Many exciting things are happening at Ascension of Our Lord Greek Orthodox Church, the newest church community of the Metropolis of Chicago.
Rise of a new community
Back in 1997, a group of people came together to discuss the need for a Greek Orthodox church in Southern Lake County.
Founding member Harold Anagnos explained.
“We saw the need, and addressed His Eminence Metropolitan Iakovos. He gave us the blessing to meet and discuss the possibilities.”
This meeting has become well-known in the community, as it was not only the place where the seeds were planted, but where an incredibly dedicated group of individuals pledged to create a new church community, despite any potential roadblocks.
Five families were part of these planning stages. A priest was actually assigned before the church was even established and had a name, which is highly unusual.
“We met again at the home of another founding member, Fred Chapekis. We’d compiled a list of potential priests. Father Jim Gordon arrived to join meeting. The kids in the room immediately recognized him, since at the time he was the Metropolis Youth Director. We all looked at each other, and thought, if the kids all know him and respond so positively to him, then he was the one. We requested him and he was immediately assigned to our community.”
The name has great significance. It is the only church in our Metropolis whose name was selected personally by His Eminence. Only one other parish in the U.S. bears the name Ascension: Ascension Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Oakland, CA. It’s also an appropriate metaphor for its rise from fledgling community to one serving more than 300 families in the area and growing.
The first liturgy took place on January 10, 1998 at the nearby Stevenson High School. The community met there until early July 2001, when they were able to move to their property in Lincolnshire.
The current structure is a former ranch home. In fact, the narthex area was once a swimming pool, and the kitchen is a typical residential kitchen. The barn was torn down, and a temporary church was constructed. The parish received permission from the Village of Lincolnshire, to hold services at at their present location, and the first Vespers and Divine Liturgy were celebrated on the church’s feast day in 2001.
Carol Stamas, part of the community since the third Divine Liturgy in 1998, recalled that the ministries began to form quickly.
“By September, we had a fully operating Philoptochos chapter, JOY/Jr. GOYA, and a GOYA.”
Today there are ministries for toddlers to seniors. Later this year, they hope to launch a new ministry, for married couples.
Every member of the community is dedicated to the parish and its growth. The church owns seven acres of property, and paid off its mortgage years ago.
Committed to the youth
Father Sotirios Malamis, who was assigned to the church as Proistamenos in September 2014, said the commitment to the youth was in place from the initial discussions.
“Our youth groups were fully formed and operating early on. Father Jim, along with our former Youth Director, Alex Magdalinos, put a plan in place. It called for consistency, so the kids could get involved, and get to know one another. They’ve developed such a tight bond. We remain committed to our youth, and our youth ministries are an integral part of our community. We’re now actively seeking a new youth director. ”
Carol detailed other ways the parish is committed to youth.
“Father Sotirios has led us on college visits including a visit to Indiana University where we had the opportunity to visit with 13 students. We also visit kids when they’re home from college. We want to keep everyone close and connected. Earlier this month we took 14 of our GOYANS to Boston, to visit Hellenic College/HolyCross and many of the cultural and historical sites.”
Overcoming challenges to begin ascent
Over the last 15 years, the parish has been planning for construction of a new church building at its current location. Harold commented that challenges presented themselves along the way, but they remained undaunted.
“The village has strict building codes and regulations. It took time to work through all of that to create something we were happy with, that was in compliance. We began this process in 2005.”
What seemed as setbacks, the group said, only served to make them stronger, and led them to further tweak the designs into something magnificent.
Harold and Carol told us how changes helped to make things fall into place.
“We had a change in architect, to Axion Architects led by our parishioner Bill Kokalias. It really took things to a whole other level. Then, more and more, things began to take shape, like it was all happening the way it was supposed to.”
The community has received the blessings of His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Father Sotiros shared the story.
“We sent vestments to the Patriarchal community of St. George, and enclosed a letter detailing our plans. We asked for His All Holiness’ prayers and blessings. He sent back a letter, giving us the mission. It came just three weeks before we launched the capital campaign. It literally changed everything and set us on our way.”
Plans for the new church complex include a late-Byzantine style church, a community center, chapel, gallery, bookstore, storage, office suites, an expanded commercial kitchen, more classrooms to expand Sunday School, and more.
Parishioners were surveyed about the construction plans. They were asked if they wanted the church to be built first, or a new community center. Overwhelmingly, the response was the church. Construction on the new church, including an adult baptistry and seating for 420, is planned for September and will be completed in a year. The existing structure will then be revamped into the new community center.
The total cost of the project is $7.5 million.
Father Sotirios added that it’s critical for the parish to continue to evolve, since the area includes many unchurched people who are seeking a home. He said they are finding their way to Ascension.
Our Faith. Our Church. Our Legacy
With population shifts and other changes, Ascension of Our Lord could be the last Greek Orthodox Church constructed in the Chicagoland area, for a long while.
Father Sotirios spoke about fundraising.
“Given the challenges, we weren’t sure how people would respond to a capital campaign, but we’re overwhelmed with the generosity of our parishioner.”
Harold explained just how generous.
“To date, we’ve raised $2.1 million, and we have pledges for another $2.5 million. It shows us that we are moving in the right direction. People are giving with faith and with love, to see Orthodoxy and Hellenism perpetuated.”
The greater community-at-large is invited to be part of the excitement. A fundraising gala will take place in September, just before the groundbreaking. There are still naming opportunities available. Interested parties may contact Father Sotirios of Harold for more information.
Ascension of Our Lord Greek Orthodox Church is located at 1207 N. Riverwoods Road in Lincolnshire, IL. 847.482.1200
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