Oak Park church 'fasting from whiteness' for Lent despite vocal backlash

OAK PARK, Ill. (WLS) -- As the Christian season of Lent comes to a close, the lead pastor of First United Church in Oak Park is speaking out for the first time about his congregation's chosen Lenten fast.

"For us, Lent is all about loving more people, loving more of the ways that Christian music blesses our life, and loving more of our neighbors," said Rev. John Edgerton.

Edgerton said promoting more love and celebrating differences was the inspiration behind a headline of a sign post on its front lawn: "Fasting from Whiteness."

"We at First United love the diversity of this community in Oak Park, we love the racial and economic diversity, the bringing together people who are not the same, and that is what America is supposed to be about," he said.

The lead pastor said the meaning behind the bold headline was inspired by love for its diverse community. The sacrifice was giving up a traditional observance of Lent to exclusively showcase the voices and music of Black, indigenous and other people of color.

The small church's decision has since elevated them from a local to world stage.

"We, as a local church, could never have dreamed that our proclamation of the gospel would reach a national audience, an international audience," Rev. Edgerton said. "We are overjoyed that there are so many Christians who are joining conversations about the meaning of Lent."

Edgerton said Lenten season also means taking on something, but in this case that included taking on backlash. In a statement, the church said it received "white supremacist backlash," including more than 1,000 hateful messages.

But the reverend didn't choose to focus on that, but instead the joy that has come as a result.

"This has been a season of the best church that I can remember. Our music has been beautiful. The prayers have been wonderfully crafted and the spirit in the place has been amazing," he said. "It has been challenging in all the best ways, and comforting in all the ways we need coming out of this pandemic."
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