The thriving community of St. Sophia Church of Elgin, IL will soon realize their dream of building a new Byzantine-style church. Learn more.
St. Sophia Church – “Building Together”
At St. Sophia Church in Elgin, IL, parishioners worship in a former Protestant church. As much as they’ve enhanced it, it still isn’t a true Byzantine church. This thriving community will soon realize it’s long held dream to construct a Byzantine-style house of worship. Read on to learn more about the community of St. Sophia Church and their exciting plans. Rendering of the new St. Sophia Church in Elgin, IL. IMAGE: St. Sophia Church
Early days of St. Sophia
In the 1960s, many Greeks left Chicago and flocked to the suburbs. By the late 1970s, many Greeks began moving further west. Many settled in the area around Elgin. The closest churches in the area were more than a 30-minute drive away. About 100 families — immigrant families, of which most were in the restaurant business — came together to start a church in their area.
Former church secretary Matina Carabacas and her family were among those pioneer families.
“We’d tried a few times before, but nothing came to fruition. Finally, we went to the Diocese and asked for their blessing, then gathered the money to start the community. Through determination and faith, it finally happened.”
Andrew Piers came up with the name St. Sophia. Matina explained.
“There wasn’t another St. Sophia Church in the Diocese. There was no opposition, and that became the name of our parish community.”
The very first Divine Liturgy was celebrated on September 17, 1978 – the feast day of St. Sophia and her Three Daughters — by Father Theodore Stoupas, in a rented space at Kimball Middle School. The fledgling parish held services there for about four months. They outgrew the facility, and the community rented the auditorium at St. Thomas More Catholic Church. The property at their current location, the former First Assembly of God, was purchased in 1979. The parish moved to its new facility exactly one year after its first Divine Liturgy.
Sunday School classes commenced while at St. Thomas More. The Philoptochos chapter was established in February 1979. Greek School came soon after. Youth groups came next.
Father Theodore was reassigned in 1981. Father Peter Yannacopoulos came, and served the parish until 1985. It was under his tenure that the church was adorned with Byzantine icons and other enhancements to make the edifice look and feel more Greek Orthodox. The Very Reverend Timothy Bakakos led the community from 1985, until the arrival of Father Andrew Karamitos, the current priest, in 1997.
Father Andrew was born in Wilmington, DE and grew up in New Jersey. Prior to his assignment to St. Sophia, he served as assistant priest at Assumption (Panagia) in Chicago. He reflected on his early days in the community.
“I was very excited to join this relatively new parish. I was told that this church was the warmest, most inviting, yet humble church in the Metropolis. It was, and it still has that warmth today.”
Under his leadership, stewardship has grown to 300.
The youth of this community are very involved. They actively volunteer for the festival, and help in many ways. Recently, the community hired a youth director, Natalie Wians.
Father spoke about the youth programs under Natalie’s direction.
“She’s brought more youth to our community, and taken this program to a new level. Our youth are vibrant. They are dedicated to their parish, and look for more ways to be involved.”
St. Sophia Greek School offer classes for K-6th grade on Saturday mornings.
The parish was quickly growing out of its space. In 1990, they broke ground on an addition, which was completed in 1992.
The very first festival took place in 1979. The 38th annual festival took place this past summer, and was the most successful ever. Father spoke about the fest.
“Our fest continues to grow. 10-15,000 people came through here in those 3 days. The majority were not Greek. It’s become known as a big party, with great food, hospitality, excitement, and fun. The volunteers work hard and are tired, but they all say they had fun. It amounts to half our budget, and our parishioners are so committed, they put off vacations until after festival. And all our young adults were part of it.”
Video of the plans for the new St. Sophia Church in Elgin, IL. IMAGE: St. Sophia Church
From the moment he arrived, Father Andrew and the community began to dream of building a proper Byzantine-style church.
“It’s our vision, to continue to save souls, to celebrate the sacraments in a true Orthodox church. We want to look up and see a dome with a Pantocrator. Our vision isn’t about brick and mortar, rather, it’s about giving the community of St. Sophia a proper place of worship, to become better people, better Christians. The church is a classroom, a tool. The church is a symbol of who we are, it isn’t quite right now. When you pass by, you don’t know this is an Orthodox parish. It still looks like what the First Assembly created in the 1960s.”
In 2008, the parish conducted a needs assessment. Parishioners proclaimed their desire for construction of a Byzantine-style church as well as facilities for youth ministries and religious education. But market conditions placed any plans put on hold.
“Building Together: Our Faith – Our Dream – Our Legacy”
In 2015, the market improved, and the community experienced further growth, spurring renewed discussion about the project. The subject came up at a General Assembly meeting. A unanimous vote led to a feasibility study. Communications Committee Chair Betsy Cappas explained.
“Slowly, we began to receive feedback from our parishioners. They all agreed it was time to proceed.”
The parish consulted with renowned architect Christ Kamages, who shared his experience designing churches. Plans were drawn, and committees were created to manage all aspects of the project.
A new church will be constructed on the site of the current building. The project also includes new administrative offices, classrooms, a Fireside Room for small group gatherings and discussions, and a conference room. During construction, services will take place in the community center.
In Spring 2017, the community launched the private phase of its Capital Campaign. To date, more than $4.2 million of the $6.5 million project has already been pledged. They have tremendous momentum going into the launch of the general campaign. With God’s Blessing, they are hoping to break ground in April 2018. They anticipate that the project will take 1 year.
The families of St. Sophia church invite the entire community to a fundraising gala on April 14, 2018. More details to follow.