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Churches connect through tithing

Posted: August 20 2020 at 11:06 AM
Author: Anne Marie Gerhardt, Dir. of Communications


Rev. Hope Chernich (right) delivers a check to the Hands to Help ministry, a recipient of Irving Park's tithing from the sale of the church's building.

In 2019, the congregation at Irving Park United Methodist Church in Chicago made one of their most difficult decisions in the church’s more than 130-year history. Facing mounting repairs, costly renovations, and dwindling membership, the congregation sold their building on Keeler Avenue and held their final worship in the space last November.

“It was a long journey discerning what to do with the building,” said Rev. Hope Chernich. “We worked with the Conference and talked about redeveloping or merging with another congregation, but it came to the point where selling and closing doors was the best option. However, we committed to staying in the community to start something new.”

Chicago Northwestern District Superintendent Brittany Isaac encouraged Irving Park and other congregations that have sold buildings to do something more and tithe the money made on their sales with other United Methodist Churches and ministries in the Conference.

“We ask each congregation to follow the biblical practice of giving by sharing 10% of the proceeds from the sale of their building,s” said Isaac. “It should be given out of a spirit of joy, generosity, and abundance and rooted in a deep spiritual understanding that the money comes from God.”

Irving Park divided up 10% of their proceeds by giving to $10,000 to the Irving Park Food Pantry, which a former member started and was housed in the building and displaced by the sale. Another $10,000 went to Hands to Help, a neighborhood organization that local churches partner together with providing financial assistance for housing and utilities. The congregation also wanted to give back to United Church of Rogers Park with $60,000 to help make much-needed repairs to their front steps and entrances and improve accessibility.

“When you have such great loss in selling your building and facing difficult realities with declining numbers, this was an amazing opportunity to turn around and find a way to celebrate in the midst of that,” said Chernich. “It also helps us to understand our connection. We found ways to use a portion of the funds in a positive way. The Conference has supported us in many ways and we were finally able to give back when for many years we haven’t been able to.”

Irving Park also was able to give $20,000 to a new church start in Melrose Park. The Red Door Church is an LGBTQ inclusive Hispanic ministry and hopes to launch worship in 2021.

“Our mission is to create an inclusive place of worship, to accompany Latinx people in their journey of faith and struggle, and to make disciples of Jesus Christ,” said Red Door Church planter Shalamar Molina. “We thank Irving Park UMC for thoughtfully gracing us with this gift. This donation not only aids us in our mission and help with the expense to launch a new faith community, but is a prophetic transference of a mission they began in the 80s with the Reconciling Ministry Network.”


Berry United Methodist Church's building served the Chicago Lincoln Square neighborhood for more than 100 years.

Berry Memorial UMC in Chicago sold their 110-year-old building in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood in the Spring of 2020. They plan to distribute their tithe of the sale over three years to other UMCs in the conference and various ministries.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the congregation decided to give money to smaller NIC churches struggling with and offer technology grants to help connect members with online meetings and worship. They gave nine grants totaling more than $24,000 to help pay for items such as Chromebooks and laptops, as well as recording, audio, and live streaming equipment.

“I would say to other congregations asked to tithe, it’s the right thing to do,” said Jeanne Mervine, Berry UMC Administrative Chair. “I would say find something your congregation has always wanted to support. I can’t tell you how good it feels to give this much money this year when so many organizations are struggling during the pandemic. I feel our little congregation really is making a difference in so many lives.”

Humboldt Park UMC, a bilingual Spanish/English congregation in the Logan Square neighborhood received $2,000 to provide Internet, tablets, and basic laptops to help families connect both to worship and church ministries as well as to help families who need access for school remote learning.

“We will be using part of the grant to enhance access to our current virtual ministry for the members of our church community who have no access to technology or internet in their homes,” said Rev. Paula Cripps-Vallejo, Humboldt Park’s senior pastor. “Overall, we are grateful for this funding to help bridge the divide/gap in technological literacy and access to the Internet that is, unfortunately, a big part of systemic injustice that we experience as a majority Latino/Hispanic congregation.”

Resurrection UMC in Chicago needed recording equipment the congregation could not afford to produce its online services. “The members of Resurrection UMC extend their humble gratitude for the technology grant awarded to us,” said Resurrection’s pastor Rev. Delian Stone. “As God continues to do a new thing in the life of the church, you have blessed us tremendously and because of your generosity we are able to enhance our church technology and ministries.”

Berry also gave to several ministries supported by Lincoln UMC in Pilsen including the Youth Health Service Corps, low-cost exercise and nutrition classes, and the Sin Fronteras Immigration Ministry. The rest of the tithe will go toward two other ministries the congregation has long supported: The Night Ministry and the Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors.

Each church and organization expressed deep gratitude for being the beneficiary of the funds. 

“This is a most unexpected and pleasant surprise and I thank you wholeheartedly on behalf of our board, our staff, our clients,” NIJFON executive director Claudia Marchan. “COVID-19 continues to hit our immigrant and Black communities disproportionately, and just about every day there is an anti-immigrant policy or an attack against the immigrant community. We thank Berry church, the Berry community, and everyone who supported this decision.”

Rev. Isaac said paying it forward is a testimony to our United Methodist connection and a vision to the ancient church found in Acts 2. “I have asked churches to invest mainly in other UMC congregations but also acknowledging that there are sometimes historic ties to organizations that they also want to support,” said Isaac. “This has been a regular practice in our district. St. Matthew entered into a multi-million dollar venture and tithed out of their thankfulness for all the ways the UMC had invested in them throughout the years. Adalberto sold their building and invested in an emerging Hispanic ministry in Waukegan and New Hope sold their building and gave to NIJFON.”

Berry UMC’s pastor Rev. Matthew Krings said the congregation’s plans to tithe were already in motion when he came on as their new pastor in July. “I’m really thankful that we have leadership that cares enough to be able to want to invest and give back to other churches and causes in our community to further God’s plan for Northern Illinois,” said Krings. “When we talk about stewardship, we talk about the fact that everything is God’s and nothing we have is ours. Tithing was our congregation’s way of acknowledging that.”

While Berry and Irving Park no longer have a physical building, both congregations are continuing to worship and grow their churches. Berry is renting and renovating a storefront on Western Avenue and hopes to be worshiping there by November. Irving Park purchased a thrift store in Portage Park as an outreach ministry while finding new ways to worship and be active in the community. 

Irving Park also received a new pastor July 1, the Rev. Erin James-Brown who is embracing the congregation’s generous spirit. “While a building is gone, the people, their memories, and their heritage of faithfulness join with our efforts to create this new act of worship,” James-Brown recently wrote to the congregation. “While we don't yet know what our new community will look like, we know people need to hear more about what God is up to and how a relationship with God and following Jesus can transform one's life."

A testimony that tithing is indeed transformative.

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