By Tom Holmes
The historic stone church on Cuyler Avenue, kitty-corner from Beye School, has seen decades of slow decline as its Methodist congregation aged and shrank. Eventually the congregation merged with another local Methodist church and for the past few years the 113-year-old stone church sat waiting for new life.
Now, with locals leading the way, a traditionally focused but very growth oriented unit of the Anglican Church in North America purchased the church building at 171 N. Cuyler in early January for $844,000 and services have returned on Sundays.
What was the Cornerstone United Methodist Church, and for decades had been Faith Methodist, is now Cornerstone Anglican Church.
Often people join a church and make friends after getting involved. That is not the way an Anglican Church found its way to Oak Park. Rather, Jim and Cheryl Wilkes had friends and they helped create a congregation.
Cornerstone Anglican Church began about a year and half ago in the Wilkes living room when they and five other couples gathered to eat pizza and meet Rev. William Beasley. "We've all been friends as Christians," said Jim Wilkes, "and we wanted to stay together if we could, to worship God together and raise our families together. We realized that we were all looking at churches and might join different ones and maybe our friendships would dissipate."
Fr. William, as they call him, had been referred to the friends who thought of the gathering as just a chance to meet with an interesting person, but before the evening was over they had already begun dreaming about forming a new congregation. The group met for worship with Beasley in the Wilkes home in Oak Park for a year and a half until their numbers outgrew the space and individuals had pledged enough money to make a down payment on the former Methodist church building.
"It's one of those small miracles along the way," said Beasley. "We weren't sure how this was going to happen. It did. We're here, and we're taking it one step at a time."
Beasley and his wife Anne, who is a deacon in the Anglican Church, are part of Greenhouse, A Movement of Multiplying Churches. Originating in Africa, the mission of Greenhouse is to "multiply regional churches." "We believe there are five essential ingredients for healthy regional church multiplication," states the Greenhouse website: "Sunlight—Prayer; Branches—Leaders; Sap—Mutual Support; Roots—Mentoring and Training; Soil—Word and Sacrament."
That emphasis on church growth is part of what attracted Oak Park residents Steve and Dana Nasralla, who had been worshiping in a church in the city, to the new congregation. "We weren't in a place where we could invite friends and neighbors," said Steve Nasralla. "We believe strongly that our faith is alive and living. We wanted to be in a place where we could share our faith with people where we live."
Cornerstone Anglican Church is also affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). The ACNA's website explains:
The Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada have increasingly accommodated and incorporated un-Biblical, un-Anglican practices and teaching …Distressed churches and entire dioceses began to disaffiliate from the established provinces in North America and seek episcopal oversight and spiritual care from Anglican Provinces and leaders in other parts of the world … Beginning in 2000 with the Church of Rwanda, these leaders have responded by accepting orthodox Anglican parishes and dioceses in North America into their care.
Bill Clapp, who lives in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side, was attracted by the traditional doctrinal stance of the new church and its implications for a changed life. He said, "I am coming here because it's a church that focuses on the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, the atonement, which frees me to be the person I was created to be."
The bulletin cover for the services at the new church in an old building reads Cornerstone Anglican Church and Iglesia Anglicana Piedra Principal, because both Fr. William and Deacon Anne are fluent in Spanish. They lead a service in English at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning and one in Spanish at noon.
While the members of Cornerstone Anglican Church are excited about the future, the former members of Cornerstone Methodist Church have had to do some grieving. Kathy Mizuno started going to Faith Methodist Church, one of Cornerstone's predecessor congregations, in 1951 when she was four years old. "Everyone was sad," she recalled after the building was sold, "but the 10 or 12 of us left knew we couldn't stand alone. There was nothing we could do. That building is huge and we didn't have the money to keep it up."
Technically, Cornerstone merged with Euclid Methodist Church, but only three Cornerstone members are actually worshiping at Euclid. That's what is sad for Joyce Nofal. "I am very pleased with Euclid," she said, "but I was sad to lose the connections I had with people all those years at Cornerstone."
Melanie Kinkaid, who joined the church three years ago, looked at the closing of her congregation from a different point of view. "When I joined Cornerstone," she said, "I knew that it would be closing in a few years. It was the people and the pastor who drew me there.
I am grateful to have been with them for that time. It shaped me in positive ways. It was a good experience."