Ahern: New pastor at Bethany Union Church in Beverly
By Patti Ahern Citizen Journalistfirstname.lastname@example.org December 26, 2013 3:56PM
The Rev. Lawrence M. Cameron is the new pastor at Bethany Union Church in Chicago's Beverly community. | Supplied photo
Updated: January 30, 2014 6:19AM
Bethany Union Church’s new pastor, the Rev. Lawrence M. Cameron, is an eclectic individual.
He has written nine books ranging from theology to counseling to a children’s book, is passionate about faith and counseling, is sympathetic to people who have attention deficit disorder, believes strongly in education and likes turtles.
That’s not all. Cameron also has several academic degrees. He has a bachelor’s degree in religious studies, a Master of Divinity degree, a doctorate in ministry and pastoral care and counseling and a doctorate in religious and theological anthropology.
“I have lots of paper to hang on the wall,” said Cameron, who has 30 years of experience in the fields of ministry and mental health counseling. “I’m always learning, and I continue to enjoy academia.”
Cameron, 54, came to Bethany Union, 1750 W. 103rd St., in Chicago’s Beverly community, in October, after longtime Pastor William O’Donnell passed away last year. Cameron now officiates at the church that he says is filled with people, and “everybody is a former something.”
“We have former Roman Catholics, Methodists, everything. We are not exclusive in any form, and we embrace grace and transformation,” Cameron said.
Chuck Diddia, chairman of Bethany’s life board, said the search for a pastor took about a year.
“It was a very thorough search, and after receiving many applicants, we decided that Pastor Cameron was the best-suited candidate to lead us into the next phase in the life of Bethany Union Church, which is now 142 years old,” Diddia wrote in an email.
“We strongly felt he was equipped to help us grow in numbers as well as spiritually. We are happy to have Pastor Cameron with us,” Diddia wrote. “His sermons have been inspirational; his leadership, planning and energy level is beyond what was expected in the short time he has been with us. We look forward to a long and fruitful ministry with his and God’s help.”
In some ways, Cameron’s journey to Bethany began at a young age. Growing up in the Midwest, Cameron said that in the second grade he knew he would either be a minister or a turtle farmer.
“I was a strange and odd little kid back in those days,” he said. “I think my mom could be eligible for sainthood because of me. I was always in trouble and not knowing why. My perception and inquisitiveness made me ask questions that for me were important but didn’t seem important to others my age.”
Cameron said neither he nor his parents realized he had attention deficit disorder. While ADD2 made his childhood somewhat difficult, as an adult Cameron learned that ADD, which he calls Attention Gift Order, was an energy he could harness and use to his advantage in terms of earning his degrees, writing books and relating to other people.
“I was a curious little oddball, but I think that I grew up being empathetic and this developed at an early age. I think I have an affinity toward people who know themselves as being broke, wounded and real,” he said.
At 23, Cameron’s first job after earning his undergraduate degree was to work at an addiction counseling center in Ohio. He expected to “push a mop or sweep the office” but instead was hired as an outpatient therapist.
“I did not have a clue,” Cameron said. “I immersed myself in recovery ministries and met some of the most real and alive people I’ve ever met.”
After a year in that position, he was appointed to work as a minister for three churches in rural Ohio. After doing so, he expected to be given a church full time, but instead he joined the Army and stayed for three years, working as an MP and earning the rank of sergeant.
Once out of the Army, Cameron worked as a therapist for a probate court in Michigan, helping juveniles and their families. At the same time, he began working on his doctorate in pastoral care and counseling and worked as a senior pastor as well.
When he received his call from Bethany, he was in private practice in Indiana, consulting in the field of community mental health.
“I am settling in and getting my feet on the ground to see what is needed here,” Cameron said. “I’ve only been here since October, so I am still discerning. There are lots of possibilities to implement, but I can’t do everything all at once so I am listening to the people and discerning the Spirit to lead me.
“The thing I like most about Bethany, though, is the affirmation of diversity,” he said. “My wife (Andrea) is from Jamaica, and I have found that the church, Christianity, has a lot of work to do in the realm of racial equality and acceptance. Most churches are the keepers of the status quo. ... all one race, and it is hard finding something that looks like the kingdom.
“We are a rainbow here,” Cameron said of Bethany’s congregation. “We have black, white, Asian and Hispanic, and the church should be leading this charge and not supporting the all-too-common segregation that keeps them apart, more than theology, doctrine or denomination.
“Here at Bethany, I am going to do as much good as I can and be helpful. At the end of every worship service, I tell people to go out and change the world. It’s a grandiose plan, but if we change ourselves, we are changing the world.
“I want people to know that I’m very conscious and deliberate about not judging, and I hope to receive that in return. I want myself and others to live intentionally, seeking a radical sharing of grace and acceptance.”
For more information about Bethany Union Church, visit them on Facebook.