“A historic Edgewater church that houses a vital men’s homeless shelter is up for sale, creating uncertainty about the future of both.
“Epworth United Methodist Church, 5253 N. Kenmore Ave., has been a neighborhood landmark for more than 130 years, its distinctive boulder walls dating to when the newly developing Edgewater community was annexed into Chicago.
“But a once-thriving congregation that could fill a sanctuary built for 600 people now numbers only 30 to 35 members. And the surviving worshipers can’t afford the upkeep on the aging 22,500-square-foot structure.
“That’s an old but increasingly common story in Chicago. It’s a problem that crosses neighborhoods and denominations, as city dwellers turn away from organized religion, leaving church buildings underutilized and without resources for repairs.
“Over the past four decades, one of the church’s most important roles has been to provide space for a homeless shelter with beds for up to 67 men who sleep in the building’s second-floor gymnasium. The shelter, operated since 2009 by Cornerstone Community Outreach, is one of the last homeless shelters for men on the North Side and the only one in Edgewater.
“Since last year, the shelter has been operating at about two-thirds capacity because of social distancing requirements forced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The planned sale of the church was brought to my attention by Anne Sullivan, a self-described community ‘troublemaker’ who lives next door to Epworth in a senior apartment building. Fearful that a sale could see the church torn down to make way for a high-rise residential development, Sullivan started a petition drive to win city landmark protection for the building. It’s already on the National Register of Historic Places, but that designation affords it little practical protection.
“Sullivan says she has been met with an outpouring of support from neighbors fond of the familiar, old structure.
“Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) agrees Epworth is a ‘very important part of the fabric of the community. My goal is to save the building, make it be more functional. I don’t want some developer to knock it down and build condos. There will not be a high-rise there, period.’
“Osterman says he considers the church a ‘historic building’ and says he is exploring legal options for protecting it but suggests that he’d prefer to work cooperatively with a nonprofit owner interested in some ‘good community adaptive re-use.’
“The building has some significant problems, but it’s in better shape than many old churches in Chicago that I’ve visited. The foundation is settling, which has caused a large crack that’s visible along the top of the basement wall. But Sansone says the crack is no worse than when he joined the church 24 years ago. ‘It’s not crumbling down,’ he says of the structure.
“Still, there’s no question the building needs serious work, more than $500,000 to fix it says Sassone, and the congregation doesn’t have the money.
“Let’s hope they find a way to keep this piece of history by making it a part of a better future for the residents of Edgewater.” (Brown, Chicago Sun-Times, 8/20/21)
Historic Edgewater church for sale; neighbors worry about what will come next; Unable to afford upkeep, Epworth United Methodist is looking for a new owner for its 130-year-old building, which also is home to a homeless shelter, Mark Brown, Chicago Sun-Times, 8/20/21