A New and Diverse Church in the 'Burbs

By Bruce Cole

It’s not every day that an American Baptist Churches-ordained pastor and a Lutheran-ordained pastor find enough community to join their efforts in the planting of a new church. For Kelvin Roberts and me, it was a natural move. Had All Saints Church been imagined a few years earlier, it might have been an “ecumenical partnership” or a “trans-denominational church,” but we’ve landed in different territory.

We had previously served together on the staff of another Chicago-area church and are not only colleagues but share a close friendship that encompasses our families.

I’m the one with Lutheran roots. In late 2016, I had just returned from a year and a half in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where I served as the initiating pastor of a church in Winston-Salem’s downtown arts district. While there, I found a friend and mentor in Alliance pioneer Richard Groves, retired pastor of Wake Forest Baptist Church.

Richard’s friendship and mentoring sparked in me a strong desire to explore Baptist theology and concerns, and so began what I call my “Baptist-ification.” I attended an Alliance gathering with Richard where I made important, life-giving connections, and over the course of the next year or so I came to understand that the Alliance was the right fit for me.

Back in the Chicago area, Kelvin and I sat with our families at dinner one evening with our friend John Laster, a leadership coach who works with churches on strategies for revitalization. John looked across the dinner table at Kelvin and asked, “So, what’s your ministry plan going forward?” Kelvin shared his dream of planting a church in Chicago’s northwest suburbs that would, from its inception, be intentionally diverse. That’s not a typical thing in the “burbs.” As I heard Kelvin describe his vision, I responded, “I’m in.”

We began planning and agreed that the new church would seek connection with the Alliance of Baptists and the American Baptist Churches U.S.A. We gathered a core group of interested people, and in February of 2017, All Saints Church members gathered for our first worship service. Along the way, we’ve received guidance and mentoring from Ken Meyers, former faith formation specialist for the Alliance, and also from Shanta Premawardhana of Omnia Leadership Institute in Chicago, another early leader of the Alliance.

We’re two years new now. We’re diverse, as we had hoped. All Saints Church includes people from Haiti, the British Virgin Islands, second-generation Latinos, lifelong suburbanites and others who’ve moved to the suburbs from Chicago’s South Side. We are a welcoming and affirming congregation, with full participation of LGBTQ persons.

From our beginning two years ago, we looked around and remarked, “Wow, we have a lot of children here!” We devote much of the first half of our worship service to our kids. Kelvin and I take turns giving each Sunday’s children’s sermon. Those messages are rarely short. After the children’s sermon, we pass out metal buckets and the children receive “The Noisy Offering,” a collection of loose change that clinks in their buckets and is shared with our local food pantry. On Friday evenings Kelvin and his wife, Lesley, host our children for additional Bible study, faith formation and fun.

The Chicago suburbs are home to a lot of churches. We asked ourselves early on, ‘Does our community really need another church?” Our answer came from one key word in our question: “community.” We saw – and still see – a need and hunger for community in an area of the world where garage doors go up and down each day, “virtual” connections supplant embodied ones, and isolation grows. We also believe that diversity and upfront concern for justice are distinguishing characteristics in our context. After two years as a gathered church, we feel as though we’ve stumbled onto something significant.

Bruce Cole is Co-Senior Minister at All Saints Church. He's a native New Yorker who worked as program director and on-air host for radio stations around the country before entering seminary.

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