IRVING PARK — The Irving Park United Methodist Church campus, home to the congregation for more than 125 years, is up for sale.
With an asking price of $1.7 million, the property at 3801 N. Keeler Ave. would be “perfect for another church, school or performing arts center,” the real estate listing reads. Or it could be redeveloped into single family homes.
The building is not landmarked, so a buyer could potentially demolish the church to develop the land.
Rebecca Lundstrom, the Realtor handling the sale, said it would be a shame if the church is torn down.
“It’s a beautiful building,” Lundstrom said. “Throughout Chicago you’re seeing a lot of these types of older buildings coming on the market. So repurposing them would help prevent them from being torn down.”
The impending sale of the property also means the Irving Park Food Pantry run out of the church is looking for a new home. The pantry will keep operating within the neighborhood, with plans to move to a new spot by the fall.
The building sale comes as the church deals with dwindling membership. Less than 40 people come out for services on Sundays. The congregation’s membership is down to about 65 families, said Hope Chernich, one of the church’s pastors.
The church’s worship services will continue as normal for the foreseeable future, Chernich said, and then the congregation plans to move to a new location.
“Our congregation is much smaller than it was when the building was first built,” Chernich said.
The church is currently identifying which of the church’s “precious elements” could move with the congregation to a new location if the building is sold. A special celebration of the church’s history is planned for June 9 at 11 a.m. Chernich said.
At the end of 2015, the Irving Park congregation worked with its members to figure out how to redevelop the building into senior housing. But it was unable to find developers interested in working with the church to finance that project, Chernich said. The church also tried to fundraise but wasn’t able to raise enough money for either the needed renovations or to meet its operating fund.
On Sept. 16, 2018, the church’s leadership voted in favor of selling a building that’s been their home for about 130 years.
The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Irving Park was organized with an initial group of 27 charter members back in 1888. After forming, the congregation sought a home of their own and bought a lot adjoining the grounds of the what was then the Irving Park Grade School.
Eventually, that property was sold to the city’s school system. In 1892, the congregation bought two corner lots at the corner of what’s now Grace Street and Keeler Avenue.
The listing that went live last Friday said the property has two conjoined buildings — a sanctuary building featuring a “two-story arched ceiling and striking stained-glass windows,” and a second building with “dramatic top-floor loft space with stained-glass, plus a variety of spaces with potential use as offices, classrooms, studios, etc.”
The sanctuary building also features a large basement gathering space that has a commercial kitchen that the Irving Park Food Pantry has been based out of for the past 35 years.
“The pantry wants to assure its clients and supporters that we are taking all steps necessary to ensure the sale will not interfere with the pantry’s services and operations. We hope, in fact, that we will be able to improve upon them with the move,” said Craig Shutt, a spokesperson for the pantry.
He credits the church’s support for helping the pantry grow from a small operation run out of a basement closet to one that serves more than 1,400 people in the Irving Park community every month.
Regarding the sale, he said the pantry has been in the loop regarding the church leadership’s discussions about the future of the building.
“We are working with several potential candidates that will allow us to continue to serve our clients from a convenient, centralized location in our service area. We hope to finalize details and complete our move by the fall,” Shutt said.
In addition, the church building also housed the Irving Park Hispanic United Methodist Church, Apogee Academy, Alcoholics Anonymous, Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, Weight Watchers, Old Irving Park Association, the Irving Park Historical Society and the Reconciling Ministry Network, among others.
The church’s leadership is also asking its asking for members of its congregation and neighbors who may have photographs or stories they’d like to share about the church’s history to please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s been difficult for us to come to this decision, but we are hopeful we can we can continue our ministry in the neighborhood or in the surrounding community in the future,” Chernich said.
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