LOGAN SQUARE — A Logan Square congregation is meeting with neighborhood groups to discuss the future of its church building and possible redevelopment proposals that could involve demolishing it.
Grace Church of Logan Square is in the infancy stages of a "visioning" process that is considering a variety of scenarios to help the church survive in its original location, 3325 W. Wrightwood Ave.
The 106-year-old church building requires significant work due to deferred maintenance over the years as the congregation shrunk, including major water damage and a boiler with a limited life, according to the Rev. Mark Schol, pastor of the church.
As the church has met with neighborhood groups, including the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and Logan Square Preservation, Schol has pitched one possible idea of building housing on the site of the church, according to those in attendance.
One possibility involved demolishing the church and building a 30-to-40-unit development that would include a sanctuary to keep the church on the site, according to groups that met with Schol.
The pastor declined to comment on specifics behind options the church was considering, stating the process is in the very early stages.
"I think just about every church here in Logan Square are all grappling with the same problems where we have older buildings with congregations that are having a tough time taking care of them, so we need to think about ways to rethink ministry," Schol said.
Schol said a major topic that has come up as he has met with community groups and members of the congregation has been issues of affordable housing in the neighborhood.
"Housing is definitely on the lips of a lot of folks right now," he said. "What would that look like for us is an option as well. Is that one way we could be a prophetic voice for the neighborhood?"
Discussions on the future of the church date back to at least October, when Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) met with church leaders.
Churh leaders told him they were coming up with plans to build a new facility on the site that would allow them to continue worshiping to to serve the community while providing them the money needed to do so in the form of housing units onsite, according to Ramirez-Rosa.
"I told them 'Your plans are well intentioned, but ultimately you need to win my community's support before I grant you any zoning change,'" Ramirez-Rosa said.
The alderman said he hasn't heard from the church since the original meeting and that any proposal presented to him would need to go through a community-driven development process.
Logan Square Preservation, which the church met with this month, is against any plans that involve demolishing the church, according to Bruce Anderson, who sits on the group's zoning committee and was at the meeting.
Anderson said the church presented three ways of addressing their building and funding issues: continue fundraising within the congregation, sell the building and or do some sort of redevelopment.
The redevelopment proposal church leaders presented involved either tearing down the neighboring parsonage and building a much larger housing development there or tearing down the entire church.
"You would get a huge fight from the neighborhood. That’s what we told him," Anderson said. "To me they were just another developer telling us how good the thing in their head would be."
Grace Church of Logan Square was the first English-speaking church in the neighborhood when it was established in 1904, Schol sai.
Within four years the church grew from 13 people to between 400 and 500, the pastor said.
"It's been a stalwart here on Wrightwood and Kimball," Schol said.
The congregation tore down the original building and constructed the current building in 1910.
The church added classroom space, a gymnasium and a meeting area in 1925.
During the white flight of the 1950s and '60s the church lost a large part of its members as the neighborhood's demographics shifted heavily toward a Latino population, Schol said.
“Going into the '70s, '80s and '90s our church continued to shrink because we weren’t able to reach out to the community like we wanted to," he said.
When Schol took over in 2012 there were just nine people in the pews during his first Sunday service.
Since then the church has been working on outreach efforts and hosting art groups, sports and other non-church functions inside the building.
Attendance in recent years has "skyrocketed," Schol said, with an average of 50 to 60 people every Sunday.
"It really feels like the community is alive and that’s what is so exciting about it," Schol said.
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