Less than six months after the Historical Society of Forest Park moved its archives and materials from a Madison Street second-floor office space into the offices of St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church, the church council entered into negotiations to sell the building to a Chicago congregation.
The congregation at the 99-year-old church, the oldest in Forest Park, has dwindled to 22 members, 12 of whom are house-bound, said Judy Jilek, congregation member.
St. Peter, 500 Hannah, had been on the market for more than two years, with the Realtor’s contract expiring in early November.
At the last moment, the congregation was approached with an offer from New Mount Moriah M.B. Church, currently located in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago.
In an emotional meeting, Sunday, of 12 members and pastor Audrey Catalano, the congregation voted 9-3 to sell the church to New Mount Moriah. The selling price was $350,000, but the buyer requested that St. Peter’s “forgive” $70,000 of the debt, said Jilek, who voted against the sale and then resigned as office manager of the congregation.
Calls and emails to New Mount Moriah Pastor Marvell Williams were not returned before deadline. According to Jilek, the Historical Society and another tenant congregation, Kingdom Connection, could continue to use the space for three years. That agreement could not be confirmed with representatives from New Mount Moriah.
The Forest Park Historical Society was in talks to possibly acquire the church, and had moved their collection into the offices and hosted meetings and a special program in the basement last month. A coalition of donors had been approached to donate funds for a down-payment on the building, but they were too late.
The society had also paid $700 for a building inspection and architectural integrity study.
Historical Society board President Augie Aleksy called the sale “disappointing,” and said the society’s future home was “uncertain.” Board members were asked to scout for a new home for the society’s collection – a “Plan B” if the society has to move.
What happens to the money when a church disbands? Of the monies received from a sale, St. Peter’s must pay a year of the pastor’s salary, as well as the organist’s fees. The church had also acquired a second mortgage, which it would need to pay off, as well as Realtor fees of 10 percent, said Jilek.
“By the time we pay everything, there will be maybe $100,000,” she guessed.
The balance of the sale proceeds will go to a list of charities with whom the congregation has worked in the past, most affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
“I wish we had just donated the building to the Historical Society in the first place,” said Jilek, who said she was upset at the passing of an era.
“We are an old congregation. What do we do with the members who are shut-ins?” said Jilek. “I give them communion. Now I have to tell them, ‘We’ve disbanded, you have to find another church.'”