With 110 years’ worth of history behind them, it’s rare for congregation members at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church to encounter something that is entirely new. The flock has seen boom times and bad, wars and peace, death and birth. Pews have swelled and thinned; pastors have come and gone.

This month, however, the church broke new ground.

St. Peter’s is the first and only building in Forest Park to be designated a local landmark by the municipal Historic Preservation Commission. Its 110-year history is rich with architecture, progressive attitudes, music and social standing. Worshippers can now add preservation to their long list of accomplishments.

“We’re a feisty little bunch,” Judy Jilek, a longtime parishioner said of what makes St. Peter’s special. “We’re down to about 35 members, mostly women.”

It was several years ago that Jilek, 62, first pushed to obtain landmark status for her church. Her daughter was planning to get married and though Jilek’s attendance at St. Peter’s had dropped off, she still valued her family’s ties to the congregation. She and her daughter visited the Gothic Revival-style building at 500 Hannah, but the doors were locked. She took it as a sign that the church was slipping away.

“That was a wake up call,” Jilek said.

Like many congregations in Forest Park, St. Peter’s has seen its pews and its budget shrivel in recent years. Between 2002 and 2007 the church didn’t have a full-time pastor, and two retired ministers shared the pulpit. There is no choir and Sunday school is not offered. Most of the congregation is of retirement age.

Jilek said she’s optimistic that being a local landmark will help guarantee the church’s future.

“I hope it would make some people curious to come and see the church and possibly start coming,” she said. “At the same time, I hope some of the old parishioners that don’t come anymore will come back.”

St. Peter’s celebrated its 110th anniversary on Tuesday, May 19.

Being recognized as a local landmark means that future generations will likely see the physical features of St. Peter’s much the way they are now. Rebecca Young, chairwoman of Forest Park’s Historic Preservation Commission, said that in many ways the distinction is merely “honorary.” That’s because the commission doesn’t have “certified local government” status with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Nonetheless, privately owned property that is approved for landmark status by the commission allows Young and her colleagues to weigh in on proposed changes to that property.

For example, if St. Peter’s wanted to build a porch or replace a stained glass window, that project must be reviewed by the commission before any building permits would be issued, said Young. Improvements must maintain the “same or similar” appearance.

The preservation commission is an advisory body to the village council, which makes the final decision.

Catherine O’Connor is the manager of local government services for the state preservation office. Part of her job is to help municipal groups obtain certified local government status. The advantage, she said, is local landmarks then become eligible for tax breaks and tax credits, presumably freeing up that money to help maintain the property.

“After things are designated as landmarks, that’s not the end of the road,” O’Connor said of the responsibility.

Once certified by the state, local preservation groups can also access grant money to conduct workshops and surveys that educate community members on the value of historic resources in the area. In Illinois there are only 68 municipal preservation groups with certified local government status, said O’Connor.

The application process for landmark status in Forest Park is not complicated, said Young. There is a minimal amount of paperwork involved, thanks to a recently streamlined process. Essentially, the applicant must make an argument as to why a particular property is worth preserving, and in Forest Park, property owners must consent to the designation.