‘Maywood is a good place.” That’s what Pastor Leonard Payton declared in his sermon at the ordination of Ron Riley at St. John Lutheran Church on Feb. 22.

Riley, who is retired, was ordained for the specific purpose of planting a new church in Maywood on behalf of St. John Lutheran Church whose building is located in Forest Park. That’s significant, because very few folks from Forest Park, it seems, ever go to Maywood. We might go through it to avoid the Hillside Strangler and pick up I-290 at Mannheim or Wolf Road, but most residents in this town can’t think of one reason why they would see the town across the Desplaines River as a destination.

The biggest tax-revenue generators in Maywood, I’m told, are the fast food restaurants, pharmacy and gas station at the corner of Lake Street and First Avenue. We have all of that here in town. And, of course, Proviso East High School is perceived in this village as an automatic non-starter.

So why bother to start a church there when there’s already a church on every corner, as they say? And especially a Lutheran Church. Black folk don’t become Lutherans is the wisdom on the street, because everybody knows they’re all Baptists, at least the ones who go to church.

Pastor Payton knew that’s what a lot of folks were thinking, so in his sermon he responded with reasons why his congregation has reached out to the town west of the river, some of which follow:

 Maywoodians are our neighbors. And if we love our neighbors as ourselves, we want them to have the same good things we have.

 It’s not a law of nature that people who live in Maywood are Baptists. You know: Fish swim. Birds fly. The Cubs lose. And Maywoodians are Baptists. No.

 Maywood is a good place, a place without the tortured history of Lawndale, or the deep despair and endemic violence of Englewood. Maywood is a long-established African/American community, and so doesn’t suffer the change-producing anxiety of Ferguson, Missouri. Maywood is a good place.

The newly ordained pastor from St. John, backed by his community of faith, sees both the good that’s already there and the possibility of a lot more.

And Pastor Riley isn’t the only one staking a claim in Maywood. Forest Park residents Ned Wagner and Claudia Medina are running for the District 209 school board, which governs Proviso East High School and the Proviso Math and Science Academy, both of which are located just west of the Desplaines River.

The primary motivation for Medina and Wagner does not seem to be spiritual as much as the conviction that they, along with two other allies, can form a majority on what they contend is a dysfunctional school board and actually change the direction of Proviso East. 

“It’s not dewy-eyed optimism,” insists their campaign manager Connie Brown, who is ticked off that she and Matt feel they have to move so their kids can get a good high school education, and she’s determined to not passively accept the situation without a fight.

The newly ordained Pastor Riley with his home church right behind him. Two residents of Forest Park crossing the river to try to change the course of the Titanic before it hits that iceberg.

Call it a hope, a vision, a calling, a moral obligation, enlightened self-interest. A few people believe something good can happen in Maywood. Maybe the tide is turning. Maybe it’s time for the rest of us to do our part, to see the good that’s already there and make it better.

Back when I was a kid, Frank Sinatra sang a little ditty, called “High Hopes,” which just might serve as a theme song for Medina, Wagner and Riley. And maybe the rest of us.

Just what makes that little old ant

Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant?

Anyone knows an ant, can’t

Move a rubber tree plant.

But he’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes

He’s got high apple pie, in the sky hopes.

So any time you’rg gettin’ low

‘Stead of lettin’ go

Just remember that ant.

Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant …