On Sunday, Oct. 17, St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church is putting on an International Festival to show off more than $90,000 worth of repairs and remodeling they’ve done to one of the oldest church buildings in Forest Park.
Interim Pastor Pongsak Limthonviratn said the work that has been completed includes new roofs for the church and parsonage, new tile floor and windows in the Parish Hall and new carpeting and a stage for the sanctuary.
The building, which was constructed in 1899 by German immigrants, was in effect handed over to the Thai congregation this spring as the dwindling membership of what was then known as the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church couldn’t keep up with their bills. The Thai Community Church was organized in 1985 by a group of Thai Christian immigrants. The Thais have been partners with St. Paul’s and have been sharing space in the historic building since 1992.
“The purpose of the festival,” said Rev. Pongsak, “is to celebrate the partnership with historic St. Paul’s, which has provided space for the Thais for more than 18 years. To carry on the legacy, we are changing our name from the Thai Community Church to St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church. We see the members of the previous congregation as faithful, generous and hospitable people. We feel that they are our aunts and uncles in the same family.”
Pastor Pongsak, who is also the Director for Asian Ministry with the Chicago based Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, added that owning their own building is a big deal for an immigrant congregation. Most Asian immigrant congregations, he explained, depend on American congregations to allow them to use space in their buildings, which means that at any time the host congregation can ask them to leave, because they need more space. The Thais themselves had to move four times in the first seven years of their existence. Understandably, owning their own building makes the them feel more secure.
The festival will include an international market in the afternoon featuring homemade Thai food and imports from Oak Park’s 10,000 Villages and the Golden Triangle and Pacific Realm from Chicago. A community yard sale will give a chance for the whole neighborhood to participate in the celebration.
Then, at 4:30 p.m., St. Paul Thai will begin a worship service which will include the Hope Tabernacle gospel choir, testimonies about how the church building has been a blessing and the announcement of how much money has been raised.
It will also provide the congregation with an opportunity to celebrate the multicultural ministry it has been doing during all of its 25 year history. For example, the congregation’s president is Thai, the vice-president is African American and the secretary is Dutch American. Members of Hope Tabernacle, an African American congregation which shares space in the building with St. Paul Thai, will testify to the diversity evident every Sunday in the historic building.
Rev. Pongsak said that the community yard sale on the church lawn during the festival will be a symbol of St. Paul Thai’s vision of making their building available to the whole community. “My vision for the building,” he said, “is to be a permanent spiritual home for Thais and others, a facility where future generations can carry on ministry without too much financial burden and a resource which can be well used by people in the community.”
Taking on the stewardship of the facility at the corner of Brown and Dixon has had a large impact on the Thai congregation. “They are grateful to God for this building and more engaged in taking care of it,” said Rev. Pongsak. “They feel joyful as much as responsible.”
Tom Holmes is a member of St. Paul Thai Church.