During the month of June, Patch will be chatting with religious leaders throughout Evanston. This week, we caught up with Reverend Dr. Douglas Sharp, interim minister at . The former professor of theology came out of semi-retirement a year ago to oversee the 400-member congregation, which is midway through its search for a permanent minister. The process typically takes 18 months to three years, according Sharp, and the church is “closer to completion than to the beginning.”
Patch: Can you tell me a little bit about the history of Lake Street Church?
Sharp: The congregation was founded in 1856…The current building we inhabit is the oldest public building in the city of Evanston. Nov. 21, 1875 was the day this building was dedicated. It was founded as the Baptist Church of Evanston, its name was changed to First Baptist Church of Evanston, and then in the mid ‘90s its name was changed to Lake Street Church of Evanston.
As an individual congregation, we are associated with the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, and through that organization associated with the American Baptist Churches USA…No matter what people think about Baptist churches, we don’t look like one. And that’s intentional.
Patch: What do you wish the larger community knew about Lake Street Church?
Sharp: All are welcome, regardless of their religious orientation or lack thereof. We have people in Lake Street Church who are active in their community who would not consider themselves either religious or spiritual, but they are deeply embedded in this community because of the relationships, the values that we hold.
We’ve got atheists here, we’ve got persons of Jewish background, we’ve got Christians, we’ve got Catholics, we’ve got agnostics, we’ve got Buddhists. We think that’s our strength.
Patch: What’s the biggest news at Lake Street Church?
Sharp: We continue to have a very high profile in our interfaith relations with other religions in the area…Coming up in October, we will have World Community Sunday Celebration, which brings representatives from all the different religious traditions of the world together for a Sunday service. Chairman of the board [at the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions] Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid will be presenting here at the beginning of the summer.
Patch: From the perspective of a faith leader, what do you think are the most significant issues in Evanston?
Sharp: We have pockets of poverty in Evanston, and I think a community that’s committed to a liberal education and professionalism needs to be aware of the way people are suffering economically.
Employment opportunities for the younger cohorts, I think, is an issue. Housing, the availability and cost of housing, is an issue. The funding and availability of public education is an issue…I think the referendum issue in District 65 is indication of the disparity in educational opportunities and services in this community.
There is an increasing number of persons of Hispanic origin who are coming into the North Shore and this part of Evanston and I think ways need to be found to assimilate or to integrate these communities into the larger community.
Patch: What makes Evanston great?
Sharp: Its diversity, its culture, the university. The people who are attracted to a place like Evanston because of the university are people who tend to appreciate a variety of arts and culture across people groups and across nationalities. This is an incredibly rich microcosm of ideas. This is an intellectually vibrant community, a spiritually vibrant community…There’s a real curiosity about spirituality and spiritual practices that don’t really fall into religious lines, and I think that’s a strength in Evanston. I think that richness is really something to be trumpeted.