Where the Spirit Is: Englewood, Chicago
by The Reverend Robert E. Biekman
The words of a popular Kirk Franklin song claim, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, the captives are set free. The wounded are made whole. There’s rest for your soul. Where the Spirit is, there is liberty!”
For nearly 150 years, the liberating and healing Spirit of God has found expression through a uniquely Lutheran presence in the South Side Chicago community of Englewood. Today, through an innovative ministry partnership between Chosen Tabernacle and Bethel Imani Lutheran Church, the Spirit continues to move and take shape in the Greater Englewood neighborhoods of West Englewood, Englewood, and Hamilton Park.
After successful completion of a Strategically Authorized Worshipping Community (SAWC) exploration to determine the feasibility of a new mission opportunity, a decision to make a longer-term investment was made by the Metropolitan Chicago Synod (MCS) Council. The decision included the creation of a new worshipping community, supported by a partnership between Chosen Tabernacle and Bethel Imani Lutheran at the existing Bethel Imani site. The recommendation for creating a new worshipping community was encouraged by the exploration team which included Shirley Moore, life-long Bethel-Imani member.
The Bethel Imani facility is strategically located in the heart of the Englewood community. It is located just off the 63rd Street Special Services Area commercial corridor, and within walking distance of Kennedy King College, Illinois Department of Family Services, Whole Foods, Women/ Children’s Center, Nicholas STEM Academy and Bethel Towers Senior Housing. This gives it potential to be a kind of campus ministry, the building itself serving as a hub of this campus.
The emerging ministry vision for the Metropolitan Chicago Synod is to maintain a Lutheran presence in Englewood, arguably one of the most underserved communities in Chicago, by supporting the formation of a new African Descent ministry through the ministry partnership of Chosen Tabernacle and Bethel Imani. These ministries would form a new ministry center with the goal of serving the spiritual, social, and economic needs of the people of Englewood.
When asked about this new partnership, the Reverend Walter Gillespie shared, “We look forward to continuing the 130-year Lutheran presence in the underserved Englewood community that yields a successful, effective, and productive new ELCA ministry.”
Former Metropolitan Chicago Synod Mission Director and retired ELCA clergy, the Rev. Raymond Legania, who is also a part of the ministry, as well as a former pastor of the Bethel Imani team. He has been working with the Gillespies for the past four years.
Both Bethel Imani and Chosen Tabernacle operate vital food pantries in partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Chosen Tabernacle’s Bread of Life ministry was recently recognized on ABC’s Television’s, Good Morning America. Members of both communities believe that the new mission will multiply the effectiveness of the already existing ministries.
A hoped-for outcome of this partnership is that the words of Kirk Franklin’s song might be fulfilled in the Englewood community through this ministry.
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, the captives are set free. The wounded are made whole. There’s rest for your soul. Where the Spirit is, there is liberty!”
In April 2020, the Metropolitan Chicago Synod (MCS) Council approved a proposal for a Strategically Authorized Worshipping Community (SAWC) exploration in partnership with Chosen Tabernacle. The ministry exploration is supported by a grant from the Evangelical Lutheran Church In America, Christian Community, and Leadership Home Area. A SAWC proposal partnering Bethel Imani with Chosen Tabernacle was approved by the MCS Council in January 2021.
The Reverend Robert E. Biekman is Director for Evangelical Mission and Associate to the Bishop for the Metropolitan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.