Alcoholics anonymous (Courtesy Tom Holmes)

Change is the best word to describe the religion scene in Forest Park in 2014.

 1 Baptist Church Addition

Forest Park Baptist Church, whose building stands at the corner of Harlem and Dixon, raised $400,000 to fund the construction of a new addition which includes a new entryway and foyer, ADA-compliant washrooms and new offices. The addition is evidence that the 155 year old congregation is holding its own in the midst of decline in all of the older churches in town.

 2 Living Word Mission and Marketplace Conference

Living Word Christian Center held a Mission and Marketplace Conference in March which was attended by over 1,000 people. Since arriving in town in 1990, Pastor Bill Winston’s congregation has grown to about 20,000 members.

 3 Reformation Ministries Comes to Town

Apostle Andrew Bell and his wife, Prophetess Delores Bell, moved their church to their present location at 848 Ferdinand in Forest Park in August. Known as Reformation Ministries, Rev. Bell’s congregation joins Mt. Moriah Baptist Church and Hope Tabernacle Church as the latest African American congregation to locate in Forest Park.

 4 St. Bernardine’s Self-Evaluation

St. Bernardine Catholic Church began implementing the results of a process called Parish Transformation which they completed in 2013. The twelve week long process, in which every parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago will eventually engage, sets goals based on an honest and participatory evaluation of each congregation’s strengths and weaknesses. In a May 8 Review article I wrote, “In many ways, the transformation process could be compared to the birth of a child. The goal is a joyful creation, even a miracle, while the process of birthing is often difficult and painful. It’s not called ‘labor’ for nothing.”

 5 St. John Corn Roast

In itself a corn roast is hardly newsworthy. What is significant about the event is that it is part of an intentional effort by St. John Lutheran Church to rebrand itself as a neighborhood church. Rev. Leonard Payton, St. John’s pastor, said that the corn boil, now its third year, is part of a larger strategy, a paradigm shift if you will, to redirect the focus of the congregation’s mission to meet the needs of a changed neighborhood. 

 6 One Afternoon on the Lawn

On Sunday, Sep. 14 two congregations had a definitely “un-Ferguson” experience called One Afternoon on the Lawn. St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church and Hope Tabernacle, an African American congregation which worships in the building at 7424 Dixon owned by the Thai church, set up 70 chairs on the church lawn and had a party. What impresses me about the relationship between the two congregations is that in one building are two minority faith communities—one composed of the descendants of slaves and the other including many recent immigrants—worshiping at different times in a building, the cornerstone of which reads, “1899, Deutsche Evangelische Lutheranische Kirche!” 

 7 Decline of Traditional Churches

Forest Park Baptist Church is an anomaly in town. It is the only old congregation (started in 1890!) which is holding its own in terms of membership. The Methodist Church is gone. A pocket park on Adams St. now occupies the space where its building used to stand. The Presbyterian congregation closed many years ago. So did St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s Lutheran congregations. St. John and St. Bernardine School buildings stand empty. Some blame the decline of demographic shifts. Some say there is a cultural trend in which joining organizations is no longer popular and “nones” (people who mark their religious affiliation as “none”) are increasing.

 8 St. Vincent De Paul, PADS, et al

That said, the traditional congregations in our village are doing more than their fair share of caring for the needy and nurturing community in this place. PADS emergency shelters are staffed with 1,000 volunteers who come mainly from traditional faith communities and are housed in buildings owned by Lutherans, Jews, Presbyterians and Catholics. St. Vincent De Paul Society, composed of St. Bernardine members, has met in the Rectory for over 4,320 Tuesdays in a row!

 9 AA

Alcoholics Anonymous members are careful to point out that their program is spiritual, not religious. The Suburban Fellowship Center at 7438 Harrison St. is home to a group of about 300 members of Alcoholics Anonymous who are serious about getting and staying sober. A host of activities designed to do just that take place in the building right across from the Park District soccer field. The SFC website lists 46 “closed meetings,” i.e. meetings for recovering alcoholics only. In addition there are scheduled two Al-Anon meetings for the “friends and family of problem drinkers who are seeking understanding and support” and one open speakers meeting on Sunday mornings where non-AA members can sit in on a meeting.

 10 St. Paul Thai Giving

Between 1992 and 2014, St. Paul Thai Lutheran—a church of immigrants, their children and their spouses–has given away $891451 to people in need in the U.S.A., Myanmar, Thailand, Sudan and the Philippines. A stunning figure when you consider how anti-immigration people complain that immigrants take more than they give.