Living Word hits bump in the road
By all accounts Living Word Christian Center has been a success. Since coming to Forest Park over twenty years ago, Pastor Bill Winston’s congregation has grown, according to the Living Word website, to 20,000 people. The congregation held two conferences this year, attended by thousands: Missions and Marketplace in March and the International Faith Conference in September. Living Word’s miracle at the Forest Park mall has kept Forest Park flush in sales taxes while other municipalities’ shopping districts are hurting.
Yet, the failure of Covenant Bank, of which Winston was the founder and chairman, proved that Living Word’s pastor doesn’t win every time he steps on the field. Not only did many Living Word members lose money they invested, but the closure became a challenge to the credibility of the prosperity gospel Winston preaches. “As you trust in God and His Word,” Winston declared in his book The Kingdom of God in You, “the kingdom of God inside of you is designed to produce for you everything you have need of in this earth in abundance.” Bad construction loans and the housing crisis put a dent in that prosperity.
Churches and schools close
The Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago closed St. Bernardine School in June after 98 years of teaching children the basics of the Catholic tradition as well as reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.
Just recently, the Review learned Walther Academy is moving from St. John Lutheran Church’s facility—which has housed a school since 1870! —here in town to Melrose Park.
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church sold its facility and later in the year closed as a congregation.
The closings are just the recent instances of a trend which has been going on for more than twenty years. The Presbyterian, Methodist and two Lutheran congregations are all just memories, while the rest of the faith communities which have been town for a while are holding even at best in terms of membership. When communities change demographically, church membership often declines, giving decreases and congregations have a tough time paying the bills.
New kids on the block
The buildings once owned by St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s Lutheran Churches are now owned by Mount Moriah Baptist Church and St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church respectively. The Forest Park Mall on Roosevelt Road, which was once a ghost town, is now thriving and Living Word Ministries which owns the complex holds its worship services in what used to be a movie theater.
Many of Forest Park’s faith communities joyfully break the rule that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week. Witness the full house at the Simbang Gabi mass and dinner at St. Bernardine two weeks ago. Witness the service on the afternoon of Dec. 22 in the little white stucco church on Dixon St. in which there was classical Thai dance, gospel music and two African American preachers. Witness the ethnicity of Fr. George (Indian), Fr. Patrick (Kenyan) and Pastor Pongsak (Thai). Call the religious scene in town a crazy quilt or a tossed salad with everything but the kitchen sink as ingredients, what we have here can’t be found in many other communities.
Old dogs, new tricks
In the midst of great change, two older congregations are making valiant attempts to be relevant to the changing population. Forest Park Baptist Church took one more step toward completing its long-range strategic plan by starting work on a new accessible entryway to its church building, hopefully to be completed in May. This is in addition to already razing three purchased neighboring houses to add space for parking, a necessity for church growth.
St. John Lutheran Church is reaching out to the community with programs like the Boar’s Head and its hosting for many years of the PADS program every Friday evening from September through May.
St. Bernardine youth encounter new Pope
This summer ten youth from St. Bernardine Catholic Church and their travelled to Rio de Janeiro where they experienced the presence of Pope Francis “up close and personal” along with a million other Catholic youth from all over the world as they participated World Youth Day. Sixteen year old Dillon Daly kept using the word “exhilarating” as he described the experience. “Energy” was a word the St. Bernardine youth used several times to express what it felt like to be with so many people their age who shared their faith and heritage.
None of the above
Responses to my blog indicate, anecdotally, that the number of what some are calling “nones,” i.e. those who check none of the above on religious preference polls, are increasing among our neighbors, friends and family members. People are joining churches and service clubs in decreasing numbers. Partly due to disillusionment with institutional religion and partly because of the American infatuation with individualism, the net result is a weakening of the social glue which holds communities together.
12 step programs
Filling the spiritual vacuum for many are 12 Step Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, which has two clubhouses in town, one on Harrison St. and one on Madison St. Many participants consider their 12 Step meetings to be their “church.”