Jim Dunkerley

Transcript of Jim Dunkerley
Interviewee: Jim Dunkerley
Interviewer: Mark Lecker
Date: January 30th, 2014
Place: Chicago, Illinois
Transcriber: Mark Lecker
Total Time: 25:43 minutes

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

ML: This is Mark Lecker. I am interviewing Jim. It is 2:20 p.m. on January 30th. So we were talking earlier about where you grew up. What was the town name again in England?

JD: Actually the town name is Oldham, which is seven miles northwest of Manchester. I was actually born in Manchester Royal Infirmary. But my parents finally lived in a small village in the border area between Yorkshire and Lancashire called Greenfield which is about fifteen miles out from Manchester in the northwest, yes.

ML: So you grew up more in the country than the big city.

JD: Yes, yes.

ML: How was growing up in the country, in a smaller country town?

JD: Um, very, very much closer than here. The village only contained about 2000, 2500 families. And everybody knew everybody. We had two churches in the village. And one went to one church or the other.


ML: What brought you to the United States in general?

JD: Well, that’s a fairly long story. But I’m the eldest child of five. My father’s an entrepreneur. Who made his money…or founded the company during the war, salvaging metal for war purposes. After the war, it became a metal company. When I was in my teens, I was very depressed, because I knew I was expected to go into this business, and I wasn’t interested. And what I wanted to do was go to a theological school and be a priest. So I had a terrible high school record, because I wasn’t really trying. I just thought my life was over. Or was where I didn’t want to go. Until I visited one of our monastic orders in England. Church of England monastic orders. And came back and told my parish priest, “I want to be a priest.” And he said…”Well “I’ve known for years but I didn’t know how you wanted to find out.” And then I said, “But I’m terrified of telling my father.” He said “Well, I’ll go and tell him” and I said “But no, that would be even worse.” [Laughs]

So when I finally did tell my father, and have the courage to do that…and believe me, in my life history, that to me is still the most courageous day of my life. When I told my father I wanted to go to seminary. What you call seminary in this country, in England is called theological college. But it was run by one of our religious orders. In the middle of…near Nottingham. And he did the business thing to start with; he tried to negotiate with me [laughs]. And it didn’t really work. But he….

I was accepted as a student there on probation for a year, because my high school record had been so bad. But I did very well, and it made all the difference, because I was doing what I wanted to do. And really…for the first time as a teenager felt I was where I wanted to be and where I needed to be. I really felt, for the first time, very much at home, even though I wasn’t even at home [unintelligible]. It was a very long program. It was the equivalent in the Church of England what you would understand in this country as the Jesuits. The course is very long. It’s about…at least five years. I did seven. Because of my background in high school it took a little longer. But in 1965 I was ordained a priest, in Birmingham.

And in my first two…one and half years in Birmingham I was in a parish in the north of Birmingham called…in a parish called the Ascension [unintelligible], where I had a very bad relationship with my boss. But as it turned out, the church had a disastrous fire. My boss wasn’t close to retirement, and he did not want to take on the rebuilding of the parish after this fire. And so he decided to move away from that church and retire into a country parish. So the diocese decided they had to move me because I was too young for a priest to be staying in a church without some leadership. And so I was moved to another parish in the north of the city called St. John’s Pedagogue. And there we had quite an ordeal because it was an immense parish numerically.

Now, you should understand that in England parishes are determined by the number of residents in the parochially boundaries. These residents don’t necessarily come to church. But they are entitled to the sacraments of the church when it’s required. And so though we didn’t have an immense congregation at that church…the average Sunday attendance of the main service was about sixty. But every Sunday afternoon at three o’clock we had anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five baptisms. And on Saturdays, we had…weddings on the hour and on the half hour from ten o’clock in the morning to three o’clock in the afternoon every Saturday. The reason being it was a parish of 135,000. And people would come to the main parish church for their weddings and for their baptisms. And funerals were mostly done through the public crematoriums. And so I had to serve my time on crematoriums and I would do…. But, the point about all this was I got very concerned as a young priest about it because people coming for baptism didn’t know what they were doing. They would come to the vicarage and say, “We’ve come to have our baby done.” Then you pull out the form and it says “Holy Baptism”…”No, we don’t want that. We just want it done.”…and I would say, “That’s what done is.” And then when you wanted to talk to them about what that baptism was, they didn’t want…they weren’t interested in knowing.


ML: They didn’t want the religious aspect.

JD: Right! But they did want…and I…. So my question was “Well then. Why do you want your baby baptized?” Or “Why do you want it done?” And…but it’s always got to be done. Now in England if you refuse the sacraments of the church to somebody who requests them, you can be taken to a law court and forced to, because it’s the established church. English people by right of birth have the right to the Sacraments of the church. That’s the whole relationship of the establishment. So I went to the bishop and I asked…I said, “I would like to go to the university, and do some psychology.” I said, “We have no idea what’s going on in people’s heads.” And his response was “My boy, you’ve been ordained to administer the Sacraments of Holy Church. I suggest you get on with it and stop worrying about what’s going on in people’s heads.” Well I was so frustrated with this. I had a friend in Lake Forest who I used to meet on holiday every year, in Las Palmas Majorca. We had this hotel in Las Palmas Majorca which was a five star hotel, where it was very expensive to stay. Bbut they had an annex across the street. And for one tenth of the price you paid in the hotel you could stay over here, but get the run of the hotel.


JD: It was a fantastic deal. And he came every year and had a room in that annex. He was a Spanish teacher at Lake Forest College. He was running a summer school in Las Palmas Minorca, and I got to know him. Then we got to be pen friends. I wrote to him. Well I wrote all my frustrations to him along the way. And he wrote and said, “Why don’t you think about coming to do something in the U.S.?” Well, I saved my money for a year, and in 1967 I visited him…in the spring. He took me to see the local dean of our seminary in Evanston, and he put me in contact with the foundation in Long Island, New York, with an application. I sent the application to them.

They finally wrote back to me and said, “What is your project?” I wrote what my frustrations were; what I wanted to do; what I was expressing then was [what] I put down. I wanted to try to put together pastoral theology and psychology, as one sort of understanding. And after a few weeks they wrote back and said, “Well if you come and do this in the United States we’ll give you a stipend of $2,500 for the first year.” That amount of money was three times my salary.


So I took it to the bishop, and I said, “Unless you change your mind, bishop, I’ve been offered this.” He said, “If you do that, you’ll have to resign your title,” which was Curator St. John’s [unintelligible]. He says, “Without your title in the Church of England you have no status whatsoever.” So I said, “If that’s what it takes, bishop, that’s what it takes.” and I walked out of his office.

Two weeks later I got a letter from the seminary of Evanston saying that they had been told of this award, and if I came to do this work at Seabury, they would also give me another $600 tuition scholarship. So I went to Seabury Western and that was in early ’68. No, that was late ’68, and I spent ’69 and ’70 at Seabury Western in Evanston. After a month there, the local bishop here, after I had been introduced to him, asked me to help come assist at a parish on Belmont Avenue in Chicago called St. Peter’s. And I did that for the two years. I was up at Seabury, and because the director at the time was an older man who’d had a very disappointing career in this parish.


He arrived there in ’46, with a parish of one thousand families. By 1956, they’d all moved, who could move, to Park Ridge. And from ’56 on he was just convinced there was no future for the Episcopal Church in Lakeview. He’d just given up. But he was also a sick man. So the bishop asked me to go on and help him. I did for two years. And they paid me $100 a month, to do that. Back then in ’68…’69-’70 that was a lot of money for me.

And I finished my project in 1970, and I planned to go back home in July. But in March, the rector surprisingly resigned early, because his doctor told him if he didn’t he would get into very great physical trouble. So they asked me to stay on as priest in charge. I said, “Yes I would, but I was going home in July.” So then they started sort of, I could hear the voices going around…“Well what’s wrong with this young man?” you know, because now the wardens were in charge of…. Senior wardens and junior wardens were in charge of going out to search for a replacement for the priest. And I called them in and I said, “You’re looking in the wrong direction, I’m not interested. Now the bishop told you, ‘No,’ because I’ve been here an assistant, and you don’t call assistants to come and be a rector.” So they went away and about a month later, a couple of weeks before I was due to go home, they said, “The vestry” – which is the governing body of the parish – “want to know if you’d talk to them.” So I said, “Sure I’ll talk to them.” And then they just said, “Well why won’t you look at us?” I said, “Well, I’ve been here for two years as your assistant under Father Stanburg. You think you know who I am, but you don’t. I only ever did what Father Stanburg wanted me to do; where he wanted me to do it; how he wanted me to do it; and it wasn’t up to me to make any opinion on what should be done. Now if I came in here as your rector, I would start to do what I think should be done, and you wouldn’t like it, and you would feel betrayed. That’s no basis on which to build a relationship, to build the parish.” “So what sort of things?” Well I went out of my way to terrify them.


JD: Because in fact, they hadn’t tried to do anything since the ‘50s. I mean, one of the things that I said to them, “The cobwebs of the 1930s is so thick around here I don’t know how anyone can breathe.” And the church at the time was going through great deal of reform and zeal and rewriting our basic liturgical life. A lot of experimenting was going on officially through the national church. They’d never been…open to this at all, or it never been given…I said, “If I came in as your rector, I couldn’t let you put your heads in the sand and pretend that everything is just the way it ever was. But it’s not!” And so I basically discouraged them. Then I said, “And furthermore I don’t like Chicago. I don’t like America, and your religion in this parish is not my religion, and I’m going home on the fourth of July. I’ve got a one-way ticket.” And I left I’d been home with my parents for only two weeks, and I got a phone call from the wardens in Chicago that I’d been unanimously elected to be rector.

So, I went to talk to the bishop of Manchester, who didn’t know me from Adam, but nevertheless agreed to talk to me. And I explained what had been going on, and his response to after all of this, he just said, “Well maybe G‑d is saying something, Jim, and you need to just think about that.” That’s all he said to me. So I called back and I said, “Ok, I’ll come for five years, but no more than ten.” And I finished up being in that parish forty years.


ML: [Laughs]

JD: But…in saying that, one thing is important to understand. What happened in Lakeview is about every ten years the demographics changed. So every ten years we were having to rebuild, re-look at ourselves as a parish and how we functioned in these demographics. What I really did was found three parishes in the first place, because we really had three starts all over again. And I retired in 19…2008, because for the last five years before that, we were going into parish number four. And at 68, I just didn’t think I had that kind of energy to give them a fourth time.


ML: That’s a…very…convoluting and, and…interesting path here.

JD: Right.

ML: From not even wanting to be in the country, let alone the city….

JD: City, right.

ML: To staying here for forty years.

JD: Forty years, right.

ML: During that time, did you ever feel like a stranger? Like an outsider…

JD: No, I never did. However, I will say in 19…in early 1990, I did try to return to England. There was a parish that I’m very fond of in London called St. Matthew’s Westminster. Little tiny church. Right back of Westminster Abbey. I mean, literally you roll out of bed and roll into the abbey in this church. It really doesn’t have a parish. But Westminster Abbey…and that particular neighborhood around it is the center of the Anglican community. Everybody in the Anglican community for the whole world comes there. I had this vision of turning this little church into a kind of international community for all people. Because what happened was, it was a huge church that burned down, and with the insurance money they got, they sold the area that had been the nave, which was a big area. That made a lot of money. Then with it they restored what was left of the church, and the old rectory. The old rectory was immense. I mean, it wasn’t really a rectory. It was called, in our day, a church house, or a clergy house. What it consisted of, really, was five apartments with an apartment for a rector. And the three of the four were apartments for assistant clergy.


And I felt I could turn it into an ecumenical center where people in London, which is very expensive, who would come for ecclesiastical reasons, could stay there at a very reasonable price. We could even run it as a conference center. Well, I did eventually get to speak to the bishop of London about that project, because one of my friends went to church there. And he felt that when the last vicar left, they wouldn’t get another because there was no parish. I said, “No, I know what to do with that place! I know what to do with that place!” But by the time I got to speak to the bishop, the bishop had already appointed somebody else. He’d taken the work from under my feet. But I did get to meet the bishop of London, and we talked. I gave him my sort of, entrepreneurial dialogue. But that is in fact what they’ve done with the place. I have now stayed there several times, and who has become the vicar is really, a very close friend, and one who comes over here quite a lot. We…my own parish here in Chicago which is the Church of the Atonement now, we have a very close relationship with that parish. But that was my one attempt to go back to England, but it didn’t pan out. In fact, of course, over the years I’ve come to love the city, and have seen the city grow. I’ve seen the city produce and become just a world-renowned city, actually. Even though when I came here, my mother thought that Al Capone was still around with tommy guns and I would have a tommy gun on my pulpit.


ML: [Laughs]

JD: [Laughs. You can’t go back, actually. And I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived there now. Probably if I went back to England I would…. Visiting there and living there are two different things.

ML: So it almost sounds like, “You can’t go home again.” That phrase comes to mind.

JD: I wouldn’t say that. But I’m not so sure that I would. I would think twice about it, especially because I have a partner here. I have a life here, and I have commitments here. And I’m very, very involved in the work of the diocese of Chicago. Before I retired, the city of Chicago is divided into three deaneries, or three groupings. We call them deaneries. And I was in my last five years, I was the dean of Chicago North, here, which I was, sort of, really, an oversight of twelve parishes.


ML: Do you find that in Edgewater, religion can bring people from different nationalities together if they share…

JD: Oh absolutely! You only have to come to our church to find that out. Within the city, of the Episcopal Church, which is what I belong to, the Church of the Atonement is probably…is the most large growing, prominent parish in the entire city. Just to give you an example of what I’m talking about: last Easter between morning Thursday and Easter day we had three thousand communions in that parish.

ML: That’s a lot of communions.

JD: Yes.

ML: What has kept you in Edgewater in particular as opposed to another neighborhood in Chicago?

JD: Only the condominium [laughs]. As a matter of fact, if I could’ve afforded to stay in Lakeview, I would have, because I came to love that neighborhood, and still do. It’s a little town within the city, and everything you want is within walking distance. I mean, for four years while I was there, I lived without a car altogether – almost. It was quite fine for me. I could walk to work. I could walk to shop. I could walk…anything I needed to do I could walk. And within minutes. And I just loved that. But it’s…did you know that Lakeview is now the third most desirable place to live in the United States?


ML: I didn’t know that in the United States.

JD: Yeah.

ML: I knew it was very desirable in Chicago.

JD: The Hampton’s are number one. Beverly Hills are number two, and Lakeview is number three.

ML: I did not know that.

JD: I saw that published. Only I was amazed myself. I saw that published only about six months ago.

ML: Do you identify with being a part of the Edgewater community, or do you still identify with Lakeview?

JD: I still…yes I do, because the Church of the Atonement is very much part of the Edgewater community, especially being on Kenmore and Ardmore. Kenmore you know was a red-light, well not a red-light…but the banks had it as a red line. They wouldn’t give money on Kenmore, or what’s the one beyond? The next street over west?

ML: I can’t think of the name right now.

JD: It was known as the “corridor”. The Church of the Atonement, being on that, fought that for almost twenty five years. It’s pretty much over, but it’s still…bits and pieces around. But if you go…in that church, we have everything. Black, White, Yellow, Green [laughs], and an Englishman [laughs].


ML: [Laughs]

JD: I never became a citizen. Mainly because as a priest in the Church of England you have to take an allegiance to the Crown. And in order to become a citizen I would have to give that allegiance up. I thought if I could give that allegiance up, what does an allegiance to the United States mean?

ML: Overall, how would you rate your journey of immigration to Chicago?

JD: Oh, I would give it a nine [laughs]. Not a ten. Sure. The first few years I was pretty homesick, yes.

ML: Do you still have any vestiges of that homesickness left?

JD: No, but I have family there whom I’m very, very fond of. We’re very close family, even though we’re not on top of one another. But I’m the only one who lives any distance…. Oh no, that’s not true. I have a niece now who lives in Hong Kong, because her husband is a pilot.


ML: That’s pretty far, too.

JD: Yes. But other than that, all my nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, they all live within forty miles of one another.

ML: Does your social identity, or identity as part of being one of the community, identify more of…being…a priest, or being English?

JD: A priest is my identity, absolutely. Being English not so much so. Because I see Chicago as very cosmopolitan, and even this building as very cosmopolitan. And I see myself as that community, yes.

ML: Thank you very much for telling your story. Could you repeat your last name for me please?

JD: Dunkerley.

ML: Dunkerley, ok. Thank you very much.

JD: It’s actually pure Saxon.

ML: [Laughs]

JD: D-U-N-K-E-R-L-E-Y. If you look at that name as it’s spelled, it comes right out of Saxony, in Germany. In its ancient meaning, it means “the church on the hill”… “The church on the meadow on the hill.”


ML: So it’s an appropriate name then.

JD: Right [laughs]. Although my father didn’t know where I come out of. [Both laugh]. He didn’t know where I come from at all. We were trying to find out if anybody, ever, was in our family’s…have ever been in the clergy before. And we found out a Presbyterian minister back in my great-great-grandfather’s day, who was a cousin [laughs].

ML: Well, like I said, thank you very much…

JD: You’re very welcome, it was fun…

ML: For telling your story.

JD: It was fun to do.