Sight Magazine – In the United States, the Chicago church’s plan to fast “whiteness” for Lent is pushed back

Chicago, United States

To say First United Church in Oak Park doesn’t usually get national media attention for its Lenten programming is “perhaps the understatement of the year,” according to the senior pastor, Reverend John Edgerton.

But after the congregation in suburban Chicago erected a banner announcing a “whiteness” fast for Lent, the Christian season of penance observed before Easter, the right-wing university organization Turning Point USA released a short video from the church lawn. The video portrays the church’s decision to use only prayers and hymns written by people of color for the six Sundays of Lent as “segregation”.

Poster for First United Church of Oak Park’s Lent theme: Fasting from Whiteness. PHOTO: Courtesy image.

The story was later picked up by the New York Post and other outlets. After it was discussed on the cable program fox and friends, said the senior pastor, the church began to receive about five voicemails per minute. His website crashed.

Much of the response was critical of fasting.

The church’s “Fasting for Whiteness” program includes classes for adults on anti-racism and educating children on “the truth of the Christian faith and God’s love for all” and “what we call ‘the lie,’ which is the racist idea that some people are better than others,” according to Edgerton.

Plus, portraits by photographer James C Lewis’ Bible icons series, featuring non-white portrayals of biblical characters, appeared on the cover of the church bulletin each week. Mary Magdalene and Jesus are scheduled for Easter and Palm Sunday.

Music during Lent has included African American spirituals, South African freedom songs, songs from Native American traditions, and hymns in Spanish such as Tu Has Venido a La Orilla (You’ve come down to the edge of the lake) by Cesareo Gabarain.

“What we have allowed to come to the fore are the beautiful, joyful and amazing contributions to sacred music and Christian life that have come from the world majority of Christians, who are people of color,” said Edgerton.

As a result, he said, “Our choir loves the repertoire. We had more visitors than we have for a long time. Our congregation has been challenged in all the best ways how hard a workout can be, so you know that in the end, greater health and strength have come out of it. It’s been so good.

The congregation of approximately 650 people at First United – established in 1975 by the merger of two large Protestant churches, one belonging to the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the other to the United Church of Christ, in Oak Park – is “predominantly white,” said Edgerton, who is also white. The population of the village is 66% white, according to 2020 U.S. Census data.

That’s why, the senior pastor said, it was so important for the congregation to hear diverse voices in worship.

“It is critically important for predominantly white churches to undertake this work because in the United States our voice is the voice of the majority,” he said. “Our message is one that will always be heard.”

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