After months of bloody conflict between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, an Oak Lawn church is praying for at least a ceasefire to allow aid to get into devastated areas.
The Rev. Dan Sather, pastor of Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ, a handful of congregation members and other religious leaders held an indoor candlelight vigil Thursday to call for peace in the region where war has raged since Hamas fighters attacked Israel Oct. 7.
The vigil was part church service, marked with prayer, Bible readings and sacred music, mixed with messages of hope for a war half a world away. The congregation has held similar vigils regarding gun violence.
The gesture came one day after the Chicago City Council passed a resolution for a ceasefire, though these efforts, and other global actions, haven’t made much difference in the conflict.
Sather said he’s wanted to do something since the conflict erupted because he anticipated a protracted, painful war. Even so, he said he’s hopeful of at least a temporary pause.
“I am hopeful that (a ceasefire) can be the best outcome at this point,” he said. “That’s not going to solve their problems, but we can stop killing women and children and civilians.”
He said Hamas is not all Palestinians, many of whom want peace, justice and equal access.
Church members said civilians are suffering on both sides.
“It’s a very complex problem,” said Daune Sebastian. “There’s not necessarily one way to look at it. But there’s so much devastation across the Gaza Strip and there are innocents, caught in the middle.”
The Rev. Michael Barker, a retired longtime clergy in the area who attended the service, said Jesus would support helping those who need help, regardless of politics. He said every church’s position should follow that rule rather than any political ideology.
“The values of society are not always the values of God,” Barker said. “And we have to follow the Scripture. The United Church of Christ has been very active in social justice issues, while unfortunately many churches are not reaching out the way they should. If Jesus were around, this is what he would be doing.”
Sather said he’s hopeful because Illinois’ political leadership appears to agree there is a need for a ceasefire, even if the path the permanent peace isn’t clear. He said he believes he has support from secular leaders. He said his church got letters of support from Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth as well as from U.S. Rep. Sean Casten’s office.
“I saved their letters because they speak to what I would hope for,” he said. “I realize it’s not that simple. Doing anything is not that simple in D.C. right now, especially when it comes to passing bills with regard to the state of Israel.”
Sather said he hopes for a ceasefire and a call to action for humanitarian aid to Gaza.
“You see on television the caravan of supplies that are just sitting there for whatever reason and people are dying and in pain, and it’s heart-wrenching,” he said.
Sather read from “Vigil,” a poem by the Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes that states, in part, “You hold your candle, your little flame. But it is not little. It is the flame of let there be light, the big bang of hope.”
Jesse Wright is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.