On the evening of April 7, a unique community of Christians gathered in Chinatown. For the first time, four congregations from across the city came together for Good Friday. The service was held as a joint celebration of cultural diversity and call for social justice—aptly titled “Unity Good Friday.”
The worship was held at Chinese Christian Union Church (CCUC) on 2301 S. Wentworth Ave., where folks from multiple racial backgrounds and South Side neighborhoods steadily filled every row of pews in the main sanctuary, and eventually reached the upper balcony.
In addition to the mainly Chinese host congregation, the worshippers represented the Chicago City Life Center (CCLC), a predominantly African-American church in Englewood led by Pastor Charles Moodie; Oasis Church Chicago, a multiracial church in Tri-Taylor led by Pastor JP Troglio; and Bethel Temple, a Latinx church in Pilsen led by Pastor Johnny Delgado.
“We need to continue to encourage one another…We have to get together. And church, we got to get to work. We got to get to work,” preached CCUC English Ministry Assistant Pastor Chris Javier, who delivered the evening’s sermon.
Going beyond a traditional Good Friday message of salvation, Javier called on the congregation to work in service of their communities. “God did not make us clean again so that we can sit back, kick our feet up, and chill,” he continued, to a chorus of amens. “We’ve got a job on this earth, we’ve got a job in every neighborhood that we are planted in. And that’s to share the gospel and to do these good deeds.”
What exactly the Bible means by performing “good deeds” is a theological question that different Christian denominations interpret in different ways. But for the churches present at Unity Good Friday, this call has come to include working together with Black, Brown, and Asian communities to tackle issues stemming from racial inequity.
By the start of the second song, a bilingual English-Spanish rendition of Hillsong’s “At The Cross,” over 400 people stood together, shoulder to shoulder, to commemorate the Easter tradition with longtime friends and newly-met strangers.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, mainstream media across the country has emphasized images and stories of racial tension among Black, Brown, and Asian communities, against a backdrop of BLM protests and anti-Asian hate crimes.
In Pilsen, Latinx gang members allegedly targeted African-Americans during the 2020 June BLM protests. After the murders of two Chinese men in February 2020, allegedly by a Black man, Chinatown residents called for more police and increased their surveillance infrastructure. Organizations formed neighborhood watch groups, gathered funds to help seniors acquire and install security cameras outside their homes, and encouraged cooperation with local police to report suspicious behavior.
Some community members have been trying to shift this narrative of racial conflict, including Christian churches. In June 2020, CCUC partnered with Bronzeville’s Progressive Baptist Church—a historically Black church—to co-lead the Chinatown March for Black Lives; Javier was a key organizer. The march publicly acknowledged the harmful effects of anti-Blackness in Brown and Asian communities as it weaved through Pilsen, Chinatown, and Bronzeville.
Unity Good Friday did not spring up overnight, but developed in parallel to years of coalition-building. Troglio of Oasis Church and Moodie of CCLC met eight years ago, when Troglio led spring break ministry trips for college students from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ilinois to Englewood, where CCLC is located.
Three years later, Delgado of Bethel Temple joined the mix, and the joint events grew from there. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, the three churches supported one another with outreach, meal distribution, and outdoor gatherings.
The churches have a strong history of mutual support, despite serving different and geographically separated communities, Troglio said. This is the third year that CCLC, Bethel, and Oasis have hosted combined services—but the first collaboration with CCUC.
Pastor Bob Wong of CCUC was brought into the fold in January 2023, when attending a prayer meeting alongside Moodie. “One of the ladies [of CCUC] who was praying began to weep and say, you know, ‘I feel like we need to do more with the African-American community,’” Moodie recounted. “And my wife [Pastor] Kehinde Moodie said, ‘I’m going to go speak to [Pastor Wong] to see if we can partner in some way.’”
Word spread from pastor to pastor that there was mutual interest in working towards racial solidarity. “Long story short,” explained Troglio, “we all sat in a room together, the four of us pastors, and just really felt like there was an agreement together to combine.”
Moises Perea of Bridgeport provided English-to-Spanish translation at the service for the Spanish-speaking attendants and those who are more comfortable hearing the message in Spanish. A member of Bethel Temple for twenty years, Perea has been translating as a career for even longer, including a stint as a translator for Chicago Public Schools.
When asked why it is important for Bethel members to outreach beyond Pilsen, Perea said his belief is rooted in the Bible. “I think the Father calls us to be out in the world and in different neighborhoods. We should be doing it more often and more intentionally.” He remembers the difficulty of reaching out to folks in “rough neighborhoods” but feels it is necessary.
One of the community members from the CCLC congregation present was Mike Drake, a South Side resident. He reflected at the conclusion of the service that “we mostly serve Englewood, but we could do more of this. Because our brothers and sisters are broken all over the world, and all over the city.” Drake said this event has been discussed amongst CCLC members over the past weeks. “I’m so glad I said ‘Okay I’ll come,’ and that I did.”
As the leader of a historically African-American church, Moodie understands that “in the African-American church, they have been fighting for justice for so long,” while many recent immigrants are not aware “that [they] have some of the same issues that [the Black community] has.” Moodie considers himself to be among those learning from this history, as he and his wife are both first-generation immigrants, from Jamaica and Nigeria respectively.
The lead pastors recognize that a collaborative effort towards racial solidarity must not stop at just one service, and are holding a meeting on April 28 to continue this momentum. “Most pastors who know me will know, I don’t like to focus on events, I like to build relationships so that we can really have an impact,” Moodie said.
“We don’t want this just to be a one-time thing a year,” echoed Troglio. “What does it look like to maybe gather once a quarter and worship together? What would it look like to do outreach together? What does it look like for the city of Chicago to see multiple different churches, gathering, and doing heavy lifting work for the communities, for people?”
The answer to these questions is still forming. Before the service was dismissed and the congregation went off to dinner with friends and family, Wong announced: “There’s a lot of great restaurants here in Chinatown. Have some fun, but know who you represent. Because I know the restaurant workers will know you’re not from around here. So as followers of Jesus Christ, what that translates into is tip, and tip well.”
Laughter broke out.
“Did I go too far?”
“No! Not at all,” shouted a few folks.
“That was good!” responded another.
“We’re about to take offering as well,” Wong joked, before closing out the evening.
Though it was said in jest, perhaps a good deed means supporting a local community restaurant whose business has plummeted because of racist stereotypes. It may be having conversations with those whose struggles are unfamiliar to one’s own experience. It could be, as many churches have done for centuries, distributing food to those who need it, marching in solidarity, and spending time in prayer with neighbors.
Wendy Wei is a section editor at the Weekly.