After a multi-year search process, Evanston’s Lake Street Church has named the Rev. A. Stephen (“Steve”) Van Kuiken as its senior minister.
Van Kuiken made national news while serving as pastor of the Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati a decade ago.
He had been recruited by the congregation, in part, to challenge church doctrine that forbade same-gender marriage.
“My congregation and I engaged in ecclesiastical disobedience, following in the tradition of Martin Luther King, to disobey unjust laws. We saw these as unjust laws of the denomination.” Van Kuiken says.
He was formally accused of heresy, and removed from office or “defrocked.” He was one of the religious leaders included in a 2004 CNN documentary, Fight Over Faith, produced by Don Moseley and reported by Carol Marin.
Ironically, during the controversy and related publicity, Mount Auburn saw attendance soar. He was ultimately vindicated and reinstated, but chose to leave the Presbyterian Church, which still does not allow same-sex marriage ceremonies.
With 27 years in the ministry, Van Kuiken says he believes in the power of spiritual communities to impact positive change in the world.
Van Kuiken most recently served as pastor of Rincon United Church of Christ in Tucson, Ariz.
Van Kuiken says the core concerns of his ministry have been economic justice and worker rights, affordable housing, health care, immigration and LGBT equality. He also has an interest in mysticism and contemplation, recent Jesus scholarship and dialog with other religious traditions.
Van Kuiken says it is exciting to be “part of a community that gets it,” and that he looks forward to helping “Lake Street continue to become who it is, and live into its covenant.”
He earned his bachelor’s degree at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and his Master of Divinity degree from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
He and his wife, Jenn Hackman, and daughter, Isa, live in Evanston. He is also the father of two adult children, and the son of a minister.
Lake Street “is a church that values independent thought, the freedom to ask questions. This is a church that likes heretics, ” says Vam Liolem, who says he had read the book by its previous minister, Rev. Robert V. Thompson, “A Voluptuous God: A Christian Heretic Speaks” when it was published several years ago.