CityVoices Newsletter - Up Close: Chicago's Ebenezer Lutheran Church
When we try to gain a better understanding of what's going on in our city
churches, we often try to get the birds-eye view. The big picture hopefully
reveals patterns and systems (or lack thereof), which are telling in the
While we all seek those "big pictures," they are not the only way to look at
city ministry, nor are they the only way to get a fresh perspective on what
we do in our own urban communities. This edition of CityVoices takes a
focused, microscopic look at urban mission through the lens of a single city
church. Our subject is Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Chicago's North Lawndale
Each Sunday, Pastor Richard Gizynski ministers to steady group of about 50
people gathered in the old German-designed sanctuary at the corner of 13th
Street and Harding Avenue. Gizynski, an Anglo graduate of Concordia Seminary
in Fort Wayne, arrived at Ebenezer in 2001 and continues to earn the respect
of his African American congregation with each week of service.
Ebenezer was founded in 1901 by German immigrants, in a Bohemian / German
immigrant community. North Lawndale soon became one of Chicago's busiest,
and most populace neighborhoods. To the north, Sears, Roebuck established
its world headquarters, home to thousands of workers. To the west along
Cermak Road, was the behemoth of Western Electric - largest factory in the
world. Numerous other businesses made for a prosperous community during the
first half of the 20th century.
But the past four decades haven't been kind to Ebenezer Lutheran and its
neighborhood. North Lawndale was near the epicenter of riots and fires in
the 1960s. Fear soon drove people, businesses, money, even churches from the
community. The rebuilding of businesses, buildings and families has been a
long, slow struggle; with no easy end in sight. The advent of Lawndale
Community Church and its Christian Community Development movement,
headquartered nine blocks south of Ebenezer Lutheran, gave North Lawndale a
well-documented "shot in the arm" during the 1980s, yet the trickle-down of
many new homes for the community is just now occurring.
Today, Ebenezer Lutheran finds itself a small church - a shadow of its
former self in terms of numbers and wealth. The church suffered from a rapid
succession of pastors during the 1990s. Its financial resources are meager
and special fund-raisers are relied upon simply to pay the most necessary
utility bills. But its people - their faith and commitment - continue to
hold high both witness and worship.
Yes, you're right. This story sounds like so many other small, corner
churches throughout America's cities: a once-great congregation, a
once-great neighborhood, and now, a much-needed ministry to conduct with few
people and fewer funds. How can we do it, Lord? How can we rebuild human
lives? How can we rebuild our neighborhoods? And, how can we rebuild our
local church structures, all at once? The tasks are daunting, sometimes
In the pages ahead, you'll read:
a.. Pastor Rich Gizynski's own challenge to his people in a June 19th
b.. Pastor Gizynski's responses to a CityVoices interview
c.. Remarks by Ebenezer Lutheran Church Chairperson James Wells
d.. Ezra Community Homes becoming a reality for the neighborhood
e.. and a Rising Future for North Lawndale
Roger Johnson, Editor - CityVoices / SCUPE
"Our Inheritance" - Pulpit Words for Everyday Urban Life
(The following is an excerpt from Pastor Richard Gizynski's sermon to his
people at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, June 19, 2005. The sermon theme,
"Inheritance," is taken from the New Testament text, Romans 5:12-15.)
When we talk about inheritance, the first thing that comes to mind is
property. Do we get the house? Do we get the car? In my last will and
testament, "I hereby do bequeath to thee all my worldly goods, all my comic
books, and so forth."
Inheritance has another meaning. We inherit characteristics, biological
traits from our parents: facial structure, smile, and eyes. Watch a child
grow up, and they mimic their parents. Not only do they look like mom and
dad, but they begin to act like mom and dad. If parents are Democrats, or
Republicans, the child will tend to go that way. If parents are
college-educated, children will tend to pursue that path.
Inheritance: it just means to get something from somebody else, usually our
close relatives. In today's text (Romans 5:12-15), Paul talks to us about
our inheritance, and tells us what we have received. He says that through
Adam, sin entered into the world. We all know the story. Adam and Eve are in
the garden, they eat the forbidden fruit; God gets mad at them and kicks
them out. Sin and death entered into the world.
You know, it's really worth looking back at Genesis 3. When God finds Adam
and Eve, he pronounces a curse upon them - "enmity, pain, suffering, toil,
sweat, from dust you came and to dust you will return." Death. What an
inheritance we have! Whenever something goes wrong, you hear people say,
"Why does God allow this to happen?"
It can happen to any of us, it's happened to your pastor. These past two
months I've felt that God's using me as a punching bag. First, there are the
struggles of our congregation. All of you are aware that to be this close to
the edge of economic failure has at times angered me. I don't want Ebenezer
Lutheran to close! Yet, God's told me, "You need to learn."
Then, there's my mother coming from Michigan to live here. That's been a
good thing, but it has also been a difficult thing. My life was turned
upside-down, when she was put in the hospital and almost died. She was
placed in a screwed-up medical facility, and what should have been a short
stay is now going on two months. Repercussions will last for at least a
Then yesterday, I received a call from my sister, 300 miles away, telling me
that her husband had just taken his own life with a shotgun. I find myself
falling on my knees and saying, "Lord, do you hear me? Why, why, why is this
And then I realized that these doings are not of God. These are our earthly
inheritance. We live in a broken world that has disobeyed God: trouble,
toil, curses, and death. We know all about this. We know people who are in
jail, people who are sick, we know about violence in our neighborhood. This
past week there was another shooting right down the street.
We each have our crosses to bear. Oh yes, "Take up your cross and follow
after me." Okay. Is there something to give us hope and encouragement and
strength? Yes, Almighty God became one of us! Go back to the source and
discover that biological connection: he became human!
Suffering, toil, sweat, tears, pain, persecution, crucifixion - he did it
all so that he could leave us an inheritance. You see, he took sin and death
to the cross. And they were nailed deeply into that wood. And he cried out,
"It is finished!" And then he gave up his spirit.
He had to die so that we could get our inheritance. We have become heirs.
Through our baptism, we are united with him in his death. And united with
him in his resurrection, we have become heirs to the glory of God. It is to
remind us that "in this world you will have many troubles, but I have
overcome the world. I have overcome sin, I have overcome death. You will be
re-united with me."
We have an inheritance that gives us hope and peace. Even when we're being
knocked about, it gives us strength to bear what the world can throw at us.
It gives us the character to go beyond and carry us into eternity, where one
day we shall all be up before the throne of glory and sing, "Hallelujah,
praise God on High!" Amen.
Contact: Rev. Richard Gizynski, Ebenezer Lutheran Church, 1248 S. Harding
Avenue, Chicago, IL 60623, (773) 762-0500, firstname.lastname@example.org
Building a Greater Concept of God's Family at Ebenezer Lutheran
(Rev. Richard Gizynski is pastor of Ebenezer Lutheran Church, a Missouri
Synod Lutheran congregation in Chicago's North Lawndale community. Ebenezer,
founded as a German church in 1901, has long since been an African American
congregation. Pastor Gizynski is originally from Detroit and came to Chicago
soon after graduating from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne.)
Pastor Gizynski, what did you do when you first came to Ebenezer Lutheran?
One of the first things I did was start a mid-week Bible study. There had
been nothing like it at the church, and it was very well received. It's
continued for the past four years now with about 10 people attending on any
given Wednesday. It's a life-giving part of our ministry. One thing to note
about our community is that we're very open with our faith. Faith is very
much on the surface of life. In grocery store lines I often hear people get
into lively discussions about church.
What one or two things do people need to understand about Ebenezer Lutheran
before they begin making recommendations for the church?
It doesn't matter about denomination or size. What goes on in North Lawndale
does not necessarily translate to Englewood or Austin. You have to know the
community's people. It's the power of the spirit in the individual and the
congregation. There are the opposite tendencies of maintenance and mission.
Churches fluctuate back and forth on that continuum for a variety of
reasons. But there's another continuum that needs to be looked at that
everybody ignores: social club versus ministry. The tendency is for many
inner city churches to become little more than religious social clubs.
How are things different here at Ebenezer?
We've had to move outside of "us" and develop a greater concept of "the
family of God." First, we had to establish that we are one family in Christ.
The biggest challenge in the urban community is self-worth. There is a
hopelessness that runs through the veins of the culture: fourth and fifth
generation welfare recipients who suffer the effects of institutional
racism. Young men stand on corners selling drugs because they have nothing
else to look forward to. Young women get pregnant so somebody can love them
and they can love somebody. It's about self-image and self-worth.
A big theme at our church is that your value is measured in the blood Christ
shed on the cross for you! We are also made in the image of God. Those are
themes you can't preach or teach enough. We need to see people through the
lens of God's family, one of two ways. You are either part of God's family,
or you have a need for God's family. You're either saved or lost.
What are some of the real gifts that you seem come out of the North Lawndale
Whether it means to or not, the city of Chicago is actually doing something
right here in North Lawndale. Gentrification is mostly being avoided here.
Rather, the city is actually helping revitalize our community. When the
riots occurred back in the 1960, this neighborhood was literally gutted. The
fires burned out massive amounts of property. We have large strips of
property where there are simply no buildings.
But new building efforts are underway, spearheaded by Wayne Gordon and
Lawndale Community Church, United Power and the Ezra Project. They are
building affordable homes: $110,000 to $125,000. It's very tough to do in
Chicago, but it's being done right here. The Northern Illinois District of
the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has been an integral partner in making
As an economic turnaround happens, how will that impact Ebenezer Lutheran
The thing about Ebenezer is that it's always been a direct reflection of its
community. When this was a German community, this was a German church. When
it was a middle-class African American community, it was a middle-class
African American church. I believe that as economics change, we'll reflect
that as well.
Is your church and community open to people other than African Americans in
Four years ago North Lawndale was an entirely African American community.
Today, aside from the Ezra Homes Project, there has been a gradual shift in
the neighborhood. As our neighborhood begins to change, I believe Ebenezer's
comparatively ready for the next demographic change that's going to happen
here. I foresee, in the next couple of years, that we're going to have to
start looking at some Hispanic aspects to our worship.
Contact: Rev. Richard Gizynski, Ebenezer Lutheran Church, 1248 S. Harding
Avenue, Chicago, IL 60623, (773) 762-0500, email@example.com
James Wells: "This best thing about our church is us - the people!"
(Congregational chairperson, James Wells, has attended Ebenezer Lutheran
Church since he was a child. A long-term Chicago police officer, Wells has
seen his neighborhood go through a generation of hard times, and is
guardedly optimistic of North Lawndale's future. Wells has served on many
committees and boards as a lay leader at Ebenezer.)
In talking about your church, you say there's "a fight in the dog." What do
This little congregation is just about overwhelmed with spirit. Even though
half of our members reside in a bad economic state, that doesn't mean
they're depressed. We have to utilize our own individual resources. If
you've got five young men in the church, you've got to use those five young
men to paint instead of hiring outside workmen.
Instead of thinking about the glass being half-empty or "half-full, I like
to think about the glass being opaque or transparent? I see Ebenezer
Lutheran as a transparent glass. Spiritually, this is a praying church, and
I know prayer works. Prayer has brought me through. It sustains me and gives
me strength. We're especially helped by prayers of intercession: when we get
our eyes off of ourselves and begin praying for others.
Do you have the opportunity here at Ebenezer Lutheran to both call out sin
and also invite people to a new way of life through the gospel?
I really believe so. I really do. Some of us church members have had our
bubbles burst. Our higher income jobs have disappeared in recent years, and
now we are making much smaller salaries. We have to get our spiritual
priorities straight, first. And when we have our spiritual priorities
aligned, then our real-life priorities will follow.
Tell me about the new houses around the church, the Ezra Community Homes.
What hope does that give you for outreach to new people who may be moving in
Well, they'll have a sense of ownership. When you have ownership in
something, you react a lot differently. A homeowner acts totally different
than a renter. An owner is interested in maintaining his or her property.
You have to have some initiative. I'm hopeful about getting to know our new
neighbors in these new homes.
You could have moved on to a different church in a different community. What
keeps you here at Ebenezer Lutheran in North Lawndale?
I guess it's the faith of my mother. She brought us here, and I saw how she
believed. I saw her pray herself through heart attacks. I saw how nobody was
ever hungry here. You might not have had steak to eat, but you weren't
hungry - just because of the congregation and the way they rallied around
one another. You might not have had designer clothes, but they just rallied
What's the best thing about Ebenezer Lutheran Church?
The best thing about it is us - the people! Not the building, it means
nothing. It's the people.
Contact: Mr. James Wells, Ebenezer Lutheran Church, 1252 S. Harding Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60623, (773) 762-0500
Ezra Community Homes for North Lawndale
Stand on the corner of 13th Street and South Harding Avenue (just across the
street from Ebenezer Lutheran Church) in Chicago's North Lawndale community
and you find more than a dozen new homes being built, all within a 300-foot
radius. Something's happening here. Walk half a block east to Springfield
Avenue and the construction pace only quickens. Thirty, forty more new homes
are easily counted within a three-block stretch.
Phase One of Ezra Community Homes will result in 125 affordable,
single-family homes for North Lawndale. Spearheaded by the Lawndale
Community Development Corporation (LCDC) and Chicago's United Power for
Action (a coalition of Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and others), the
Ezra Homes is demonstrating the first fruits of years of negotiating,
planning, development, prayer and risk-taking. The initial results are
Ezra Homes, designed to be the largest scale, most affordable homeownership
project in the region, are available in 2 different floor plans, including 3
or 4 bedrooms and up to 2 full baths. Each home include air conditioning,
washer and dryer, stove, refrigerator and dishwasher. Ezra homes are built
with high energy efficiency and include a three year heating guarantee.
Families with an annual income of $25, 500 qualify for purchase Ezra's
affordable homes, ranging in price from $80,000 (with full subsidies) to
$151,000 (no subsidies).
Chicago Metropolitan Development Association (CMDA) has teamed up with
Bigelow Homes to develop and build the Ezra Community Homes of North
Lawndale. Once a custom homebuilder, Bigelow Homes shifted their focus in
the late 1980's to building energy-efficient, affordable homes. Since then,
they have earned the reputation as the premier builder of entry-level homes
in metro Chicago. Bigelow's mission is to bring the same affordability and
quality to city homeowners that suburban families have enjoyed for years.
Contact: Donna Holt, Chicago Metropolitan Development Association, 3843 West
Ogden Avenue, Chicago, IL 60623, (773) 542-0247, firstname.lastname@example.org
North Lawndale Rising!
North Lawndale is rising again. In a neighborhood that lost thousands of
units of housing, more than 30 years of hard work by community-based
organizations are showing results. There is a resurgence of development
across the community, including a shopping center on Roosevelt Road and new
investment on Ogden Avenue. More than 1,200 units of for-sale or rental
housing are planned or under construction.
Still the neighborhood faces serious challenges. A relatively low population
density - down to 41,768 in 2000 from 125,000 in 1960 - and high poverty and
unemployment make it difficult to attract retail businesses. Underperforming
schools and negative perceptions of safety remain obstacles to attracting
working- and middle-class families. And a recent city analysis found that,
in 2003 alone, more than 500 former prison inmates returned to the 60623 zip
code that includes North Lawndale.
Founded in 1987 by the Lawndale Community Church, the Lawndale Christian
Development Corporation (LCDC) has led the neighborhood's comeback by
building and rehabbing housing, helping start a health clinic and operating
a computer technology center. Over the past 18 months, LCDC asked a task
force of 46 members and more than 300 other participants to envision and
plan a better future. They formulated 10 strategies and 43 projects.
With the Chicago Police Department, LCDC has launched a nine-month "Careers
in Law Enforcement" exposure series to acquaint young men and women with job
possibilities in public safety. Instruction includes what they'll need to do
and to know before taking-and hopefully, passing-the Chicago Police Academy
entrance exam. New and expanded programs include supportive housing for
female ex-offenders who are on parole. The "U-Turn Permitted" job training
program equips and encourages ex-offenders striving to re-enter society.
The Ogden Avenue Makeover Task Force recommends reconfiguring and
beautifying Ogden Avenue to support retail and pedestrian activity. Ogden is
one of Chicago's widest streets and almost completely devoid of trees and
other landscaping. The addition of greenery and public art can transform it
into an economically viable "main street" for North Lawndale. LCDC is also
pursuing development of a community center to provide healthy recreation for
youth and adults. The former CTA bus barn at Ogden and Cermak would be an
ideal. (For more information Lawndale Christian Development Corporation 3843
W. Ogden Ave. Chicago, IL 60623 773-762-8889 www.lcdc.net)
Adapted from "Chicago Neighborhood Plans: New Communities Program
Quality-of-Life Plan Summaries May 2005,"
Thanks for Reading CityVoices!
August's edition of CityVoices will focus on SCUPE's new Center for African
American Theological Studies (CAATS). We'll discover the genesis of this
exciting new effort aimed at preparing young African American ministers for
greater understanding and effectiveness within the black church. Look for
interviews with the Center's Director, Yvonne Delk, and well as Associate
Director, Cynthia Milsap. We will also include a listing of CAATS course
offerings and registration information.
Once again, let me remind you of our featured books for this summer:
"Boundary Leaders: Leadership Skills for People of Faith," by Gary
Gunderson, Fortress Press. Gunderson's weaves instructive stories of people
who lead from the margins. $15
"Voices From the City: Issues and Images in Urban Preaching," by John Nunes,
Concordia. While using classical motifs, the author brings preaching into
street-level communication. $12
"Tell Me City Stories: A Journey for Urban Congregations," by Phil Amerson,
Wipf and Stock. Phil Amerson takes provides city church leaders with a
practical journal approach to ministry. $12
* To purchase these, and other great city church resources, contact
CityVoices at (312) 726-1200 or email@example.com. VISA and Master Card
We look forward to hearing from you and meeting your urban ministry needs,
Roger Johnson - CityVoices / SCUPE (Chicago)
(312) 726-1200, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.cityvoices.com