Methodist Reconciling Congregations, Fall, 1988.

“The Liturgy of the People,” Open Hands, the Journal of United Methodist Reconciling Congregations, Winter, 1994.

“Same Gender Services of Holy Union: A Study for Supervision,” Journal of Supervision and Training in Ministry, Vol. 19, 1998-99.

“After the Watershed,” Zion’s Herald, Vol. 174, Issue 1, September/October 2000.

“A Watershed General Conference: Now What?” Christian Social Action, November-December 2000.

“Famous Last Words: Woman Here Is Your Son.” U.S. Catholic, Vol. 66, No.4, April 2001.

Meditations given by Gregory Dell during the Vermeer String Quartet’s performances of Haydn's "The Seven Last Words of Christ" in Young, Richard. Echoes From Calvary. Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.

Personal Life, Late Period

In 1992, after many hours of lessons, Greg received his private pilot’s license and enjoyed flying up and down the Chicago lakefront with family and friends.

In 1997, Greg had the pleasure of performing the wedding for son Jason and Tonya Osborne, who met in 1985 during high school in Oak Park. They combined their last names to form “Delborne” and had two daughters, Olivia born in 2000 and Ramona in 2004. Greg relished his role as a grandpa and became known as “Bubba” to his family.

In 2006, Greg was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and went on Disability in June of 2007. When Parkinson’s symptoms worsened, Greg needed specialized nursing care and moved to Lincolnwood Manor. In May of 2015, Greg and Jade moved to Raleigh, North Carolina to be near the Delborne family. There he celebrated his 70th birthday, saw his granddaughters play soccer and dance, celebrated his son receiving tenure at North Carolina State University, and deepened his relationship with Tonya, who cared for him as if he were her own father.

Greg’s wife Jade and his family, including his sisters Gloria and Laura, were at his side during the last days of his life. At his death on October 30, 2016, Greg and Jade had been married 49 years. Greg requested that his body be cremated in a plain wooden box. His Memorial Service of Celebration was held at the Alice Millar Chapel in Evanston, Illinois, on November 20, 2016, officiated by long-time friend and co-pastor at Broadway United Methodist Church, Rev. Vernice Thorn. A website has been created to share the bulletin and photographs from the service, and reflections of persons who knew Greg.