According to the most recent Census figures, the most diverse tract in Chicago is in West Rogers Park, bounded by Ridge Boulevard, Pratt Boulevard, Western Avenue, and Devon Avenue. Its population is 32 percent Asian, 24 percent Black, 23 percent Hispanic, and 21 percent White.
West Rogers Park best displays its diversity not in its restaurants, which are mainly Indian and Pakistani, but in its religious institutions. The first Parliament of the World’s Religions took place in Chicago in 1893, during the World’s Columbian Exposition. It seems to be in session here still, on Devon Avenue, where most of the world’s major religions are represented on the mile-and-a-half stretch between Clark Street and Kedzie Avenue: Christianity (Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox), Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Judaism.
It’s a rebuke to the notion that differing religions cannot coexist peacefully. On Devon Avenue, they do so every day. After Friday prayers, Muslim residents shop in the kosher bakeries. Jewish Chicagoans buy wall hangings at an Indian boutique. On Devon, it’s possible to attend a different religious service every day of the week.
Monday: “Anybody of any religion is welcome” at Gurudwara Sahib of Chicago, a Sikh temple at 2341 W. Devon Ave., says head priest Teerath Singh. All visitors must remove their shoes and don a head covering from a basket in the lobby before climbing the staircase to the sanctuary. There, at an altar adorned with flowers and pink fabric, a dome covers the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book. Between 50 and 70 people attend Gurudwara Sahib’s 9 a.m. Sunday services. On a weekday, 15 or 20 stop by to kneel and pray before the altar, or avail themselves of the food bank. “Of all the streets in Chicago, this is the holiest place,” said worshipper Mohinder Singh.
Tuesday: Aarti at Shree Ganesh Temple, 2540 W. Devon Ave., Chicago’s only house of worship dedicated to the Hindu elephant-headed god, whose crowned, four-handed statue looms behind the altar. Indians began flocking to Devon in the 1970s and ’80s, and are now the dominant ethnic group on the street, where they operate a dozen restaurants and at least as many sari shops, dressing Hindu brides and grooms from all over the Midwest. The temple has shelves of miniature idols — mostly Ganesh — for sale, and offers poojas — blessing ceremonies — for occasions such as birthdays, baby showers, and the purchase of a new car. For Indian Americans, Devon Avenue “is kind of a little home away from home, because you can go about your entire day speaking just your Indian language, Gujarati or Hindi,” said a temple volunteer. Across the street at Resham’s, an Indian jewelry and textile boutique, proprietress Huma Mahtani told me “fifty percent of our customers are Jewish. Hindus and Jews are attracted to each other’s cultures. I think we are both very humorous people. When you see your kind, you recognize them.”
Wednesday: Wednesdays are Protestantism’s second church night. Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, 2020 W. Devon Ave., an interdenominational church serving the neighborhood’s Nigerian community, holds an Evening Bible Study and Revival Service from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Thursday: The 7 p.m. Croatian-language mass at Blessed Alojzije Stepinac Croatian Catholic Mission, 6346 N. Ridge Blvd., named for an Archbishop of Zagreb who was persecuted by the Communists. Founded as St. Henry’s, the church was built to serve Luxembourgish farmers who migrated to Rogers Park in the 19th Century. The names in the graveyard are all Germanic: Sontag, Ebert, and Wietor. The Croatians arrived in the 1970s, said the church’s pastor, Fr. Drazan Boras, replacing a population that had long ago assimilated and moved to the suburbs. The Croatian Cultural Center, a mile west at 2845 W. Devon Ave., is a bookend to the church. Adjacent is the former Angel Guardian Orphanage, on whose basketball court the Chicago Bulls worked out before building a practice facility in Deerfield.
Friday: Juma Khutba — Friday prayers — at Masjid-E-Ayesha, 2409-B W. Devon Ave., a spartan basement mosque at the bottom of a set of concrete stairs, where hundreds of cabbies, restaurateurs, and gas station clerks gather each week to kneel for prayers on the worn carpet. Most of Devon Avenue’s Muslims emigrated to the U.S. from India or Pakistan. “People like to gather here on Fridays, do their shopping, get some sweets for their wives, so they’re not mad for Thursday,” said one worshipper. “They especially like the Jewish bakeries, because they’re kosher.” Down the street is IQRA’ Book Center, 2749 W. Devon Ave., which sells prayer rugs, Qurans, Muslim-themed family games, and hijabs.
Saturday: Shabbos at Congregation Bnei Ruven, 6350 N. Whipple St. The Jews are still the dominant presence west of California Street (hence the title of Rogers Park native Adam Langer’s novel Crossing California). While many of Rogers Park’s Jewish residents migrated to the suburbs, the Orthodox community remained in the crowded urban neighborhood because their religion prohibits them from driving on the sabbath. Every Saturday, the sidewalks of West Rogers Park are busy with Orthodox families walking to shul. The community, said to number 25,000, has its own schools, places of worship, restaurants, and bakeries. (Tel Aviv Bakery, 2944 W. Devon Ave., is the place to go for kosher kolacky and rugelach.) In the fall, Whipple St. is closed off for a Sukkot festival with a children’s playlot and Jewish rock bands.
On the first Saturday of every month, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., Devon Church, 1630 W. Devon Ave., holds Saturday Night Alive and Bible Study. Devon Church began as a congregation for Japanese-American Christians who settled in Chicago after leaving the internment camps. Originally named the Japanese Church of Jesus Christ, it now bills itself as “A Multi-Ethnic Christian Church.”
Sunday: Services at the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church of St. Mary in Chicago, 6350 N. Paulina St., which occupies a church built in 1918 to serve Swedish Methodists — another ethnic group that long ago left the neighborhood and lost its distinctive identity. Along with neighboring Ethiopia, Eritrea adopted Christianity in the 4th Century. Nearby is an Eritrean restaurant, Den Den, 6635 N. Clark St., which serves pasta in addition to traditional East African fare, a legacy of Italian colonization.