Curtiss DeYoung’s unlikely track to leadership of the Minnesota Council of Churches took him from Washington, D.C., to South Africa to Chicago.
He attended divinity school at Howard University, a historically black university where he was one of a tiny minority of white students. The Protestant minister worked at a Catholic youth homeless shelter next to Times Square, living with Franciscan monks.
DeYoung co-authored a book with South African apartheid activist Allan Boesak. His mentor in Chicago, where he most recently worked, was former President Barack Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, he said.
This week, DeYoung was installed as CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches, one of the largest such organizations in the nation, representing an estimated 1 million faithful.
He will be at the forefront of Minnesota’s clergy response to hot button issues such as immigration and race relations. He’ll also be the point person pushing the council’s efforts to tear down barriers between people of different faiths, and working toward common goals.
“My third week on the job was the bombing of the Dar Al-Farooq mosque [in Bloomington] and my fourth week was the rally in Charlottesville,” said DeYoung. “It speaks to a season of divisive and challenging issues. It’s a season in which the faith community can make this a better world.”
DeYoung’s installation ceremony was held Thursday at Park Avenue United Methodist Church, a multiracial congregation that he and his wife, Karen, attend. Guests who joined him at the podium included bishops and top leadership from across the religious spectrum.
Despite his broad background, DeYoung’s deepest ties are in Minnesota. He was CEO of the Twin Cities Urban Reconciliation Network from 1991 to 2001. He then spent a dozen years as a professor of reconciliation studies at Bethel University. In 2014, he became executive director of the Community Renewal Society, a historic faith-based civil rights organization in Chicago.
He authored a dozen books along the way, including “How Faith Inspires Social Justice” and “Radical Reconciliation,” co-authored with Boesak.
The Rev. Robbie Craig, interim executive director at the Community Renewal Society, was among the speakers at his ceremony. When DeYoung took over the organization three years ago, 80 percent of the board of directors was white, she said. It’s now 60 percent black.
“For three years he worked himself out of a job,” Craig joked. “I know what you accomplished in Chicago. I know you’ll do the same here.”
The theme of reconciliation winds through DeYoung’s career, and it’s what led him on more than a dozen trips to places such as South Africa and Jerusalem, where he met with leaders of movements to bridge racial and religious divides in those countries.
He views racial and economic justice as God’s will.
“It’s what God intended for the human family,” said DeYoung. “He didn’t intend divisions of social class distinctions, denominations, racial division.”
DeYoung was ordained in the Church of God and has worked in organizations across the religious spectrum. He said he plans to build on the firm foundation of his successor, the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, in particular doing interfaith work and placing new emphasis on diversity in council leadership.
He also hopes to work more closely with outstate churches and younger people. Said DeYoung: “For us to have a vibrant future, we need to be relevant to communities of color and millennials.”