Constable: Musical bridges span diverse churches and worlds
In a society where we sometimes wall ourselves off into easily labeled groups, we can define Lou Bury as the 61-year-old associate pastor at Downers Grove Community Church, where he blends in with the overwhelmingly white suburban church congregation.
"There's nothing wrong with that," Bury says. "But it does not mean you don't reach across the divide. We live in divisive times, and the church has to stand in the gaps."
Just as musicians use a bridge to link the verse with the chorus, Downers Grove Community Church is using music in its "Building Bridges Series" to link its congregation with worshippers from different ethnic backgrounds. The church kicked off its initial night of music, food, praise, worship and fellowship in October by inviting a "praise band" from Cristo Ecclesia in south suburban Riverdale and musicians from the predominantly African-American Christ Temple Church on the South Side of Chicago.
"It was just a great night of people from different backgrounds getting together," Bury says. It attracted nearly 200 people and was so popular the church is committed to hosting quarterly performances in its "Building Bridges Series."
Starting with dinner at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, the church at 6600 Fairview Ave. in Downers Grove will host a choir from the Taiwanese Community Church in Lombard; speaker Robert Price, associate professor of evangelism and urban ministry at Northern Theological Seminary in Lisle; and singer Erron Smith, an African-American soloist from the House of Prayer Apostolic Church of God in Kankakee.
"People love music," says Smith, 49, who has been singing gospel and love ballads for weddings, funerals and other events since he was 15. "Music is what we look to to soothe whatever is missing from our hearts."
The Downers Grove church boasts its own band, Steadfast, which can include a keyboard, bass, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, drummer, second percussionist and two vocalists. The band plays contemporary Christian music and some old school hymns, Bury says. A 1976 graduate of Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, Bury played the trumpet while getting a bachelor's degree in music education from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1980.
"All I ever wanted in life was to be a professional jazz player," Bury says with a chuckle. Instead, he taught music at schools in Schaumburg and Schiller Park before getting his MBA from Northern Illinois University and working as an executive director of a commercial law firm in Chicago. Bury, married to his wife, Judy, for 32 years and father of two, was "the oldest guy in the class" when he graduated in June from the Northern Theological Seminary.
The church, under lead pastor Howard Hoekstra, has been partnering with Hope's Front Door, a Downers Grove not-for-profit that provides emergency assistance and other services to people in need, delivers food to a church on Chicago's South Side and hosts its own weekly meals for people in need. Saturday's event is free, but a collection will be taken for Hope's Front Door.
"The church needs to work in the community. That means the whole community," Hoekstra says, noting that working with a diverse collection of churches helps move toward that goal. "We've established a relationship. We've built bridges. We're friends."
After the first musical get-together, Bury says it was good to see all the people hanging around after to talk.
"You know, this is what heaven is going to look like," Bury says. "Heaven is not going to be segregated."