The irony hasn’t been lost on members of the Forest Park Baptist Church, whose building is located at the corner of Harlem and Dixon streets. While some residents, business owners and village officials have been embroiled in a controversy over expanding parking for Madison Street merchants, the church members have been steadily making progress toward their goal of increasing the number of parking spaces available to them without getting bogged down in conflict.
Like the village officials and merchants on Madison Street, the quest for additional parking arose out of a need for increased efficiency. Forest Park Baptist Church (FPBC) has had a healthy, stable ministry for the last decade or more, a period of time when many other congregations in the village have suffered significant declines in worship attendance and financial challenges. Its location on the busy thoroughfare of Harlem Avenue means that it has more visibility than other churches in town, but that on-street parking is simply not adequate if the congregation wants to grow.
So, again like what has happened on our main street, FPBC came up with a vision and a plan. About a year ago they kicked off a capital campaign, which they named Pathways for the Future, to be realized in three stages. Stage one would the creation of more parking. Stage two would involve the construction of a handicapped accessible entryway to the church, and stage three would be the creation of a family ministry addition, which would require the tearing down of some homes.
One difference is that FPBC began preparing for implementing their vision 18 years ago, without really knowing what they were preparing for. In 1988 a two-flat next to the church’s property became available, and the congregation bought it for $81,000. Then in 1994 the next house in line went on the market and they bought it for $55,000. The result was a contiguous “campus” which included the church building, a small parking lot, a former custodian’s house, and two more properties. Pastor David Steinhart remembered that in 1994, the congregation wasn’t sure what to do with what they had.
That was until 2004 when the congregation realized that all of the mortgages on its properties had been paid off, and they were debt free. Having a policy that income from the rental properties would never be used to pay church expenses, FPBC members found themselves having to make a decision. Together with a consultant from the Southern Baptist Convention, the congregation came up with its three part vision, the implementation of which began in November of 2005.
When members gathered for the one year anniversary of beginning their Pathways to the Future campaign last November, they celebrated the news that of the $353,137 which had been pledged in 2005, $152,195 had come in during the first year of a three year commitment. What’s more, attendance had gone up by about 10 percent and giving was only behind budget by about $10,000 in a year that saw the large amount given to the capital campaign and unforeseen building expenses.
“I’m pleased and grateful for the progress so far and how members and visitors have rallied around our vision,” Ernie Hines, who keeps the financial records for the campaign, said. “But to say I was satisfied would not be exactly true.”
Hines added that the congregation understands that if it wants to go beyond stage one in their plan, they will have to grow in members in order to have more income. That is why they will they will move into a two month emphasis on Jan. 14 called Seeking Him, which seeks to promote outreach through spiritual growth.
Steinhart is also pleased with the results at the one year mark but admits that there are no guarantees that the vision will be realized according to plan. He said that already changes have been made because of village codes. FPBC’s pastor talked about “holding the vision loosely” enough to adapt to experiences along the way.
The church believes that its mandate comes from God and that its main purpose is not to make a profit but glorify God and serve the community. They believe they are being faithful to God’s purpose, but aren’t so sure that they won’t have to make changes.
“We wouldn’t say that this is God’s will beyond a shadow of a doubt, because there isn’t that feeling of authority to it,” Steinhart said. “In my mind these things have to be held a little bit loosely, because we’re kind of muddling through. We’re saying Lord, this seems to make sense, but you know. We don’t.”
He laughed as he said that some churches, politicians and other organizations sometimes have “hardening of the categories.”
“Our goal is not to get this thing up here one way at all costs,” he said. “We’re part of the village. We’ve had to be flexible.”
Steinhart said that so far the campaign has had a positive effect on the congregation. In fact one couple even joined the church in part because they were inspired but the congregation’s bold vision. He added that the church’s leadership has tried to keep members informed of how the campaign has been going every step of the way, and that has helped maintain momentum.
“I wouldn’t say that people are jumping up and down,” Steinhart said. “You can’t sustain that kind of enthusiasm, but there seems to be a good spirit. We are hoping that come spring we will be able to start the parking lot. I think that when people are able to see that, that will be something a little more concrete. I am hopeful. If we have to go through another year it might be different.”