- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2022

A United Church of Christ congregation in suburban Chicago says it is “Fasting From Whiteness” during Lent, the 40-day period preceding Easter.

“In our worship services throughout Lent, we will not be using any music or liturgy written or composed by white people,” the First United Church of Oak Park, which traces its roots to 1860, said in a web announcement.

“Our music will be drawn from the African American spirituals tradition, from South African freedom songs, from Native American traditions, and many, many more,” the church said, adding, “For Lent, it is our prayer that in our spiritual disciplines we may grow as Christians, united in the body of Christ with people of all ages, nations, races, and origins.”

Church bulletins for the period indicate the use of music composed by Black composers such as Florence Price, a gospel anthem by Richard Smallwood and prayers reflecting the words of W.E.B. DuBois and “the Lakota people.”

The “whiteness” fast was announced March 6 at a service marking the start of Lent, however, it only gained wide notice April 5 when The Post-Millennial, a website, published a brief report.

Photos and a video posted online by Turning Point USA show a banner posted outside the church proclaiming the “whiteness” fast.

In a YouTube video posted by the church, the Rev. Lydia Mulkey, identified as the congregation’s associate pastor of education, explains the fast.

“In this fast from whiteness, of course, I cannot change the color of my skin or the way that allows me to move through the world but I can change what I listen to, whose voice I prioritize,” Ms. Mulkey said. “And so that is kind of the place for our worship services, through Lent, that we would fast for a time from prioritizing White voices.”

The Rev. John Edgerton, the congregation’s lead pastor, did not respond to phone and email inquiries.

But the Rev. Craig Howard, the executive presbyter of the United Church’s Chicago district, told The Washington Times in an interview that he had not been aware of the “fast” at First United Church in Oak Park, located about 11 miles west of the city. Based on what a reporter described to him from the website and the March 6 service, he said he supported the move.

“I find it’s like a reversal of the racialized reality in which we live,” Mr. Howard said. “Where, in this reality, the assumption is that what is to be known, is what the majority culture, the White culture, determines or says these are the rules.”

He added, “It sounds to me that they’re kind of flipping it, saying instead of making the majority voice the loudest voice, we’re going to listen to the minor players [who have not] been heard in the past, and make them the primary players again.”

Mr. Howard said, “They did not say, we’re going to ignore the White voice. We’re just going to now just tone it down and see what voice has come to the top and see what message we may get from those voices.”

The United Church of Christ was formed in 1957 when the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church merged. At the end of 2020, the group reported 4,794 congregations in the U.S.

According to a statistical profile the United Church of Christ headquarters released in 2021, membership stands at 773,559 members, down sharply from the 2.2 million it reported in 1960 and the roughly 1 million it numbered in 2010.

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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