LOGAN SQUARE — After nearly a year on the market, the deteriorating Grace United Methodist Church might be sticking around after all: An anonymous donor has stepped up to fund $100,000 in building repairs.
Now the church at the corner of Kimball and Wrightwood avenues is on its way to becoming a community center, rather than an apartment complex or another development. But church leaders need a lot more help to make it happen.
Rev. Hope Chernich said church leaders voted in October to take the church off the market and instead focus on partnering with other churches and community organizations to repair the church and keep it open.
The church already hosts community events, basketball games, yoga classes and the like, but it needs significant repairs and community partnerships for that to continue and thrive, Chernich said.
“We really are committed to finding partners and going all in to see if we can make it work,” she said.
The vote came after the church received $100,000 from an anonymous donor through the neighborhood group Logan Square Preservation.
That money is going toward masonry repairs — “work that needs to be done as quickly as possible,” Logan Square Preservation president Andrew Schneider said.
“The church gets infiltrated with water. … The plaster is not water-proof, so when the water comes in, the plaster deteriorates so you can see the water damage in the sanctuary,” Schneider said.
Schneider said crews have already begun the work and hope to finish before winter weather hits.
“We’re really proud. A lot of people came together to make this work and we all took a leap of faith together,” he said. “[It] is going to result in keeping a historic congregation that’s been more in this neighborhood for more than 100 years in their home.”
But the brick work, while necessary, is only the first step in a long and costly process.
The church needs more than $1 million in repairs, according to Chernich. In addition to masonry repairs, it needs roof repairs, new windows, new electrical and plumbing systems, significant upgrades to the bathrooms and kitchen and cosmetic fixes including fresh coats of paint and new carpeting, she said.
Chernich also noted that the building needs lifts and ramps and other accessibility features because it doesn’t currently meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“While we’re grateful, it is a step of faith to take the building off the market,” she said.
“The donation will begin the work, but there are a lot more things that need to fall into place before we know for sure” if the plan will work.
Grace Church was the first English-speaking church in the neighborhood when it was established in 1904.
The congregation tore down the original building and constructed the current building in 1910. The church added an addition with classrooms, a gymnasium and a meeting area in 1925.
During the white flight of the 1950s and ’60s, the church lost many of its members as neighborhood demographics shifted heavily toward a majority-Latino population, according to former pastor Mark Schol.
Like other churches in the neighborhood and across the city, Grace Church has suffered financially in recent years due to years of deferred maintenance and shrinking membership.
Church leaders have been talking about the possibility of selling the church for years.
In 2017, the leaders devised a plan to tear down part of the building and build apartments on the land, but that plan never advanced.
Preservationists were against that plan. They argued the church is a fixture in the community, which shouldn’t be replaced — even partially — with a new apartment building.
Other neighbors agreed, saying they didn’t want to see a developer swoop in and replace the church with luxury housing.
The church hit the market for $1.59 million in March 2019.
Chernich said there’s a “renewed excitement” around the latest plan.
“Our members are very committed to Logan Square,” she said, adding that the possibility the church would be sold was “very difficult” for members.
“We’re really grateful for Logan Square Preservation. They didn’t want to see another church close.”
Now begins the difficult task of finding community organizations to partner with. Chernich said right now a small number of community groups are using the space, but “it’s going to take a number of community partners to make it work.”
Chernich said they’re looking for the groups to help fund the repairs. For example, a community theater group could apply for a grant to build out the space for a theatre production, she said.
Chernich said while she’s “cautiously optimistic” the plan will work, she has faith in Logan Square.
“I think that Logan Square is a great community and is a place where I think it’s really possible,” she said.
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