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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

130-Year-Old Edgewater Church Hosting Final Service Sunday After Being Sold, Leaving Building’s Future Unclear

Neighbors have been told Epworth United Methodist Church at Kenmore and Berwyn could be demolished, but Ald. Harry Osterman said he believes the owner will reuse the building.

Epworth United Methodist Church in Edgewater will host its last church service May 15, 2022.
Courtesy Stephanie Barto
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EDGEWATER — A 130-year-old church will hold a final service at its historical Edgewater campus this weekend as the church has been sold and likely slated for redevelopment, the congregation announced.

Epworth United Methodist Church’s final service at 5253 N. Kenmore Ave. will be Sunday, the congregation announced on its website. It is holding an estate sale — which has been billed as a “demolition sale” — through Saturday, with most of the church’s wares up for sale.

Epworth will hold services at Unity Lutheran Church, 1212 W. Balmoral Ave., starting May 22.

Future plans for the historically protected Epworth Church in Edgewater have not been made public, but the building is likely to be redeveloped, according to media reports, neighbors and preservationists.

The church property was put up for sale, the Chicago Sun-Times reported in August. The move was made because of its declining congregation size and the cost of upkeep for the over 100-year-old building.

The building has since been sold, Epworth Church announced on its website. Who has purchased the property, however, remains unclear.

In February, Epworth Church transferred its property to an entity known as Church Properties Reimagined, according to Cook County Property records. Church Properties Reimagined is a nonprofit that helps facilitate the services and assets of low-income neighborhood institutions, according to its public tax records. The nonprofit appears to be an intermediary between the congregation and the true buyer.

While the buyer of the church property is unclear, it is expected that the property will be redeveloped, said LeRoy Blommaert, an Edgewater neighbor and volunteer with the Edgewater Historical Society.

The historical society has been told the church is under contract to a buyer, but they have not been told who the buyer is or what exactly their plans are for the campus, Blommaert said.

Neighbors have been told that the property could be torn down, and there is “fear we’re close to seeing a demolition permit,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.

Now, neighbors are preservationists are hoping to save the historical building.

“We’ve known it was under possible threat,” Blommaert said.

Credit: Courtesy Stephanie Barto
The interior of Epworth United Methodist Church, 5253 N. Kenmore Ave.

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said he is awaiting final plans for the church property that is under contract to be sold.

Osterman said he anticipates the owner will reuse the existing church and community building. The alderman expects to announce more on the future plans for the church in the coming weeks, he said.

“It’s my expectation it will be an adaptive reuse,” Osterman said.

Epworth United Methodist Church was originally formed in 1888, back when Edgewater only had a few hundred residents.

The church building was completed in 1891, with noted architect Frederick B. Townsend donating his services, according to the Edgewater Historical Society. In the 1930s, the building was expanded and a community house added to accommodate a growing congregation. For decades, the church has also housed a homeless shelter from Uptown organization Cornerstone Community Outreach.

Osterman said he is working with Cornerstone to find a new location for the shelter.

The church has been added to the National Register of Historic Places and is given “orange-rated” status under the city’s historic survey. That is one level below a Chicago landmark.

Neighbors and preservationists have tried to attach city landmark status on the church for years. Given the uncertainty of the church’s future, the need for landmark protection is greater than ever, Miller said.

“We’ve been concerned about the church for awhile,” he said. “People in the community want to see this remarkable building preserved.”

Epworth’s estate sale being billed as a “church demolition” sale on an estate sale listing website has caused concern for the building’s future on social media. Miller said he told the company handling the estate sale that it would be improper to sell any fixed objects, especially stained glass windows from legendary Chicago artists Healy and Millet.

No building or demolition permits have been issued for the building, city records show. Because of its status in the city’s historical survey, a demolition would be paused by 90 days so city officials could review the building’s significance.

Like many church communities across Chicago, Epworth’s congregation has dwindled in recent years, sources said. The phenomenon has caused church buildings to be reused in other ways, from high-end apartments to performing arts venues.

The historical society hopes the church building is saved and put to community use, if it can’t remain a place of worship.

A residential building “may not be the best use for this site,” Miller said. “At least it may encourage restoration.”

Epworth’s last services at its church building will take place at 11 a.m. Sunday.

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