Photo by Joe Boyle
The Rev. James Bowman Harris, pastor of Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ in Oak Lawn, said he agrees with the decision to close the church temporarily after a mob riot at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
By Joe Boyle
The Rev. James Bowman Harris, the new pastor of Pilgrim Faith Church in Oak Lawn, was preparing for some virtual activities this past Sunday until he received some alarming news.
All services and events planned at Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ, 9411 S. 51st Ave., were halted when directors of the national congregation decided during an emergency meeting Saturday to close their doors for at least a week.
The decision was made for all United Church of Christ churches across the country to close to mitigate any possible acts of violence after the mob riot that occurred Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
Bowman Harris was informed Friday night that a Zoom discussion would take place early Saturday. The board decided it was best to show caution after hundreds of rioters broke into the Capitol building, smashing windows and injuring a number of police officers. Five people died, including a police officer who was hit by an object, mostly likely a fire extinguisher.
The directors were concerned that more violent acts were a possibility while Joe Biden was sworn in as president this past Wednesday just outside the Capitol.
“It was a recommendation, not a mandate,” said Bowman Harris, 51, who became the pastor of Pilgrim Faith on Sept. 1, 2020. “But there were concerns because we are a liberal church. We are not afraid to take a stand on social issues. So, the directors wanted to be cautious.
“We have a beautiful building,” Bowman Harris added. “If someone wants to break a window, it can be replaced. But you can’t replace a human life.”
Bowman Harris pointed out that there have been no direct threats to the Oak Lawn church.
“But there have been threats at some of our other churches across the country,” he said.
The pastor reiterated that it was the directors of United Church of Christ that made this recommendation. The Oak Lawn police did not advise the church to close, Bowman Harris said.
“But the Oak Lawn Police Department has been great,” Bowman Harris said. “Several police officers have been driving by the past few days. I want to thank the Oak Lawn police force for being so diligent and I’m so appreciative of their efforts.”
A meeting was supposed to take place via Zoom Wednesday by the council to discuss how long the churches should remain closed. Coincidentally, the meetings are usually held each week. Bowman Harris said on Monday that he believes it should be for at least a week.
“You just don’t want to take a chance,” Bowman Harris said. “You never know what can happen in the aftermath. Someone who may have not done anything on Wednesday might decide to react a couple of days later.”
Pilgrim Faith has been on the forefront of change, Bowman Harris said. In 1972, Pilgrim Faith welcomed a gay man into the ministry. Members of the church welcome everyone, he added. He would prefer to see the decibel level lowered as Americans everywhere again learn to reach out to each other.
Bowman Harris, who is gay and has been married to his spouse since 2008, said the Oak Lawn community has been very welcoming. He admits that a year of strife has been difficult for everyone.
“We have to learn to be able to agree to disagree,” Bowman Harris said. “We have to come together because if not, then everything gets kind of lost. There is a lot a room for everyone at Christ’s table.”
The pastor would like nothing more than to get back to some sort of normalcy after dealing with the pandemic this past year. The Tampa native is adjusting to Chicago area winters and was a little surprised to hear the recent temperatures are almost mild for this time of the year.
He mentioned that some new additions will take place at the church. A garden is currently under construction behind the church for the food pantry, a fixture at the church for years. Leece Nicol has run the food pantry for several years and Bowman Harris said she is a great asset to the community.
Bowman Harris was ordained in 2018. He entered the ministry later in life after serving as a hospice chaplain. He first served as a pastor at a church in Cookeville, Tenn. He would like nothing more than to greet more people and host functions with members of Pilgrim Faith once COVID-19 is under control.
“We have to come together as a nation,” Bowman Harris said. “And we have to stop judging people. We need to strive to become a light for the community. That’s who we are and that’s what we pray for.”