Mt. Moriah Baptist Church of Christ is the new congregation holding worship services in the landmark church building located at the corner of Hannah and Adams in Forest Park.
“This is a day of new beginnings,” said Mayor Anthony Calderone Saturday as a crowd gathered outside the front door of the church for the ribbon cutting ceremony.
Indeed. The cornerstone of the church reads, “Evangelisch Luterische St. Peters Kirche 1899.” For 114 years worshipers in the stone church built by German Lutherans followed word for word the Lutheran liturgy printed in hymnbooks containing songs like A Mighty Fortress and I Know That My Redeemer Lives. Good order was the rule, and therefore spontaneity was discouraged and applause was frowned upon. The pipe organ was the instrument of choice.
Attendance slowly declined to nine active members until the congregation known as St. Peter’s Lutheran Church was no longer able to pay the bills. The building changed hands this month.
Like St. Peter’s, the Mt. Moriah congregation uses an organ to accompany the singing, but it’s a Hammond B3, the model favored by blues bands and gospel choirs, spontaneity is the rule and a drummer makes sure that the gospel music makes worshipers want to clap their hands, move their bodies and shout “praise the Lord.”
Rev. Maurice Streeter is pastor of Mt. Moriah BCOC. Streeter’s demeanor during Saturday’s picture-taking was that of a pastor and a successful entrepreneur. “The reason we moved here,” he explained, “is that we had outgrown the building we were in at 1450 S. Kolin, and our members are from Chicago and the Western Suburbs.”
Streeter, 44, lives with his wife and five children in Bellwood. He works ten to eleven hours a day for People’s Gas and pastors the church in his “spare time.”
Unlike the previous congregation which owned the building and voted at annual meetings on everything from the pastor’s salary to the direction in which the church would move in the coming year, Mt. Moriah’s pastor is much more the captain of the ship. He personally owns the building and looks to the elders for advice rather than permission.
The congregation, which at present numbers about 120 at worship, was dressed in their Sunday best for Saturday’s ribbon cutting.
Pastor William Jenkins, who was ordained Pastor Streeter in 2004, prayed a prayer of dedication. The Rev. Curtis Moore from Ephesians Four Church in Chicago read a passage from Psalm 96 which begins, “O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!”
Mayor Calderone welcomed the new congregation and 7th District Rep. Chris Welch said a few words. Then the dignitaries posed for a photo opportunity brandishing a huge four foot scissors.
Pastor Streeter grew up in Mississippi in “a very religious family: Bible class, Sunday school, church on Sunday and Wednesday. He felt a call to ministry in 2003.
He said that his congregation is known for its great gospel music and what he called “straight gospel preaching.”
“I preach the whole Bible,” Streeter said and added, “We are going to make ourselves available to the community. We want to be open seven days a week, so we can meet the needs of the community.”
County records show Streeter closed on the property June 13, just two weeks ago. The sale price was listed as $350,000. However, the congregation of St. Peter’s gave $70,000 mortgage “forgiveness” to Streeter in exchange for the continued use of the church by several local community groups.
Streeter said the building is used by Al Anon, Overeaters Anonymous, a group of quilt makers, Alcoholics Anonymous and the Forest Park Historical Society.
Sunday worship at Mt. Moriah is at 11:00 a.m. with Bible class at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday night at 7:00 and choir rehearsal at 7:00 p.m. on Thursdays.
Judy Jilek, St. Peter’s church secretary, said that her congregation is still together and will be deciding on their future in the coming few months.