Tuesday evening I attended my first Gutenberg Award Dinner in Chicago. Since 1952 the Chicago Bible Society has given an award, named after Johannes Gutenberg (1398–1468) the inventor of the movable-type printing press, to a person (or persons) who has made a significant contribution to the work of providing Bibles to people. The first recipient of the award was General Douglas MacArthur (1952). This award was given because of MacArthur’s effort to provide Bibles to the people of Japan at the conclusion of World War II. Since then the Bible Society has honored both national and local leaders who have served the cause of the Bible either in the church or the business and civic world. Well-known recipients have included President Herbert Hoover (1954), Edgar J. Goodspeed (1958), Billy Graham (1962), Frank Laubach (1964), Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1974), Oswald C. J. Hoffmann (1980), Kenneth N. Taylor (1981), Joseph Cardinal Bernardin (1983), Dr. Martin Marty (1986), Francis Cardinal George (1998), C. William Pollard (1999), the former CEO of ServiceMaster and chairman of the Wheaton College Board of Trustees, and Dr. Erwin Lutzer (2007).

The evening was simple, lively and well-done. The place was the lovely downtown Chicago Union League Club. The opportunity to meet fellow Chicagoans, from across many denominations and backgrounds, was a special treat for me. I sat with a former recipient, Dr. George A. Lane, S.J., the former editor-in-chief at Loyola Press. He shared with me the magnificent story of how thousands of former parishioners and friends saved Holy Family Church, a dying parish church, back in 1990. I still remember the news around Christmas of that year but I had never known anything about Fr. Lane or his role in helping save this parish church. This amazing story that received national attention was called “The Miracle on Roosevelt Road” by the media.This story of Holy Family is moving and inspiring. Fr. Lane is a delightful man who also served as the first Catholic member on the board of the Chicago Bible Society Board. I look forward to future opportunities for conversation and fellowship with Fr. Lane.

The Chicago Bible Society Gutenberg awards for 2012 were given to two men. The first was Daniel Swets, a member of First Reformed Church (RCA), in South Holland. This just happens to be the congregation where Anita and I are members, though we live quite far away and worship at a nearby church. Dan is the co-founder and Executive Director of Chicagoland Prison Outreach, an innovative ministry to ex-offenders that provides job training, counseling and spiritual guidance to hundreds of men and women who have been released from state and county incarceration. In 1987 Dan was a businessman who felt God’s call to visit those in prison. Seven years later he left business to serve as the first Executive Director of this ministry. He is a humble, Christ-centered brother with a deep heart for the broken and poor. He has also partnered with Chicago Bible Society in getting the Scriptures into the hands of inmates and former prisoners being discipled by this mission. Dan’s award was presented by Corey Buchanan, a former Cook County inmate who Dan discipled and who now is on the ministry staff at First Reformed Church. This presentation deeply moved me because I know these brothers and several good friends from the church were there to honor Dan. One, Roger Hommes, is a volunteer in this ministry and one of our ACT 3’s best friends.

The second recipient was James H. Skogsbergh, president and chief executive officer of Advocate Health Care, the largest health system in Illinois. Advocate is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the United Church of Christ (UCC). Advocate has been named one of the top health care systems in America and is known for its blend of spiritual and faith based mission linked with excellent medical care. Both Jim and Dan were careful to give God praise and to thank many others who made their work possible.

Chicago Bible Society (CBS) is of particular interest to me because I was recently asked to join the Board of Directors. I am honored to serve this esteemed mission, which began in 1840 when a group of Chicago laymen became concerned about addressing the moral and spiritual problems they saw in the city. Today CBS supplies Scripture and Scripture-related partnerships to thousands of people. It partners with churches, chaplains and other ministries to develop programs to reach those in prison, hospitals and shelters throughout Chicago and Illinois. What is unique, to my way of thinking, is that CBS distributes the Bible without any doctrinal notes. This allows all churches to work with CBS. By this means we can stand together with all Christians and say, in real practice, that we believe the Holy Spirit uses the Bible to transform lives. What a novel idea, eh? This wonderful evening demonstrated another aspect of what missional-ecumenism looks like when Christians work together  to reach the least and the lost.

The four core purposes of CBS fall nicely into the “sweet spot” of an ACT 3 Network type of friendship.

  • To distribute the Scriptures to those who have limited or no access to them due to finances, incarceration, or institutionalization.
  • To provide Bibles and Scripture resources for use in prison and hospital ministries, missions and outreach programs, and to those with special needs.
  • To encourage the serious reading and study of the Bible in order to increase personal understanding of God’s transforming Word.
  • To work in collaboration with churches and ministries to further the reading and understanding of God’s Word.