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Rev. Barbara Lohrbach named 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award Winner
Story by: Charles Jefferson
April 11, 2018
Mother, friend, mentor, pastor. These are some of the names Rev. Barbara Lohrbach is known by. For the last 14 years, Barbara has served as pastor of St. John United Church of Christ (UCC) in Kankakee.
When Barbara first came to St. John UCC, it was a community seeking revitalization. Attendance was low and its future was uncertain. It was a congregation in need of missional redevelopment. Her daughter, Sarah Lohrbach (MDiv ‘14), describes the transformation, “With gentleness, wisdom, and patience, Barbara helped the congregation grow and heal spiritually to find a place of wholeness and grace.”
Barbara begin her studies at CTS in 1998. At that point, she had been serving as a church music director and, like many students at CTS, was in a transitional period in her life. She says there were many people along her path who encouraged her to enroll in seminary.
“I kept saying, ‘No, I don’t need to go seminary,’” Barbara said. “As it kept coming up, I had a couple of friends, both pastors, who said, ‘We’re going to take you on a trip to CTS.’”
Barbara eventually made that trip to CTS where she met with Professor W. Dow Edgerton and sat in on his class. As Barbara puts it, she kept coming up with excuses as to why she shouldn’t attend seminary, but finally, the pastor at the church where she worked told her to apply; and she did.
“I got accepted and then someone came forward and said [they] wanted to help me go, and paid for my first two classes,” Barbara said.
Over the course of the next several years, Barbara describes her experience at CTS as eye-opening and says it helped her open up to a God far more expansive than she could have imagined.
Upon completion of her degree program, Barbara met with Dr. Lee H. Butler, Jr., to map out goals and a career trajectory for the future. It was in their search to find a church position, that they stumbled upon St. Johns UCC. Looking at the church’s long history and issues in the past, Barbara wasn’t sure of the church’s future.
“[Lee] sat down with me and we looked at the [church] profile, and he said, ‘You can do this,’” Barbara said. Butler encouraged her further, telling her, “You’ve got the gift of ministry. You came to seminary with some of those gifts and they have been nurtured.”
Reflecting on her four years at CTS, Barbara says that her time here prepared her for entering into a new phase of ministry.
“The classes [at CTS], the Biblical studies and all the hot button issues were not pushed aside in the education I received,” Barbara said. “If anything, these were challenges we were expected to engage in.
This has shown greatly in Barbara’s work as pastor at St. Johns UCC. She’s led groups of churches in community vigils at in the wake of shootings and violence, and on several occasions, she’s been asked to speak. In 2013, Barbara was awarded Pastor of the Year from the Academy of Parish Clergy after her congregation secretly nominated her.
In addition to the last 14 years at St. Johns, 2018 marks the 20th year that Barbara has directed summer camp for the Illinois Conference UCC Outdoor Ministries.
“Barbara is truly dedicated to living a life of faith, service, and extravagant love. She has a gift for bringing people together and helping to lift up the gifts of others,” wrote Sarah, when nominating her mother for the Distinguished Alumni Award. “She is deeply embedded into the fabric of her community because of her constant presence, participation, and commitment to helping make our community and our world a better, more just place.”
Chad R. Schwickerath
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