‘Race, Place and Discipleship’: Grace Episcopal Church in Oak Park kicks off Church in the Public Sq
One local church is looking to move the dialogue forward on race relations.
Grace Episcopal Church plans to kick off a program, Church in the Public Square, beginning with two days of events taking place Sept. 29-30. The first lecture features the Rev. Dr. Willie James Jennings, an African-American theologian from Yale University. It is titled, “Race, Place and Discipleship”.
The community is invited to attend the Sept. 30 worship service at no cost. The Sept. 29 event is a ticketed event, and admission for the general public is $35 or $20 with valid student identification.
The idea behind the program grew out of the church’s past experiences of bringing in theologians of note to have a weekend of lecture and conversation.
About two-and-half years ago, officials said a group started holding meetings upon realizing there are conversations that need to happen about matters occurring outside the church doors that affect civil society.
“The idea is that maybe the church can be a place that can bring people together that might not sit should-to-shoulder or converse on their own accord,” said the Rev. Mary Slenski, the interim rector at Grace Episcopal Church.
Slenksi said the timing of the lecture series’ kickoff could not be better.
“It is incredibly important for Oak Park given its history, as well, as the [Starz documentary,] ‘America to Me’,” Slenski said, speaking of the 10-part series that focuses on race relations at Oak Park and River Forest High School. “From reading and hearing conversations, race is a real topic here. It’s certainly one in Chicago, but I think the ‘America to Me’ piece, the conversations in the high school, and the school administration make it even more timely.”
Jennings said he hopes his lecture will make an impact in the Oak Park community in more ways than one.
“I’m aiming to get people to think more seriously about the structures of race and geography, with the hope of starting to create a conversations with people who are involved in everything from real estate, city planning, development and engineering, to think about how we address the racial divide, in terms of the where and how we live,” he said. “What am I am going to be arguing is that most of the conversations about race don’t understand how race forms and how it can be generated. Racism is generated by geography, by where we live, and how we live.”
Slenski stressed that it is important for churches and their leaders to enter the public square.
“I think there’s absolutely a place for religious leadership to speak out because we can speak to a shared humanity,” she said. “Whatever our denomination is, I would hope we could speak to a shared humanity, a shared experience of community.”
When asked if one challenge of note in today’s world is that there are too many people talking, not listening, Slenski said it does, in fact, make it difficult to build bridges between people who are wanting to seek a greater truth.
Jennings said he hopes to deliver a message that resonates with those in Oak Park.
“Normally, people will receive it well,” he said, referring to past lectures. “I’m most gratified when people start to do some serious work about racism and the structures of racism in their communities.”
Slenski said the hope is that hosting the lecture series can become an annual tradition for the church.
The church has not yet identified future program dates.
For information, visit graceoakpark.org.