Sunday, March 20, 2011
Lutheran, Welcoming, Arabic-Speaking Christians in Chicago!
There seemed to be no end to my pilgrimage to ethnic churches in Chicago. I was like a kid in a candy store! I was use to being one of the few white people or only English-speaker at a service. One Sunday I went to a truly unique church, St. Elias Christian Church. The church was an Arabic speaking Lutheran church. The members were from all over the Middle East and North Africa. The shared a regional geography, a language and a Reformation.
When I think of Lutherans I tend to think of blue-eyed, blond hair folks. Not here! The service was familiar, this was a formal liturgy. The music and language was not familiar. By now I had come to expect people to greet me, to make me feel welcome and to tell me about their faith and their life journeys. This was no exception.
tarneem tarneem ترنيم ترنيم ترنيم
Arabic Christian song, not from Chicago, just a sample of the sound)
After service I was invited downstairs for traditional Middle East foods and conversation. I again heard about the struggle to love your enemy but these folks had so many of them. In the church sanctuary were markers of the great walls of the world that divided people. This included the Berlin Wall, the Great Wall of China and the wall that separated Israel from Palestine. The members of the congregation, especially the Palestinians, spoke of what it was like to be judged by so many different peoples. They felt discriminated by Jews, Arabic Muslims and by Western Christians and yet still they were called upon by their faith to love their enemies. That was a tall order.
Immanuel Lutheran Evangelical Church: “The Walls”
This was a much more diverse group than the Coptic Church. The Coptic Church may have spoken three languages but they were all Egyptians, these folks were from many different countries and cultures. I met an author who proudly showed me his books on Islam and Christian relationships. The books were in Arabic but he told me their main themes and gave me copies of them! I loved being in this unusual and welcoming place of worship.
I asked the minister for permission to take video of the church. He was reluctant to give permission because his congregation rented space from Immanuel Lutheran Evangelical Church. He recommended that I attend one of their services and then ask their minister for permission to video record the building. It sounded like an excellent plan to me!
Immanuel Lutheran Evangelical Church
So I attended a service at Immanuel Lutheran Evangelical Church. This is a church in Edgewater not far from Andersonville. The church had been a Scandinavian church. As the neighborhood changed so did the congregation. At the time I visited the church is it appeared to be a middle class congregation that was as ethnically diverse as the surrounding neighborhood. Additionally, this was a welcoming church. Andersonville has a significant GLBT population and the church recognizes this and welcomes them. In fact, its motto is, “If Grace is not for everyone it is not Grace.”
Immanuel Lutheran Evangelical Church: Back Altar
The church had a German or northern European look about it. However, it also respected diversity. This was evident in the statues of religious leaders from other denominations and religions. There were also a number of places to pray. While the altar was the focal point the back altar are provided a place to communion with God.
The church was the home of three different congregations. The Immanuel Lutheran Evangelical Church was the host congregation. St. Elias was the more unique congregation. However, there was also a Baptist congregation that utilized the space. This church building truly served as a space were Christians worked toward Christian Unity.
Immanuel Lutheran Evangelical Church: Chapel
The church also had a side chapel. The chapel was magnificent. It served as a place for more intimate worship. It was also a respite site for the individual Christian. The space demanded quite, focus and humility.
Outside of the sanctuary was a hallway. Beyond the hall was an auditorium/social room. The basement also served as a social room. This church was a hub of Chrisman activity in the middle of a residential neighborhood. I was so glad I attended two of the three congregational services at this church.