‘What can we do to respond to the situation that exists today?’

Longtime Romeoville pastor has advice for tough times

Rev. John Huff said Romeoville has changed since he first came to the United Presbyterian Church in Romeoville 51 years ago to serve as pastor.

Gone are landmarks such as Murphy’s Café and Romeo Beach, Huff said. And Weber Road isn’t a dirt road anymore.

But as the community changed, so did United Presbyterian Church.

“We tried to find ways of responding to the needs of the community at the time,” Huff, who retired as pastor from United Presbyterian Church on Dec. 31, said.

At the time, the closest bank was in Lockport, so the church helped start a community credit union. The church started a suicide prevention hotline and operated a soup kitchen, food pantry and daycare center.

The church also offered GED classes for several years and helped 300 people receive their GED, Huff said.

“It’s been an exciting time with lots to do,” Huff said.

Note Huff didn’t say stress these were his accomplishments.

“This wasn’t me. This was the church,” Huff said. “I helped enable the church to be involved in things. That made a difference in people’s lives and in the quality of their lives. And as those needs have changed, the church has changed.”

Huff said people now live in a time where people must wear facemasks, practice social distancing and not gather in large groups. And the church needs to discover how to be the church in light of these current mitigations.

“Hopefully, that’s all going to change,” Huff said. “But the issue is whether we just sit around and moan and groan and complain about how things aren’t the way they used to be and how depressed we are or whether we say, ‘What can we do to respond to the situation that exists today and find creative ways, with God’s help, of helping people make it through and survive and have a better quality of life because we’re able to shift our focus?’”

Born in Washington D.C., Huff grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, and then moved to Maryland when his father’s job (Huff’s father worked for IBM) transferred him. His parents were always active in the church, he said.

“There was never a time that I didn’t consider myself to be part of the church,” Huff said.

Huff later attended a small Presbyterian college – Davis & Elkins in West Virginia – which had mandatory chapel attendance at the time, he said.

During one of those chapel experiences, Huff said a speaker delivered this message: “Instead of asking, ‘Should I consider a fill-time church vocation?’ ask instead, ‘Is there any reason I shouldn’t?’”

And that got Huff, who was studying business administration, thinking in a different direction. He changed his major to psychology and then moved onto seminary and post-graduate work. Any organizations he’s joined through the years has been in the spirit of service.

Church, he said, really has been his whole life.

“I’ve been blessed,” Huff said. “I have no regrets about anything.”

Huff learned about United Presbyterian Church’s need for a pastor in 1968 when he attended a wedding in Rock Island. So he reached out to the chair of the search committee, he said.

United Presbyterian Church had approximately 70 adults when Huff first arrived. Over the years, membership grew to a peak of 200 adults. Membership was at 40 adults when the United Presbyterian Church formed a partnership with The Rock Community Church in Romeoville.

Huff said, “exciting things” will arise from this collaboration, including a change in “how we’ve been doing church.”

“They are bringing in new dynamics of youth again,” Huff said. “They have enthusiasm about serving God and people well. And it’s just great.”

Still, Huff sees some advantages with a minster’s longevity at one church. One is that the minster can understand each person’s needs, gifts and even quirks. A minster can learn how to connect with people who might be challenging to approach.

“I often think young pastors don’t understand that and they take things personally,” Huff said. “And then it causes splits and it’s not good.”

But good things happen once that bond is formed, he feels.

“They become friends for life,” Huff said. “They’ll give the shirt of their backs for you.”

Although Huff has moved to Florida, he’s not retired from ministry. He plans to become involved in his local church and help out the pastor where he can.

“In spring, I’ll be 79,” Huff said. “I can’t function at the level that I could when I was 20. That’s just a reality.”

Here’s Huff’s advice for surviving 2021 – or really any calendar year or situation.

“If you focus all your attention on yourself and if worrying about your self is your primary concern – most of these people I know are not very happy,” Huff said. “And one of the ways, even if you’re in a bad situation, to survive well is to shift you attention away from yourself to the other.”

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland is the features editor for The Herald-News in Joliet. She covers a variety of human interest stories. She also writes the long-time weekly tribute feature “An Extraordinary Life about local people who have died. She studied journalism at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, now the University of St. Francis.