Two years ago, St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago was in danger of closing. Today, the parish is thriving, energized, and growing.
New priest ushered in new era
Things were looking pretty bleak at St. George, and then a new priest was assigned to the parish. Father Chrysanthos Kerkeres, who had served the community of St. Haralambos Church in Niles, IL for 11 years, came to St. George in February 2014. The young, dynamic priest was exactly what the community needed. Father Chris was welcomed with open arms, by a parish with such great potential, just waiting to be harnessed. With Father Chris, it was the start of a new era for the parish.
“We’re in the heart of Lincoln Park. There are a lot of young families here looking for a ‘home,” Father Chris said, soon after he arrived at St. George.
These young families and singles were looking for a priest they could connect with, and they quickly found it in Father Chris. Immediately, he set the focus on the youth, and set plans in motion to revitalize the Sunday School program, plus introduce and revamp many programs for kids.
“It’s important to keep the youth grounded in the Church. That foundation influences their decisions later in life.”
With the addition of pastoral assistant Anthony Ruggerio to the mix, it’s been a recipe for success. Word quickly got out about the new energy and excitement at St. George, and families began to flock to the church, from all corners of the city. Two years ago, the stewardship rolls showed a handful of families. Today, more than 350 families call St. George home.
A community bands together
The community, led by Father Chris and the Parish Council, about one year ago, a new vision for the parish was set. Together, they began making strides toward restructuring and rebuilding, and laying the groundwork for the establishment of the St.George Preschool. They began initiatives to repair the 100+ year-old building’s crumbling infrastructure, including repairing the leaky roof and all the resulting damage. The upstairs classrooms were remodeled, and prepared for the opening of the preschool earlier this fall.
The parish has rebounded from the brink of bankruptcy, and has embarked on a multi million dollar renovation of the building and the church proper. After repairing the leaky roof, the ceiling in the church has been re-plastered, and will soon get a face lift. All the icons will be cleaned, and the pews will be refurbished. Plus, the community center will be renovated and more bathrooms will be added. There are also plans to renovate and expand the community.
Youth taking on leadership roles
One of the most exciting things about this transformation at St. George, is the mobilization of the youth. They’re enthusiastically taking on leadership roles and getting involved in the parish in many ways.
“Our strongest group is in the 20-35 age range. They’re working very hard, taking on leadership roles — in the parish council, working with Hope and Joy groups, greeting and welcoming other young adults when they come to church. Sunday School has so many kids, it can’t fit into the classroom. There’s something special going on here. Everyone is energized and wants to be a part of the growth.”
The youth are embraced, via many great programs at St. George, all geared to everyday situations, and helping them to plant firm roots in the church. Father Chris has led kids on Scavenger Hunts in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. On Veteran’s Day, city schools were closed, but St. George’s doors were wide open, welcoming the youth to participate in a community service project, packing baskets of food for the GOYA to distribute to people in need on Thanksgiving. This weekend, St. George will also host a Metropolis retreat, Ionian Village On the Go.
On December 3, the parish’s YAL will host a special lecture by Dr. Gayle Woloschak, a professor at Northwestern University, to discuss a timely topic: Orthodoxy and Technology, and their role in the lives of today’s youth.
Full house every Sunday
It’s a great blessing to see a parish that less than two years ago was faced with shutter, to be filled to the brim each Sunday. A recent brunch after Divine Liturgy was overflowing. People attend church, and make a day of it.
“Some our families come from far away. We know we won’t have weekday programs full, but on the weekends, and Sundays, people are here and they support all we do.”
Exciting things are happening
The community isn’t resting on its laurels. From adding valet parking on Sundays, to closing off Sheffield for Pascha services, and more, things continue to evolve at St. George, energizing the community, and fulfilling the vision of a thriving, bustling youth-oriented community. Stop by for a visit and see for yourself.
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