This piece originally appeared as the cover story in the May 15, 2013 print edition of The Windy City Times. Photo credit: Rafi Letzter.
If you attempted to count the number of Chicago congregations led by openly gay, Black ministers, you’d probably struggle to get to 10. However, a new church in the South Loop will add to that number.
Lighthouse Church of Chicago recently launched Thursday Nights Together, a weekly meeting featuring music, worship, a brief sermon and breakout discussions. Otherwise known as TNT, the event is held every Thursday 7- 8:30 p.m. at the Daystar Center, 1550 S. State St. So far, Thursday Nights Together has averaged between 15 and 20 attendees since gatherings began in early April.
Jamie Frazier, Lighthouse Church of Chicago’s founder and senior pastor, began planning the congregation last year after wishing to experience an open and inclusive congregation rooted in African-American church traditions. His vision informs the church’s motto: “Passionate about Jesus. Serious about justice.”
“Often I have found congregations that claimed to be dedicated to Jesus, but were silent on justice, or vice versa,” he said. “I have long hungered for a place in which one could experience lively and spirited gospel music, prophetic preaching, and a loving community.”
Although Chicago has a wide array of predominantly Black churches, Lighthouse Church of Chicago hopes to uniquely honor the Black Church tradition while incorporating additional elements of social justice advocacy.
“Often Black churches address racial injustice and economic equality, which we do as well, but stop short of addressing HIVphobia, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, and so forth,” Frazier said. “The Lighthouse takes that justice to its logical conclusion—inclusion and liberation for all of God’s children.”
Thursday Nights Together acquaints potential members with such an approach. The weekly meetings began with a six-week series called “Family Matters,” which will highlight biblical family relationships and applying the stories to various justice issues. At the most recent gathering, a number of attendees discussed how being openly gay caused further strains in adversarial family situations. Other attendees reflected upon having leadership positions in Black churches taken away after coming out.
For Frazier, being an out gay, Black minister presents challenges, especially as a number of Black pastors have recently expressed staunch opposition to marriage equality in Illinois. But he openly supports issues of LGBT equality and views his identity as an asset to his ministry work.
“I embody a shift that is happening across this country and within the Black Church because people are changing their attitudes about homosexuality,” Frazier said. “My being a gay, or queer, person of color who pastors a church shows that it’s possible to reconcile spirituality, sexuality and ethnicity.”
A Vanderbilt University alumnus and native of Moncks Corner, S.C., Frazier began ministry work in spring 2005 as the founder of a Vanderbilt campus ministry group called Jeremiah Generation. Within a short time, the organization grew from an intimate gathering of six students to worship experiences with nearly 100 students regularly attending. At the time, Frazier dreamed of founding a church and conjured up the name “Lighthouse.”
“God impressed that upon my heart and, more than seven years later, I understand why,” Frazier said. “People can leave our events ready to face the rocky waves of life. And they can do this firm in the knowledge that there is a lighthouse nearby that will guide them home to a safe, welcoming shore.”
Lighthouse Church of Chicago hopes to build a congregation of 100 regular attendees over the next few months, with Thursday Nights Together serving as a “first look.” Led by a launch team of 14 members, the church will eventually transition into weekly Sunday worship services starting February 2014.
“Personally, I want to find every person that’s been hurt and disenfranchised by other churches, their families, or their communities, said David Kinlow, director of business, operations and marketing for Lighthouse Church of Chicago. “I want to bring them in to come share some of their time with us and see how it makes a difference to be accepted.”
For more information, visit the Lighthouse Church of Chicago’s community page on Facebook. The church’s full website will launch soon.