Creating a Revitalized Faith Community at Edison Park UMC
by Victor Melad, Jr.
For 123 years, Edison Park United Methodist Church has been located in the far northwest corner of Chicago. In fact, the church was founded at almost the same time that Edison Park—now one of the city’s 77 separate communities—became part of Chicago’s expanding cityscape. Just a mile or two farther out are such Chicago suburbs as Park Ridge to the north, Niles to the east, and Skokie to the northeast.
The Edison Park UMC is well-known locally, given its long history in the community. The church is blessed with a beautiful sanctuary, adorned with prized stained-glass windows. Its congregation peaked in the glory days of the 1950s, when the church regularly drew 1000 congregants to one of its three Sunday worship services—two held in the morning and a vespers service in the late afternoon.
However, starting in the 1980s, attendance at worship began to drop, and throughout the 1990s it was on a steady slide. While at the time of the church’s founding and in its earlier days, its congregation was primarily Anglo, the English-speaking congregation was steadily shrinking. Eventually, the church’s group of faithful worshipers dwindled to the point where the remaining members were barely able to maintain the building.
Times had changed, and the make-up of the community had become far more diverse. The church had to change, too, if it was going to survive.
This year, Chicago Magazine listed Edison Park as one of the city’s best neighborhoods to live in. The community is accessible, has affordable housing, and boasts good elementary and high schools. Furthermore, this part of Chicago is known to be a safe place to live because of its large city police and fi re departments, with their host of police and fire-fighting personnel. These urban benefits extend to the nearby suburbs, making Edison Park a desirable place to live in or to live near.
Young Filipinos Arrive
In recent times, many young Filipino families have immigrated to the United States and have resettled in the Skokie and Niles suburbs adjacent to Edison Park. These young people’s arrival in the area created a great opportunity for Edison Park UMC to reach out and assist them. As new immigrants, the Filipinos needed advice and support to guide them through the complex process of cultural assimilation. They also needed a meeting place where different Filipino families could connect with one another. As sojourners living in a land far from their homeland, they needed spiritual support to help
them adjust to a new place, new neighbors, and unfamiliar customs and expectations. And, being responsible for rearing the next generation, they needed advice in navigating the Chicago school system.
All of these newcomers’ major needs could potentially be met by the Edison Park United Methodist Church. The church could act as an incubator to help the Filipino families grow as healthy Christians in the United States, fulfilling God’s dream for them, both as individuals and collectively.
So, in 2012, seeing an opportunity for church rebirth, the Northern Illinois Conference called me away from the Philippines Central Conference and asked me to relocate to Chicago. There, I was to provide pastoral leadership for the Edison Park United Methodist Church, where many Filipino immigrants were already worshiping. Since then, the church membership has increased to 120—the congregation now being 80 percent Filipino and 20 percent Caucasian American. The average worship attendance has increased from a handful to about 70.
A Church Is Revitalized
Given my nearly two-year tenure with the congregation, I can say that the church’s regained strength lies in its youth and young adults—all of whom are Filipino. Edison Park UMC is famous for its Juggling Ministry, a ministry that started a number of years ago and is carried on by the Filipino youth today. The jugglers have received an award from the Northern Illinois Conference in recognition of their unique ministry and active outreach to other youth.
Given that these young people are the hope and future of the church, I have been investing time each week to nurture them through Bible study. Eventually, I believe, they will be able to catch the vision, fully understanding how to reach out to unchurched people and make them disciples of Jesus Christ.
In our determination to further increase the church’s membership, we have begun a book study. The church’s leadership team and its youth members took time to read and study a book by Adam Hamilton: Leading Beyond the Walls: Developing Congregations with a Heart for the Unchurched. I am hopeful that, after eight weeks of in-depth study, we will all be able to grasp the principles Hamilton presents. Then, together, we can create a turn-around for Christ at Edison Park UMC—bringing to birth a new faith community that will be vibrant, caring, impassioned, and a source of new life for all.
The Rev. Victor Melad, Jr., is the pastor of Edison Park United Methodist Church in Chicago. He is an ordained pastor of the Philippines Central Conference. This article was first published in the July-August 2014 issue of New World Outlook magazine.
The Edison Park UMC youth juggling team. Photo: Courtesy Edison Park UMC, Chicago
Edison Park UMC in Chicago, Illinois, is famous for its juggling ministry, which has continued with participation from Edison Park’s Filipino youth. Photo: Courtesy Edison Park UMC, Chicago