It has been said maybe God wants us to meet a few wrong people before meeting the right one. So that when we finally meet the right people we will know how to be grateful. This is certainly true when it comes to ministers. Oftentimes people find themselves searching for that right church and minister. And when they find it, their faith and trust cannot be shaken.
This is how the parishioners at Austin's Mandell United Methodist Church feel about their minister Rev. Gregory S. Livingston. Even the young people love Rev. Livingston, as it was explained by one of the young members, Demetrice Bernard Beal. Bernard was so excited that his pastor was being interviewed, he told the Austin Weekly News "I love it here."
Many things captured our attention about Dr. King. One of those things was his powerful and captivating speaking voice. Rev. Gregory Livingston has a voice in this same captivating style. Livingston has been the pastor of Mandell United, 5000 West Congress Parkway since July of 2004.
Since coming to Mandell, Livingston has been very involved with Austin and greater West Side. He recently succeeded Rev. Lewis Flowers as CEO of the Westside Ministers Coalition. Rev. Flowers currently serves as chairman.
AWN: Prior to your ministry, did you have another career?
Rev. Livingston: I use to work in the stock market here in Chicago from the 1980s until the 1990s. When I stopped to attend the seminary. But I work with some investment firms like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers; places like that. That was the time when there were a lot of takeovers, mergers and acquisitions so it was an exciting time being involved in the business world, and what you did for a living you read about it in the headlines in the morning newspapers. But God told me I had to do this, so that is what I did."
AWN: Why did you choose the ministry and was it part of your family heritage?
Rev. Livingston: It was something in my family heritage. I didn't want it. My daddy is a preacher; granddaddy is a preacher, my great-granddaddy is a preacher, and so I didn't want to be bothered with that. I didn't want my life to be limited or be in the spotlight so I tried my best. But then I learned I didn't choose it, it chose me, but I'm glad. It's a great privilege. I love the fact that God gives me a group of people to speak to every Sunday. I count it as a great honor and privilege and I'm very humble.
AWN: What about your father?
Rev. Livingston: Yes, he's a pastor. His church is on the Southside: St. Peter Church of God and Christ at 127th and State Street. He's been a pastor for over 30 years. My father is Rev. Seal Livingston, my mother is Minnie Pearl and I have one sister Lola Belle Connors - no brothers.
AWN: And your family?
Rev. Livingston: I have no children, presently. I'm not married. I do want to get married.
AWN: What's the good thing about being a minister?
Rev. Livingston: I think it's giving people hope and being able to see their lives transform. Letting them know there is no situation too bad, nothing that is so dire or despicable that can't be redeemed and turned around. And I love when people can go from being sad to happy, developing them, poor in spirit to rich in spirit. And so it's just a blessing to see the people who are suffering and oppressed become free."
AWN: Under your leadership at the WMC, what are some of your goals for the Austin community?
Rev. Livingston: With the Westside Ministers Coalition the great thing we have happening now is the opening of the high school at the Austin High School campus in September of '06 ?" The Austin Business and Entrepreneurial Academy. We recently met with Allstate. They are going to be our corporate partner at the school, offering internships, funds and everything else. We're also looking at the youth multiplex we're building. We have an architect and everyone in place. Right now we're looking at some of the funding strategies to get that done. That's a $25 million project. The other thing we're working on is a senior's home and so we're working with a construction company and a financier. Right now, we're in the acquisition stage.
AWN: What are some of the challenges you face as a minister to your church, as well as challenges from your community work?
Rev. Livingston: Some of the challenges have been when the people are broken, wounded, sold out and left out of everything else. I believe if I can just model and teach that if you organize the people, you organize the money. If you organize the people and organize the money ?" something Mr. Bailey taught me ?" you have power. Mr. Bailey would just constantly preach to me 'organize, organize, organize the people Reverend'. And he's right. (Ed Bailey, founder of South Austin Coalition, died Nov. 20, 2005)
AWN: As a minister and community leader people come to you for many things. Who do you seek support from?
Rev. Livingston: My father and a person who has gone on, Mr. Bailey. I used to be assistant pastor of Second Baptist Church in Evanston, Ill. when Rev. Hycel Taylor was there. Dr. Taylor and I are still close, and I talk to him about different things. I grew up under Bishop Lewis Ford. He ordained my daddy in 1959, and ordained me in 1981. So I look back to him a lot in terms of what he was able to accomplish.
AWN: With so many problems in Austin what would you list as the three areas needing immediate attention?
Rev. Livingston: Health, education and jobs. I think some of the negative things in Austin are drugs and a lot of negative behaviors could really be slowed down if the people had better health care because you need a foundation of health to do anything. You need the knowledge from an education and a job to put money in your pocket. So we're trying to create jobs. One of the things we started here at the church with the Westside Ministers Coalition is an employment center. It will be open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. A person doesn't come into this world saying I want to sell drugs ?" it becomes an act of desperation. We're going to make this thing work so that people can get employment.
AWN: In 2004, a few Austin schools were involved in after school fights and disruptive behavior. What is the status of these schools now?
Rev. Livingston: It was really powerful to see the community get involved in trying to help the children stop hurting each other. I don't believe the kids would act that way if they knew better and our thing was how to help them know better. It was a wonderful effort. I also have to admit that Michael Scott, the school board president and Arne Duncan the CEO were very cooperative with us. The principals of May and Bob Vondrasek, Theresa Welch and Mr. Bailey from SACCC were all out there helping.
AWN: Do you have a relationship with the area police district?
Rev. Livingston: Oh yes, (15th District) Commander Al Wysinger. Also, A.D. S. Williams and even first Deputy Starks. The police department here has worked together with us wonderfully.
AWN: Have you heard the concerns that the people of Oak Park are going to buy up property in Austin?
Rev. Livingston: When I hear this I say I can't blame them. Austin is beautiful. You can't rebuild these structures for the price they were built 40 or 50 years ago. Austin has some of most beautiful houses and structures. Columbus Park is one of the biggest secrets in Chicago. The refectory is just gorgeous. My thing is we better just get ready to stand up and say, 'No, this is ours,' and take care of what is ours and enjoy it. I found out something. I spent two weeks on an Apache reservation when I worked at DePaul University. A Medicine Man said to me, 'Big brother, don't be so arrogant to think that what happened to my people can't happen to yours.' So the way of the world is, those that have keep getting, those that don't have keep loosing it. So the thing is to become a have, and I believe through the Gospel we are taught how to go from a lesser state to a greater state. Every community, every culture has had to go through something. The bottom line to that is understanding the nature of power ?" how to get it and how to keep it."