Pilgrim Congregational Church | Photo by Alex Rogals

For about 50 years Oak Park and River Forest High School has rented space in the parking lot of Pilgrim Congregational Church on Lake Street for use as faculty parking. That relationship will continue for at least another five years as the OPRF school board unanimously approved a new five year lease for use of the church parking lot at its Aug. 10 meeting. 

The new lease raises the rent that that OPRF pays to lease a minimum of 100 spaces in the church parking lot during school days by seven percent this year to $76,025 for this school year. In the final four years of the lease, the rent will increase 1.75% each year. The parking lot is located just east of OPRF. Five parking spaces in the northwest corner of the parking lot are reserved for church use and the church also retains the use of the handicapped spaces and other spaces on the west side of the church adjacent to the playground. OPRF has use of the other 100 or so spaces in the parking lot from 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday from August 1 until June 15 of each year. Use of the OPRF spaces is limited to faculty and staff. 

The one thing new is this lease agreement is that Pilgrim agreed to give OPRF 60 days’ written notice if the church ever decides to sell the parking lot property and to give OPRF an opportunity to make an offer for the property within that 60-day period. 

“When we started to negotiate with the high school, they wanted a right of first refusal and we told them we were not willing to give them a right of first refusal but that we would give them notice if we ever decided to sell the property,” said Sarah Olson, the moderator of the Pilgrim Church Council, the governing body of the church. “But when I agreed to that provision I asked our folks, the treasurer and finance committee chair, to convey to the high school that we were not anywhere close to going under. They were not going to get the property any time soon.”

Olson said that Pilgrim has around 100 members. But she maintained the church is healthy and in good financial shape.

“Our congregation is small but mighty,” Olson said. “We just finished a major capital campaign, renovated a 50-year-old kitchen and a bunch of nursey school classrooms. The nursery school is expanding in time and days; we’re looking eventually to go full time, full day so we’re not going anywhere.” 

Pilgrim Congregational Church is affiliated with the United Church of Christ.

OPRF Executive Director of Communications Karin Sullivan said that Pilgrim negotiators made it clear that the church was not thinking of selling the property.

“We have no reason to believe that Pilgrim will sell anytime soon,” Sullivan said in an email. “In fact, they’ve made it very clear that they have no intention of doing so. This is language our Board was interested in pursuing in the event that years down the road, circumstances change.”

The Pilgrim Church parking lot is also the site of the Oak Park Farmers Market. The church gets some revenue from the Village of Oak Park for that and for leasing some spaces in the parking lot for overnight parking in the Village’s parking program.

Pilgrim Church was founded in 1874, one year after OPRF was established. The church will be celebrating its sesquicentennial next year.

“We will be having a whole slew of celebrations and activities all of next year,” Olson said.

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