LINCOLN PARK — The Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church of Chicago is inviting neighbors on a metaphorical journey to Bethlehem this month with its outdoor Advent and Christmas walk.
Festive string lights and banners representing the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day line the church’s yard at 600 W. Fullerton Parkway.
Each banner is decorated with religious artwork that represents a stage in Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and poses a question inviting viewers to reflect on their faith and identity.
The first banner, representing the start of Advent on Nov. 29, asks, “What things in your life are waiting to be born? To what will you say ‘yes’ in order to be a bearer of God to the world?”
“The banners tell the full story of Advent with the images that go with it, while posing some reflective questions for people to think on more expansively,” said Rev. Beth Brown, pastor at Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church of Chicago.
The artwork is designed by James Qi He, a Chinese American man who came from Jiangsu, China, and studied religious art at the Nanjing Art Institute.
Brown said finding artwork that “felt culturally appropriate” was difficult because most Christmas artwork depicts all white people, “even though the story happened in the Middle East.”
They found Qi He’s images and contacted the artist, who’s based in Los Angeles, for permission to use them.
“We’re so pleased with how the art looks and think this is a really expansive experience for Advent and Christmas,” Brown said.
The overall theme of the Advent walk is “I believe even when,” inspired by an anonymous Jewish poem that reads, “I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining.”
Brown said the installation is timely because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has taken the lives of at least 12,830 people in Illinois.
Brown said the Lincoln Park church hasn’t held any in-person services since the pandemic hit in mid-March. Instead, she’s livestreamed sermons and musical performances by church members on its Facebook page.
“Music has become so important to us, and … people we’ve known over the years but have moved to other areas can perform and enjoy music with us,” Brown said.
She said the church has chosen not to resume in-person services and is using events like its virtual services and Advent walk to keep people engaged during the pandemic.
“Our hope is that because there is a lot of things we can’t do this season, we can offer something to people that’s free, outside and you can walk by it at any time,” Brown said.
The Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church of Chicago livestreams its service 10:30 a.m. Sundays via Facebook.
The church will also livestream a “Blue Christmas” service for grieving and mourning 7 p.m. Dec. 17 and its Christmas Eve service 7 p.m. Dec. 24 .
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.