Feature, Local News

State of Faith: New church community praying at former St. Paul’s Church

Two congregations have come together to organize a new church they’ve named Abundant Grace Church of Christ in Homewood. The former St. Paul Community Church at 18200 Dixie Highway, will be getting a new sign out front announcing this new name.

he members of St. Paul Community Church in Homewood and Faith United Protestant Church of Park Forest have been working over the last six months to become this new church. Faith United sold its building two years ago. Congregants, led by new Pastor Keitric Emory, had been renting space for their Sunday services.

Brenda Barnes Jamieson had been serving as St. Paul’s interim pastor the past two years. She generally works with churches that are struggling to find a new presence. The St. Paul congregation was down to about 20 active members who recognized they needed a solution to their dwindling membership.

“St. Paul became so small we really couldn’t do mission work of any consequence anymore. We were just hanging on worshipping on Sunday. We needed a pastor, and they needed a building,” said Jim Anderson, although that was just the start of things.

Could the two churches really be ready for a new experience?

Jamieson said once members of the two churches started discussions it became obvious this would be a good fit. While both are members of the Church of Christ, it was their intention to take God’s mission beyond their church walls that got them all to an agreement.

Abundant Grace Church of Christ at 18200 Dixie Highway in Homewood is now home to the congregations of the former St. Paul Community Church of Homewood and Faith United Protestant Church of Park Forest. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

“We came together for pragmatic purposes. We ended up with God showing up,” Jamieson said. “We ended up with a spirit and an energy that’s carrying the church in a new direction that neither church would have been able to have the vision alone.”

Jean Wildermuth, chair of the organizing committee, said, “It’s been a really interesting and wonderful journey because we are a new group, and we have new vision and we have people who want to work on that vision and try to do those things.”

Jamieson said, “The first thing was the tremendous energy we experienced by coming together. It takes my breath away. We have met almost every Saturday, and we’re still having 20 to 40 members work for two hours (on Saturdays) to organize a church. And people leave with more energy than they came in with. So, we’ve got that portion going.”

Pastor Emory is amazed by what’s been accomplished in a six-month window. Normally the process takes 24 months. He reminds Abundant Grace’s members that they are special people to have received the task of organizing a new church.

Now that they are a unit, the new church intends to make its presence known in the community. The number of churchgoers at the 9:30 a.m. Sunday worship has been increasing the past several weeks, and church members are planning an open house for mid-September. They welcome everyone to their Sunday service, the Bible study at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays, the church book club focusing on social justice issues and a host of other groups.

“I think we need to, No. 1, make sure we’re always authentic. That’s our first step in establishing a relationship with anyone,” Emory said. “We see them, not how we want them to be” but how they are, he stressed, and to share with them that “there’s a space for them to be authentic in this community of believers. And not try to force anything. We just have to provide a place where they can say ‘Hey, I can see God the way I see God and I won’t feel constricted.’”

St. Paul’s was founded in 1865 just as the Civil War ended. Its German founders started with a small chapel. The community saw exceptional growth after World War II. Anderson remembers 500 kids packed into the old Homewood Theater for Sunday School. But as one generation passed to another, families moved away and the church membership dropped.

Anderson said parts of the building are now open to artists who’ve created studios in former classrooms, and other spaces are used by a singing group, community theater, the Boy Scouts. That will not change.

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