Ministers sought Prentiss, not reverse

Clergy involved in Zoom call confirm that D86 superintendent never initiated contact

Two Hinsdale ministers have said claims that District 86 Superintendent Tammy Prentiss contacted clergy to rally their support are inaccurate.

The Zoom conference call Prentiss had with several clergy members Feb. 8 were initiated by clergy, according to Mike Solberg, senior minister of Union Church of Hinsdale, and Pamela Rumancik, minister of the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale. Both said they are interested in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in the community as a whole.

“The topic was not about the criticism of the superintendent,” Solberg said. “The topic was — and this was stated in some of the publicly released emails — the topic was how we as a clergy group can support the DEI work of the district.”

Local church leaders began hearing from parishioners after the controversy surrounding the withdrawal of consultant Valda Valbrun from consideration as a DEI consultant for the district. Rumancik said she initially wrote to Prentiss to express her support for the DEI work the district was doing and, when clergy decided to have a Zoom call to discuss the matter, she invited Prentiss to participate. She forwarded that email Tuesday to The Hinsdalean.

Solberg recalls about 20 people being on the call, including some District 86 staff members. Prentiss provided background about the creation of the CELT committee, how its work was interrupted by the pandemic and what its goals are. She also shared the district’s diversity statement, the fourth goal of which is to create connections with families and the community at large.

Solberg said he does not recall Prentiss making any requests of clergy during the call.

“She did not request that we express public support for her personally,” he said. “She did not request that we write letters to the editor in support of her. She did not request that we preach from our pulpits about why she should stay in her job.”

Rumancik agreed.

“She didn’t ask us to do anything specific,” she said.

Following the call, five congregations decided to place an ad in the Feb. 24 issue of The Hinsdalean. It was an open invitation to the community to participate in worship and prayer gatherings addressing local DEI issues. Union Church and the Unitarian Church were joined by Hinsdale United Methodist Church, the Community Presbyterian Church of Clarendon Hills and The Mecca Center in Willowbrook as the ad’s sponsors.

Clergy are interested in supporting DEI work because it fits with their mission, the ministers said.

“We have an obligation to support the well-being of our community, and supporting the DEI work of the district is clearly one way we can support the well-being of the community,” he said.

Rumancik said noted that major faiths agree that all should receive the same love and respect.

“If you speak from any of the major traditions, they all teach love of neighbor and love of self, so this comes for me as a very, very basic religious step that any major faith tradition agrees on in their teaching, that we need to care for one another,” she said.

Solberg said he believes any concerns about the separation of church and state are unfounded.

“As a pastor, I have talked with literally hundreds of public officials in individual and group conversations through the last 30 years and that has never come up before as an issue,” he said.

Community members will be invited to attend an upcoming educational seminar titled “DEI CRT WWJD,” Solberg said.

“We are going to talk about what CRT (critical race theory) actually is, the way it is being used in public discourse, why it pushes people’s buttons and what is the underlying value and priority that actually is trying to be addressed,” he said.

Rumancik said she uses a metaphor to help her congregation understand that acknowledging racism is not the same as accusing people of being racist.

“We have inherited a piece of property that has been polluted with racism,” she said. “We did not pollute the property, but the pollution is going to harm all of us. Even though we didn’t do it, we are responsible for it.”

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean