(submitted by Larry Yarbrough) Yesterday was our first full day of this year’s Scott Center alternative break trip. As a follow-up to last year’s trip to Alabama to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march and work with Habitat for Humanity, we have come to Chicago to work with several groups that are engaged in social justice through the arts and sustainable food. Throughout the week we will be meeting with religious groups for which these are important ministries, as well as with other schools and agencies in the city.
Our visit to the Faith Community of St Sabina, a Roman Catholic Church in South Chicago, for Easter services brought many of our themes together. A former Irish Catholic parish, St Sabina’s refashioned itself when the demographics of South Chicago changed and became a predominantly African-American church. The Easter greeting at St Sabina’s is “Happy Resurrection,” which in many ways expresses just what happened to this parish.
From the moment we arrived in our tour bus at 10:15 we were warmly welcomed and made to feel at home, joining the hundreds of worshippers who came to the second service of the morning. By the time we left the service two and a half hours later for lunch with the parish priest, the Rev. Dr. Michael Pfleger, we experienced Easter at St Sabina’s through music, drama, dance, and a sermon that made social justice the key to resurrected life.
The hundred or so musicians, singers, actors, and dancers performed the story of Good Friday and Easter during the first part of the service. Everything about the performance was spirited, as was the congregation’s response. Its response to the sermon was just as spirited, with its calls for action against gun violence in all its forms, the emphasis on incarceration rather than education, and the lack of jobs and sustaining wages for workers. Fr. Pfleger’s treatment of the life of Jesus provided the basis for the sermon, claiming that “Before He Died—He Lived,” which became one of many call and responses throughout the sermon.
Fr. Pfleger has been at St Sabina’s for thirty years and is instrumental in bringing about the changes in the parish (sometimes at a great cost). He is very much involved in the life and politics of South Chicago, believing it is the only way for the Church to go about its business. His view of the Church is very expansive, as reflected in the people who belong to his parish—young and old, black and white, business and professional leaders, politicians, and gang members. (Spike Lee recently became a member and was at the service we attended, as was Jesse Jackson. ) St Sabina’s feeds, houses, educates, and supports people throughout South Chicago.
Religion, spirituality, arts, social justice–we got it all on the first day. Our late afternoon reflection on the day allowed us to probe our experiences, in deep conversations. More about them tomorrow.
You can learn more about St Sabina’s at http://saintsabina.org/.