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New church centers on community

Posted: June 15 2019 at 02:06 PM

By Anne Marie Gerhardt

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The Center holds a worship service on Sunday mornings but started with weekday community outreach programs.

When a surprise microburst swept through the Village of Itasca in July 2017 tearing down trees and knocking out power, it was not the sign the Rev. Bob Butler was looking for to start a new church in the community.

“The microburst happens and as I come around the corner of the church to check on things, I find the electrical box ripped off the building, power lines down, a tree that fell on the roof, and it looked like something out of a movie,” said Butler. “At the time I thought, maybe God’s telling us we shouldn’t be here.”

Butler had just begun his new appointment to start a new faith community in the Northern Illinois Conference on the property of the closed Bethany United Methodist Church in Itasca. While it was questionable first 30 days, Butler said out of the storm opportunities and new possibilities arose.

“We began creating relationships,” said Butler. “We met neighbors who lent a hand with the cleanup, insurance claims provided resources, and people really rallied around to help us.”

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A strong storm swept through Itasca in July 2017 causing power outages and damage to the church.

Butler, who also served as a church planter in Oswego, said The Center hasn’t followed the typical church planting process. 

“The Center has been about finding out where God is moving and then going to work at it. It’s about listening to the community,” he said. “We didn’t start with Sundays. We really focused on the idea that it’s about what the community is already doing and us getting involved.” 

A hub of activity, The Center started as a multi-use space for the community to come and take part in a variety of offerings during the weekdays such as yoga, martial arts, a children’s music program, artists-in-residence, a weekly community meal, recovery groups, and Bible studies.

"We started as a 'parachute drop' in the community without a congregation," said Butler.  "We hustled up a few friends to help with a few projects. Over the course of a few months, we met a few people and eventually started a men's group with multiple churches represented."

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The Center is located in the closed Bethany UMC in Itasca.

Butler said it was the men's group who insisted on starting a Sunday service in February 2018.  "Church is not Sunday worship. It's community gathering to create an impact for Jesus. The kingdom is expanding in Itasca," said Butler.

Ethel “E” Bertany is the church’s Financial Secretary and started coming to The Center in the beginning when there were only 14-15 people involved. Now, about 40 people worship here regularly and more than 250 people utilize The Center in one form or another.  After a short 20 months since launching, The Center celebrated becoming a United Methodist chartered church in the NIC on May 12, 2019.

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” said Bertany. “I always wanted to be involved with church but couldn’t find a fit. I took this as a way to get involved and to do what God is leading us to do.”

Bertany says The Center is building its presence in the community participating in many activities such as a food truck rally, the Memorial Day parade, a food drive, and a big garage sale.

“We practice what we preach,” said Bertany. “We are out in the community doing what God calls us to do.”

While moving forward, The Center also honors its past. Memorabilia, photos, and artifacts from Bethany UMC’s 160-year history, including the first Bible and lectern, are on display in the front hallway of the building, which was moved to its current location in 1922 

We shouldn’t forget those people who came before us because there was a pastor back in that day who said ‘we should go there…that’s the uncharted area,’” said Butler. “That’s pretty much what we are trying doing again today. Looking for where it’s uncharted and trying to make something happen.”

Alice Beine is one of the original members of Bethany UMC who has returned to The Center. She was baptized and raised in this church and brought up her three children here. At age 85 and still active in the congregation with her husband, she’s happy the church doors are back open. “I feel this is my home and I always feel good when I leave here on Sundays,” said Beine.

Elgin District Supt. Darneather Murph-Heath, Bishop Sally Dyck and Rev. Bob Butler serve communion at the chartering service, May 12, 2019.

Butler hopes many in the Itasca community and surrounding area call this church home. But, he says they’ll continue searching for new ways to share the Gospel outside the four walls of the building to reach new people with the good news of Jesus Christ.  

“I hope we continue to keep ourselves open to what God is doing around us,” said Butler. “If something would happen to us such as another microburst came and leveled us, I would want the community to rally around us and say they need this space. That would be the true testament that we are the center of the community.” 

The Center is located at 400 North Walnut, Itasca, with Sunday worship at 11 a.m. For more information, visit their website at communitycenter.life.  ►Watch the video by clicking here.

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