Dear Greenhouse Family,
As I write this, I wonder how all of you are doing. In this time of instant information, we know of disease, social turmoil, natural disasters, wars, and financial crises all around the world. It is very easy to be overwhelmed by all this traumatic news.
And yet, in the face of all this, we remember, as the psalmist does in Psalm 77, the “wonders of old” that God has worked. And then, strengthened by the reminders of God’s goodness and faithfulness in the face of the greatest difficulties, we look to what and who God has set in front of us, and we go forth in the power of the Spirit. I have witnessed this happening in the Cornerstone Northside parish here in Chicago in these last few months. In the face of the pandemic, this congregation has been actively remembering the Lord’s past faithfulness to them and are moving forward in the Spirit’s strength. I hope you are as encouraged by their story as I am.
Greenhouse has been doing ministry on the Northside of Chicago for well over ten years, with church plants meeting in rented buildings and on college campuses. In the early fall of 2019, an amazing opportunity was presented to us. Faith United Church of Christ in the Northside neighborhood of Portage Park decided to close its doors but sensed the Holy Spirit urging them to sell their building to another congregation so that the ministry of Christ in the neighborhood would continue.
When we learned of this available building, we began a fundraising campaign, and the Lord moved in many hearts! Supporters–including some of you–gave to the campaign and Faith United not only decided to sell us the building for a fraction of its value but then also returned a portion of the proceeds to bless the ongoing work in Portage Park! The building at 5051 W. Belle Plaine became the first church building within the city limits of Chicago owned by Greenhouse and the Anglican Church in North America. It is now called the Northside Mission Center and it not only roots the parish’s identity, mission, worship, and discipleship in a specific place in Chicago, it also serves as a location for local, national, and international partnership and collaboration. In fact, the parish gained a new ministry partner with the acquisition of the building itself. Rio de Dios, a Hispanic congregation which began worshipping in the building more than ten years ago, continues to call it home, and its pastors, Roberto and Ana Mazariegos, and Fr. Keith Hartsell, have been working together on new ways the two congregations can fellowship and minister together.
On November 10, 2019, roughly 300 people gathered as Bishop Stewart Ruch III consecrated the Northside Mission Center as a sanctuary for the transformation of the Northside of Chicago. Members from Walk Across the Street partner churches joined with new friends from Rio de Dios and led us in joyous, beautiful worship. It was a wonderful, wonderful day!
When Chicago moved to shelter-in-place orders, Associate Pastor Fr. Alex Wilgus had the expertise needed to transition services online, and the church sought creative ways to encourage its members and neighbors separated by the pandemic. Catechist Joel Brown launched a campaign to share copies of the New Testament with residents of Portage Park, Jefferson Park, and Irving Park (the neighborhoods closest to the church building) and coordinated a mailing outreach to remain relationally connected to nursing home residents at Cornerstone Edgewater who are under lockdown. Leaders of the church were able to meet the local Alderman as they held outdoor communion distribution, which led to congregants preparing face masks to be distributed to the elderly through his office. They continue regular correspondence with the Alderman about opportunities to serve the community.
They have seen a significant increase in engagement with their online services, and several of those who have begun regularly attending during shelter-in-place have never been regular attendees of other churches. A leader shared, “One woman signed up for our email list but has never attended a service. After we reached out to her to see if she had any needs, she got connected to Dcn. Kyle Oesch and shared that she has reservations about churches–including ours. Nevertheless, she has since participated online in the Portage Park City Group and has even begun attending an online Alpha course we launched in June. Despite the obvious relational limitations of this season, we have felt fortunate to see deeper connections being built with those exploring the church. We have become more open to experimenting and thinking outside the box; if something doesn’t work the first time, we try it again a different way.”
“In acquiring the building, we saw firsthand the extravagant generosity of God, and it has greatly increased the faith of our leaders and congregation. We now turn to him with even more expectation and trust because we can tell of the marvelous deeds that God has done for us!”
That is of such encouragement to me; I hope it is to you as well. As I write this, Cornerstone Portage Park is making plans to re-open for public worship now multiplying from one to two services. Please pray with me that many in the surrounding neighborhoods would be drawn to these services and to getting to know the members of this church face to face.