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We’ve been attending Ellis Avenue Church. Honestly, it’s the weirdest church I’ve ever been to. The congregation of about 40 meets in a century-old house on the diagonal opposite corner of the block from Barack Obama’s house.
It’s popularly accepted that Sunday morning at 10 is the most segregated hour of the week. However, Ellis Ave is one of the most diverse communities I’ve ever visited. About half of the congregation is under the age of 18. Many of the youths’ parents don’t attend the church, meaning the youth wake up early on Sunday and go to church because they wish to do so.
Racially, the congregation varies greatly. If I were to estimate, I would say that 50% of the congregation is black, 40% is white, and 10% is other (including Latina woman, and a Korean couple who barely speaks English). Additionally, there are several interracial couples.
The socioeconomic diversity is just as great. The former president of one of the biggest banks in Chicago regularly attends, as do a number of people who live in projects in nearby neighborhoods. People on food stamps worship next to people who vacation in Europe.
Educationally, we have people with Ph.D.’s steeped in academia and children who struggle to read (undoubtedly due in part to the failing public schools in their neighborhoods).
Theologically, the spectrum includes left and right views. One of the youth told the pastor she believed in God but didn’t believe in the Bible. One of the pastors uses gender-neutral language to talk about God. The other pastor is a woman. Some believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. Some believe Jesus is the only way to heaven.
I find the diversity of Ellis Ave refreshing. I get the chance to learn from those whose experiences have been vastly different than my own. Furthermore, having so much diversity challenges me to think critically about what I say and how I say it. It keeps me from making offensive generalizations and stereotypes. It prevents me from verbally attacking those whose views I disagree with. (I’m less likely to talk bad about someone if they’re sitting next to me).