Drawing inspiration from over 25 years as a minister, Greater St. John Bible Church Pastor Ira Acree recently released his first book, The Man in the Mirror, which hit book stores on Jan. 16.
The 154-page memoir was published by Life to Legacy Publishing, the culmination of five years of planning and one-year of writing by Acree. The primary theme of the book is self-reliance through spiritual awareness.
“Most people who have never heard me preach know me by my activism and fighting for poor people,” said the 45-year-old. “But the importance of looking at yourself and impacting your own life has always been a pivotal part of my sermons. We should hold our elected officials accountable for some of the issues within our community, but we also should look at ourselves as well.”
Among the stories Acree tells in the book is an epiphany that led to a change in his career trajectory while attending Steinmetz High School.
“At that time, I was attending Steinmetz, which was a very racially diverse school, but in the wake of Harold Washington’s 1983 campaign for mayor of Chicago, racial tensions were running high between some of the white and black students,” Acree said.
“It was a polarizing time, and one of my friends from grade school encouraged me to recite a speech at Steinmetz – the famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech by Dr. [Martin Luther] King.” Acree recalled.
He was extremely hesitant at first, as he worried he would not do justice to such a famous and emotional oration, but he eventually decided to do so, and it set into motion a series of events that would shape the rest of his life.
After delivering the speech, Acree was taken aback by the enormous outpouring of praise he received, and he began to feel very much in his element behind the pulpit.
“I had never before considered becoming an ordained minister,” Acree said.
“My goal after high school was to go into politics and make a difference in people’s lives from Washington. However, after delivering the speech at my school, I realized where I can best impact the lives of those around me.”
While attending the University of Illinois, Chicago for his B.A. degree in political science, he realized his true calling was to become a man of the church.
After being ordained in 1984, Acree served as an associate minister at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, under the guidance of Pastor J. I. Miller, 1985-89. There he also met his future wife, Margaret Acree.
In 1989, he became pastor of Greater St. John Holiness Church, which later became Greater St. John Bible Church, located on 1256 N. Waller Ave.
Acree says writing the book represented a unique challenge because he wanted the book to have the same feel and inspirational tone he aspires to in his sermons and at times it was difficult.
“I wanted the book to be accessible to those across various levels of personal experience,” he said. “In church, I can convey a message in a certain way that I know will resonate with the parishioners. In a book, the message has to be clearer and more concise. For example, certain colloquialisms that I would use in church like ‘can I get a witness’ were off-limits.”
Acree says he plans on writing a follow-up in the near future, but right now he hopes readers will be inspired by his message of hope and self-reliance.
“The book is ultimately about not waiting on knights in shining armor to come in and change your lives, whether they be teachers or politicians. We all control our own futures, and we are all accountable for our own actions. This is what I was tapping into.”