Have you ever been to a final church service, before the church closed permanently? It was a very sad thing to witness. It was an unexpected funeral for the church (for me, I had no clue what to expect for a final service).
I attended a small Lutheran school in Norwood Park (a small area on the north side of Chicago). My Eighth grade graduating class was 17. My sisters class the following year was 12 (I think). I attended this school from the third grade on. That’s 5 grades. Within those 5 grades I had a total of three teachers, one teacher I had three years in a row. We were a close-knit school community, which truly felt like a family.
The school had a beautiful church that was located one block away. Every Wednesday we would walk as a class down the block for church service, normally officiated by Pastor Zabel. He was the church Pastor from the time we entered the school til well beyond our leaving.
We were part of the children’s choir from the time we joined the school until the time we graduated. The choir director depended on what grade you were in, and both of them were teachers we had. I always enjoyed singing in the balcony of the church. Behind us was the most beautiful stained glass window of Jesus.
When I became a parent, I had each of my children baptized here. Pastor Zabel baptized two of my three children. By the time I had my third child, he was too ill to work and my youngest was baptized by a visiting pastor. I thought that was heart breaking, little did I know that we would end up closing the church just 19 years later.
Our church was the most beautiful Lutheran church I have ever attended.
In my adult life I have never found a church that could replace how I feel when I walked into Our Savior Norwood Park. I felt like I was at home! This was the last place I had left that gave me the ‘home’ feeling. Last year during the holiday season I had this conversation with the current pastor. Who knew I would be having to say goodbye to this ‘home’ too.
In August I read on Facebook that they were selling the church. I was devastated, but had hope that another church would want to call this beautiful house of God home. I had hope!
I then found out that the church had been sold. Again, I was devastated. This is a beautiful corner piece of property and it was sold for new construction. The church will be demolished and I believe I heard four new homes will be built on the property. There are no words to express my feelings.
The Church Funeral
On October 25th at 3pm Our Savior Lutheran Church held its last service. I was late, (I had a speaking engagement in the suburbs) but I made it. I am thankful that I was there to see the end. After communion the service was truly about taking apart the altar. Piece by piece items were removed and handed to current church members. As each piece was removed a tears fell silently down my cheek.
All I could think about is what would Pastor Zabel have to say about this? How come Mr. Zee was not in the balcony playing the piano? The answers were easy, they have both passed on. Though I am sure they were watching from above.
The end of the service was very symbolic, after the items were removed from the altar the Pastor and members holding items from the altar started a processional down the aisle and out the doors. Once everyone was outside the church, the heavy wooded doors were shut, and locked. While all this took place, there was a band outside that continued to play. A few had made comments about how it was like a New Orleans funeral.
As I looked around at former classmates, parents of friends and members of the church there was one thing in common…tears. Most everyone was wiping tears out of their eyes.
Our Savior Norwood Park has merged with St. John Niles and as of Sunday, November 29th became Ascension Lutheran Church. I believe most of the congregation has transferred to Ascension. I have not decided what I will do at this point. I did not make it to the opening service this past weekend at Ascension, but hope to do so this coming Sunday.
The closing service was packed! Jam packed. I had not seen the church this packed since I was a kid there. The church must hold at least 200 people. If we cared enough we would have been there all along, right? We would have volunteered our time and made sure we were donating to the church to make sure the doors stayed open. The last service I was at had about thirty people, at the most.
Though, the closing of the school about 15 years ago (give or take a few years) was just the beginning. We should have seen the writing on the wall of what was to come.
To end the day, we met in the church basement and I was able to spend some time with a former teacher and another former student. It was good to be able to talk with others to see that they felt the same as I did.