This page is generally devoted to introducing members of our church family to one another and to celebrating our diversity. This month we present the encouraging story of how a whole group of churches in the Chicago area met to celebrate the broader diverse family of God.
The organizers called the service a “Miracle on 127th Street.” More than 600 people from 10 diverse churches worshiped together at Palos Heights (Ill.) Christian Reformed Church. Rev. Dan Willis, pastor of the Lighthouse Church to All Nations, told the congregation, “Other folks will have a struggle figuring out how to adjust, but when we get to heaven, we’ve already had practice tonight.”
Willis got the idea for the service when he drove on a 10-mile stretch of 127th Street from Palos Heights through three suburbs and on into Chicago. He counted 14 churches along that stretch. The churches represented a broad diversity in socioeconomic status, ethnicity, denominational affiliation, and worship style.
Willis called his colleague Rev. Sam Hamstra, pastor of Palos Heights CRC. He asked, “Do you think God would be glorified if all 14 of us could worship together?” Hamstra responded with an enthusiastic, “No doubt about it. That would be tremendous.”
So Willis called a planning meeting of the pastors of the 14 congregations. The pastors decided to gather in the sanctuary of Palos Heights CRC for a celebratory service of thanksgiving on the Sunday night before Thanksgiving Day. They also agreed on how each congregation might provide leadership during the service.
An Exalters team from Willis’s church led some lively, hand-clapping singing. Praise dancers from the Glorious Life Worship Center presented liturgical dance. A youth choir from Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago sang gospel music. A refugee from New Orleans, Perry Matthieu, played his own gospel reggae. A Roman Catholic priest gave the invocation, and an Armenian priest the benediction. Hamstra opened and closed the service.
“The service inspired us to embrace the apostolic vision of the gospel going to all nations,” Hamstra said. “It engendered mutual respect for everyone involved, respect and appreciation for other worship traditions. For our congregation it was a tremendous exposure to the broader Christian community. To worship with people of all nations gave us a foretaste of heaven.”
George De Jong and Ira Slagter, two lifelong members of the Christian Reformed Church, both in their 80s, agreed that the worship was unprecedented in their experience. De Jong said, “This service was unique. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. I would like to have this happen with more regularity.”
The churches involved hope to do it again next year in a bigger facility and to make it an annual event. The pastors hope the event will be a stepping-stone that will lead to creating a coalition, possibly to unite on social issues. Meanwhile, music directors at the churches have begun meeting and aim to start sharing singers and choirs among the churches.
Hamstra advises those who would like to plan such a service to keep it simple. The pastors held only one planning meeting. A format emphasizing celebration was helpful. “Go heavy on music,” Hamstra advises. “And if you really want to celebrate, be sure to invite the Pentecostals. You’ll have a real good time.”