Steve and Marlene Pedigo

He’s a city boy from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the second of five children who learned early to work and be self-sufficient. She grew up on a farm, eldest of seven, from a long line of Iowa Quakers.

Steve and Marlene Morrison Pedigo met at William Penn College in Oskaloosa, Iowa, became friends, eventually fell in love, and married. They are devout Christian Quakers and committed ministers. They have graduate degrees—Steve, a master of divinity with an emphasis on Urban Studies; Marlene, a master of divinity with an emphasis on Urban Ministry, and a doctorate of ministry with an emphasis on Church Administration. She is the author of New Church in the City, and looks forward to working on her next book during the Lilly-funded sabbatical she and Steve are currently enjoying.

She’s calm, strong, soft-spoken, patient, and nurturing. He’s full of energy, restless, direct, and a gifted preacher. Their shared love enfolds their three adopted biracial children. They hold deep moral, social, and spiritual values, and both are ongoing learners in the university of real life—the Cabrini-Green neighborhood of Chicago.

After graduating from college (where Steve joined Quakers), each was led to urban ministry, in which they have been engaged for more than 25 years. They were in a Kentucky seminary when they heard the call to urban ministry, specifically in Chicago. There they worked for several years under the ministry umbrella of a large church that focused in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood. From the very beginning, they were clear that their vision was for a Quaker ministry with people in the city of Chicago.

Steve says, "When we first began the ministry, I did what I love—got out on the street, met people and hung out with them, just had fun, and built relationships. We went into Cabrini-Green feeling like God had called us there and had prepared the way—what we had to do first was go in and see what was going on, what was there, and where God was calling us to fill some gaps. By the time we had our first club meeting, the relationships were well-established and we had over 100 kids.

"For the next three or four years, we went into the high school during lunch period, visiting kids and telling jokes. Later, I coached a basketball team at the high school, getting to know the kids in their world. I met a compassionate probation officer, and eventually we got young men sentenced to us through juvenile court and were able to integrate them into the programs. We did tutoring, camping, college trips; we had community basketball teams, cheerleading—very, very happening! The kids from those three or four years are now successful. They are working in ‘people-helping’ positions throughout the country. They are an informal network so that when something happens, like a marriage or funeral, they all come back together again.

"That ministry evolved into a meeting, the Fellowship of Friends, which was established in 1986 as a monthly meeting in Western Yearly Meeting. The ministry has transitioned over the years from a street to a youth ministry, and now into a meeting and community organizing."

Marlene describes one of her passions. "Three-fourths of Cabrini’s residents are children under 21. My gifts of ministry and my elementary education degree have led to the Young Friends After-School Program, for which we’re now working toward accreditation and expansion. It’s almost like a Friends School, but it’s an after-school program where young people come and are nurtured academically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually in a safe, peaceful place.

"Concurrently, we are bringing the mothers together as a support group and introducing them to the meeting. We work to help them understand the motivation behind what we do. We are becoming a community of support in the midst of life crises, especially with their kids."

In 1979-80, the Pedigos approached Friends United Meeting (FUM) for funding and spiritual support, which was granted and sustained through 2000, when the meeting became independent. The Pedigos speak warmly of the support they have received over the years.

"FUM gave us a lot of freedom. Urban ministry is really hard—there were no models to follow, no guidelines, no directions, no steps. Our cohorts in urban ministry had to spend significant time fundraising, often minimizing the time for ministry. But we were freed to do the ministry, with the grassroots support that we still have. It has been a blessing."

Quaker principles and practices undergird their ministry. Steve notes "the down-to-earthness, the simplicity of being just who you are. I’m not so much interested in being nice as being real." For Marlene, it’s "speaking truth, being a person of integrity, being upfront about what I think is right, listening to the Spirit and then being honest enough to speak that truth."

Furthermore, she adds, "The Quaker process of open, honest decision-making is really important. And there’s being a woman—I treasure the fact that the Religious Society of Friends provides a solid foundation for women to be effective in ministry."

But they are realists, too, and open about some of the challenges they have faced in their ministry. Steve says, "The hardest part of the ministry is seeing the failure. I have a foster son who, along with some other young men I’ve worked with and really care about, is still struggling. They say, ‘Well, it’s been two years since I’ve been in jail’—that’s how they measure their success!"

Marlene adds that the horror of gun violence is also a threat, which she says "has been in Cabrini for generations, back to Al Capone. It is generational, systemic violence, which we allow to happen while spending billions of dollars on other things"—and, Steve notes, "a justice system that is oftentimes unjust. Some of the young men that I have worked with were just getting off the ground and now have been in prison for a long time, imprisoned under circumstances that are very questionable. I have guys that I’ve been writing to (in prison) for 16 years. It’s really sad.

"Another challenge is being clear about the difference between Quaker faith, which we embrace, and Quaker culture, which can be a barrier for the new wave of Quaker young people who don’t always adopt the forms of traditional Quaker culture. The new wave is fresh, powerful, coming, and exciting!"

What nurtures their souls? Their relationship is central. Steve often says, "Marlene’s the head and I’m the mouth," crediting her with being able to "handle the things that I’m not good at. Also, we’re able to support each other in the hard times." And Marlene values "being able to pray with Steve when we ‘hit the wall,’ counting on his spiritual support, listening and helping work through the problems." They both express the importance of solitude and time for centering, prayer, reflection, Bible study, and getting away regularly.

Marlene never forgets, "I’m not in Iowa now! I have three kids in the middle of the city, and my parents and siblings are scattered all over. While my kids have lots of aunts and uncles, they don’t have quite the same experience I had with grandparents just down the road, and cousins right around the corner. Our church community provides the kids with a sense of extended family."

For Steve, "The biggest change was becoming a Christian, which caught hold of my brothers and sisters. Our faith really changed our orientation, our demeanor, and who we are today. While neither of our parents finished high school, each of us is educated and accomplished. It is our faith that has allowed us to get beyond the barriers of our upbringing. Faith is not just a nice religious thing—it makes a difference."

Kara Newell

Kara Newell, a member of Reedwood Friends Church in Portland, Oregon, lives in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. © 2002 Kara Newell