Saturday, January 22, 2011

In Search of the Gypsy Church in Chicago: Part II

I arrived in Chicago with an elaborate list of churches, communities and neighborhoods I wanted to visit. I only had four months and I had to accomplish most of this during my free time. At the top of my list was attending a Gypsy church service. I had watched numerous video clips of Gypsy churches in Chicago. The congregations were big, the music was loud and the energy was fantastic.

The Chicago Gypsy Church 8-8-10

When I finally had the time to go to one of the Gypsy churches I was excited. Imagine my disappointment when I arrived at the address and there was no church. I couldn’t believe it. I went home frustrated. Luckily that evening was salvaged for me when Nik, one of the Kaio members, asked me if I was interested in seeing some fire dancers at the lakefront. There were no gypsies that night but it was still a great evening.


Over the course of the remaining two and one half months I called churches only to find out the numbers were no longer active. I watched video of churches downtown hoping to glimpse an address. I read blogs and comments on video clips. I contacted a church in Los Angeles hoping for a lead, all to no avail. I talked to clergy hoping they could help me and they tried. They told me about Eastern European churches, about drum circles and about individual Roma that they knew but none of this resulted in finding a gypsy church. I was having no luck and yet I could not give up. I was a man on a mission.

Every time I attended an ethnic church I was also aware of what church I was not attending. That did not mean of course that I didn’t’ love the churches I did attend. They were great. I attended an Ethiopian Pentecostal church. The members prayed for 20-45 minutes on their knees with their faces in the chairs, this was before the service even began. I attended a Coptic Church and found myself thinking about the early church and about the holy family. I attended an Assyrian church and felt connected to a persecuted people whose culture is threatened and I attended an Arabic-speaking Lutheran church where the members came from North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf States. I attended Mass in Chinatown. I was at a Polish wedding and a Ukrainian wedding. I was at shrines, outdoor services and large and small Taize services. There was no shortage of new and wonderful experiences for me. But still, no gypsies’.

I was about to concede defeat and acknowledge that while I was having an incredible experience in Chicago I was not going to attend a Roma service. I was reading the comments on one last video clip and found a phone number I had not called. Without any hope of success I called the number. Imagine my surprise when Rev. Skip Christo answered the phone! His first question was to ask how I had found him. I didn’t even know how to answer that question. We talked and he invited me to his church. As soon as I hung up I texted the Kaio members who had witnessed and supported me in my search. My text message was brief, “I found Gypsies!”

Even getting to the church was not easy. Bethany from Kaio dropped me off where I thought the church would be. After walking and walking I called Bethany and she began a MapQuest search for me. While I talked to Bethany on the phone I continued to walk. I looked up and there was the church! The church was in Andersonville, a neighborhood I had walked to numerous times.

The night was bitterly cold. I was told the service would begin at 7:30; it was already 8 PM when I arrived. It would end up being 9 PM before the service would actually begin! Only few people were in the church. Rev. Skip was out picking up members and jumping batteries. This was a small but caring community.

As soon as I arrived, Joseph, the minister’s son and the drummer greeted me. He was a friendly young man. I then met Millie, the minister’s wife. She was clearly a person in charge and the person to go to when it appeared things were falling apart. She apologized that her husband was not here. All I kept thinking was how this truly felt like a caring, supportive faith community. Then I met Anna. Anna was Millie and Rev. Skip’s daughter and she played the keyboards.

While I waited for others to show up the brother and sister rehearsed. They were good. They also bickered like brother and sister; it was like being invited to someone’s home. I liked it. Finally congregants arrived. There only a few this evening, a little over 20. You won’t see them I the video because they sat behind me and because I was reluctant to film them in prayer.

Rev. Skip was a big, welcoming man. He told me about Gypsy history and culture. He talked about the Roma culture of Chicago and about the other churches. This was not the big church I had wanted to attend. It was the right church that I was meant to attend!

When the service began Anna eased us into worship. Her voice was powerful, her leadership qualities evident. Across the sanctuary her brother was on percussion. They were a powerful duo.

Gypsy Church: Anna, “I’m Calling”

If Anna was the intense one who wanted to make sure everything was just right then Joseph was the counter-measure. He was easy going, he went with the flow and together they lead us in worship. Anna sung in Roma and in English, Joseph closed his eyes and played and smiled.

Gypsy Church: Joseph on Percussion

Finally Rev. Skip spoke. I only have a small clip of his sermon, I wanted to attend and be part of the service and not just a person behind a camera. Rev. Skip spoke of the challenges of being a Gypsy in Chicago. He told of being pulled over by the CPD, for driving while being Gypsy. He spoke of a culture that was stressed and how only Jesus could heal their brokenness. The congregants raised their hands, prayed, witnessed and were a supportive Christian family.

This was not the big, slick Gypsy church I was looking for. However, I had been to so many cathedrals, so many historic churches with elaborate musical programs. I loved this church,

"The Master’s Touch” church is a member of the United Pentecostal Church. They are far more dramatic and demonstrative then I am comfortable with and yet I cannot wait to attend again. I found my Gypsy Church right in the heart of Andersonville.

Gypsy Church: Rev. Skip Christo Preparing to Preach

I was grateful for the heart felt welcome by Millie, Joseph, Anna and the Rev. Skip. I was impressed by how this small congregation of adults, children, laborers and immigrants cared for one another. It really was as if I had saved the best for last!

Gypsy Church: Rev. Skip Christo


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