The opening of the Oak Park Farmers Market the Saturday before last brought thousands of people to the parking lot at Pilgrim Congregational Church and had a special joy for me. I write as a new member of the Oak Park community and a young pastor starting at a new church.
Last April, at the beginning of the pandemic, I became senior pastor of Pilgrim Congregational Church. During the interview process, I learned this might mean I would learn about the Farmers Market and the church parking lot that was more than a parking lot.
I had asked the search committee what the church is known for in the community … anticipating something about feeding the hungry, providing for the vulnerable, perhaps a lovely youth or music program. You know, typical church stuff.
“We make donuts.”
It’s not exactly the answer one expects to hear. But sure enough, denominational colleagues and mentors, near and far, all responded in the same way when I inquired about Pilgrim: “Oh, that’s the donut church!”
My excitement for all my new job would require: visiting with people, worshipping together, sharing my life with theirs, and now, making donuts, all began to shift rather suddenly as the implications of COVID-19 spread. I gave my first sermon online, met members via Zoom, but no one could join me in our historic church building or buy fruits and vegetables in our parking lot. My wife and I helped Pilgrim sell donuts from a corner of the church lawn and my young son learned to love them, but everyone told me it just wasn’t the same.
This year, the village of Oak Park is moving Farmers Market back to the Pilgrim parking lot and we rejoice in this aspect of a new normal. Safety protocols are still necessary, so there will be some restrictions, including limiting entry to the market and parking lot to one entrance, off Lake Street. The village has allotted the church space in the northwest corner of the lot (which it rents from the church for Saturday morning market purposes) to sell donuts. With health and safety in mind, the donuts, still freshly made that morning in the Pilgrim kitchen, will be in prepacked bags of three and boxes of dozens. The bags won’t mix the three types — powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar and plain — but mixed dozens will be available.
Health protocols prevent serving drinks in the market itself, but our solution is to have a second booth by realigning our traditional selling space behind the church. Coffee with lids will be sold there and people not wanting to wait in line to enter the market on Lake Street can come directly to the back of the church for donuts. Entry to the market from there will not be allowed by the village.
Like everyone else, we are adjusting to this new arrangement and we ask your patience for our all-volunteer endeavor. Also, we were among those who thought the market would open at 7:30 a.m. this year as last year. We asked our nonprofit partners to staff their work shifts with that in mind and not all will be ready by 7 a.m.
And perhaps most importantly in this season of new change, I join the Pilgrim donut committee and all our community partners in thanking the village for all the care that has been taken these past 15 months to ensure a safe and prospering market for the farmers and customers. VOP’s Cameron Davis, market managers Colleen McNichol and Kimball Ingram, Farmers Market Commission member volunteers and their former chair Laura Lencioni all deserve special thanks.
Once again, the Pilgrim Congregational Church parking lot is hosting the community on Saturday mornings. On Sunday mornings, our lot has been rather bare, as I have led worship and delivered my sermons online these last 14 months. But that, too, will change. On June 13 we are planning a safe socially distanced worship service to be held in the parking lot!
Meanwhile, I look forward to enjoying these donuts and getting back to a new normal with my new community.
Rev. Colin Knapp is senior pastor of Pilgrim Congregational Church in Oak Park.