“This is a foundational moment,” said Jerry Lordan, president of the Historical Society of Forest Park, at the society’s special meeting on Sept. 9. “It’s so broad and deep we wanted the members to vote on it.” About 20 members were on hand to vote whether to accept 1st United Church of Christ’s offer to sell their church and parsonage to the society for a permanent home. 

Lordan began the meeting by sketching the society’s history from its founding in 1976 by Dr. Frank Orland. Lordan credited Mayor Calderone with bringing about the society’s “renaissance” and for the reconstituted board that moved the collection from a private residence to what is now Mount Moriah Baptist (formerly St. Peter Lutheran) Church. “It was a good home for two years,” Lordan recalled.

Now another church was giving the society a shot at a permanent home. “We’re fortunate to have 1st United to house the collection. We needed a work place, display space, storage space and an office.” The agreement would allow the society to purchase the church campus over a 10-year span. It would also allow the congregation to continue to worship in the sanctuary. 

The matter had been voted on at an earlier meeting, but the attendance fell one member short of a quorum. This time, there were eight board members present, Executive Director Diane Grah, and 11 rank-and-file members. The society also received 27 proxy votes, which were opened and read at the meeting. There were 24 yeas, 2 nays and 2 abstentions. (One member inadvertently voted twice but only one yea was recorded). The motion passed easily. 

Afterward, board member Jill Wagner rose and said, “This church is such a treasure. It’s great for another generation to continue to use it for a different mission.” To defray their costs, the society plans to open the church to outside organizations and events. They plan to make it available for weddings, private parties and organizational meetings.

They are also welcoming other organizations to lease space. So far, a Montessori school is renting. They have also received feelers from the Oak Park YMCA and an Irish dance school based in Forest Park. As part of their vision for the church to become a history and heritage center, they plan to make the sanctuary available for concerts, art exhibits and other creative performances, like drama and dance. 

At the end of the meeting, Lordan said, “This was a great night. It was like a wedding ceremony. But we all know it’s easier to get married than stay married.” The agreement calls for shared access and respectful use of the facility. The society intends to uphold their end of this arrangement.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.

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