Rev. Dean Kucera has been pastor of First United Church of Christ, at Harvard and Elgin, for six years. But he is much more than a minister. Kucera is a gifted musician, artist and sculptor. He’s also a bit of a rebel against modern culture. Instead of promoting his accomplishments, Kucera is very private (he wouldn’t even be photographed for this article) and pursues his passions for strictly personal reasons.

“I do it for me,” he declared, while brushing blue paint on an old wooden crucifix. When asked why he doesn’t exhibit his remarkable creations, he asks, “Who cares about my artwork?” 

Well, his parents for one. “My dad knew I’d be an artist someday,” Kucera recalled. His parents emigrated from Hungary. He’s a “Czech-mix,” his father from Bratislava, which is now part of the Czech Republic.

Kucera is intent on keeping Hungarian culture alive. He speaks Magyar, Hungarian and Czech and spent time living in Budapest. “I gave lectures in Transylvania and Rumania as a clinical psychologist,” he said. “I was a mental health provider rather than a pastor” though he finds the two professions often overlap. He has also integrated his art and music into his ministry.

He was about 10 years old when he first tried the piano. 

“I just sat down and played ‘Liebestraum’ by Franz Lizt. It was my grandmother’s favorite and I played it by ear.” 

Kucera was also precocious with a brush — a skill he inherited from Joseph, his father. 

“My dad carved wood, painted oils and acrylics. He taught me carving skills and let me experiment with oil and watercolors. He approved of my art and didn’t interfere.” While his dad nurtured his love for art and beauty, his mom gave him his intellectual curiosity.  

Kucera painted an oil on wood for his father, titled, “Hungarian Fire Dance.” 

“You can feel the heat, the ambience and the movement,” he said. Joseph Kucera was only 62 when he passed away but he left a lasting legacy. “He gave me more than a heritage to be proud of,” Kucera said, “but a love for expressing it.” 

He isn’t only attracted by Eastern European culture. He feels a strong bond with the Jewish faith as well. “I got my doctorate in Jewish theology from the University of Chicago,” he said. “Something inside me resonated with Jewish belief.” 

His art is a reflection of his faith. He carved a very lifelike Ark of the Covenant and decorates his house with the Star of David. He identifies most with messianic Jews, those who see Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of Jewish faith. 

Kucera expresses his Christian faith through his wood-working. He created meticulous models of European cathedrals and castles. He also used needlework as a sermon illustration. He held up the piece displaying the backside. “It looks like a bunch of threads. We see a mess.” Then he turned it around to show a lovely floral pattern. His message was that people look at themselves as being a mess but God sees their beauty. 

Although he is highly educated, Kucera preaches in down-to-earth terms. “I don’t speak in abstract concepts or about deep theological things. I talk about everyday life, like the feeling we get when we’re lost. Then we talk about how the Israelites must have felt, being lost for 40 years.”

He delivers traditional Bible-based sermons and is not a fan of liberal churches. He’s also very traditional as an art lover. He cited some examples from the Museum of Modern Art. “We need to redefine art, or it has no meaning.” He believes our meaningless culture is contributing to the “lostness of people.” 

He also rejects the modern notion that just because something is old, it’s disposable. 

“I find wood pieces and restore them. I found a mantle clock and stripped it. My friend said, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know it could look like that.'” He has the perceptual ability to look at a painting or building and break it down. He doesn’t measure when he does his woodworking. He perceives images in terms of light and shadows. 

Kucera recounted visiting an art museum in Budapest, which he described as “stunning.” The visit also showed him he had much to learn about art. “How do you recreate glass in an oil painting? How do you get the eyes right to show the spirit of the person?”

Painting, woodworking, sculpture, stitching, pencil drawing, Kucera keeps three projects going at the same time. “It helps me not to get bored. I also need a break to reconsider. Sometimes you’re too close to be your own best critic.” He can certainly be critical of his creations and thinks nothing of erasing a painting that took weeks and starting over. 

As for his ministry, he sees that, “Art in the church is a must. We have to have people express their art in church. Art expresses the creativity of humans.” It is a marriage of Kucera’s two passions. “You can’t have faith without beauty. God created the world to be a portrait.” It’s up to the artist to capture its beauty.

In addition to sharing visual beauty with his congregation, he plays the piano and organ at each service. Though he doesn’t play for the public, Kucera is considering joining the bill for the next community concert. He’d like to play classic hymns on the organ. 

But he’s never displayed his artwork to the public. “I only show it to friends, family and church-goers.” This also might change, however, as he plans to exhibit pieces at a local art show. That would be uncharacteristic for Rev. Dean Kucera but it would fit his theology: Sharing his creations with the community would make Forest Park a more beautiful place.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.