Chicago pastor to run for Jackson’s congressional seat

The Rev. Larry Pickens
The Rev. Larry Pickens

A United Methodist pastor in Chicago said he has decided to run in the special election to fill Jesse L. Jackson Jr.’s seat in Congress.

The Rev. Larry Pickens, pastor of Southlawn United Methodist Church, discussed his candidacy with his congregation Dec. 2 and told United Methodist News Service he would make a public announcement this week. The primary for the special election is set for Feb. 26.

Jackson, who was re-elected Nov. 6 to serve Illinois’ second district in the U.S. House of Representatives for a 10th two-year term, resigned two weeks later, citing health reasons.

Pickens, 54, a Chicago native and ordained elder in the United Methodist Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference, said he had not yet determined whether he would run as a Democrat or as an independent.

Pickens, who grew up in Englewood, attended Chicago Vocational High School in the neighborhood where he now resides. He studied political science as an undergraduate and holds two master’s degrees from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., and a doctorate of ministry from Chicago Theological Seminary.

He and his wife, Debra, a financial analyst, have a daughter, Jessica, who is a freshman at the University of Maryland.

Although the bulk of his ministerial career has been in the Chicago area, Pickens has spent more time recently on the East Coast, including three years as the top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns in New York.

“I’ve been away from Chicago for almost eight years, but I have always had an interest in the political situation in the city,” he said.

The African-American pastor — who also has a law degree from DePaul University and was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1997 — views the Congressional seat as another opportunity to serve.

“As a pastor, I’m in really a community-based setting,” Pickens said. “I have a sense of the concern around crime, around employment and building up the economic base of the community. I take from that a sense of knowing there is an important role a congressman can play.”

Pickens is a member of the central and executive committees of the World Council of Churches. “My church experience has prepared me for a very broad kind of leadership in terms of national interests, in terms of social justice concerns and in relation to international concerns,” he explained. “When we talk about some of the issues that face local communities, we’re also doing it in a context of a global economy.”

The last election cycle has shown the importance of having inclusive and consensus-building leaders in congress,” he pointed out. “My experience has always been reflective of that.”

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe

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