As part of our celebration of African American History Month, the members of Third Unitarian attended services at Pilgrim Baptist Church today. The church meets in an amazing building built by famed Chicago architect Louis Sullivan at 33rd and Indiana in the Bronzeville neighborhood. It was built as Kehilath Anshe Ma'ariv synagogue in 1890 - Sullivan's trademark lattice-like designs in the sactuary feature the Star of David as a repetitive motif. I would have brought a camera, but that would have been rude. Pilgrim Baptist has been meeting there since 1922. They still have some original members - one church lady will be turning 108 this week.
Outside the world of architecture, the church is best known because Thomas A. Dorsey was music director there. His widow still attends. The music was still pretty powerful, buy the choir and the congregation seem to have diminished in number in with the passing years. In fact, beyond the obvious difference (Baptists generally "accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior," Unitarians as a rule do not), the two churches seem to have a lot in common. Both churches are in poor neighborhoods which are seeing the first encroachment of gentrification. Both were active in the civil rights movement. Both congregations are smaller than they used to be, with many elderly members. So it seems like a pretty good match for an attempt at cross-cultural understanding.
A few thoughts - every time I'm somewhere we sing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" it sticks in my head for days. At Pilgrim they have meals together before and after the service every week. We should start doing this - the few occasions we have had meals together at Third we've always bonded with new people. Of course, they're there all day, apparently - after the three hour service there was a choir concert in the afternoon. I would have stayed if I weren't laid up with the flu this weekend.
I don't know how the understanding thing is working out. Frankly, a lot of the old Unitarians were a little put out by all of the "Jesus" and shouting and applause for God to hear the Rev. Hycel Taylor's message. Which is a pity, because he was trying to get at something important. He spoke to his increasing feeling that our attachment to what he called "superstition" - our specific doctrines and beliefs about the nature of God and the universe - we are losing track of something essential within us that binds us to the sacred. He suggested that if we could realize this, Christian and Jew, black and white, Sunni and Shiite might be able to love each other and stop with all the killing. While committed to his own tradition. he longs to be part of something universal that can transcend all the differences and allow us to love and accept each other and to live toghether in peace.
He doesn't look much like me, we don't talk alike, and I certainly can't sing like he can. But there's a thirst in this guy that I recognize. I don't think we're that different after all.