Oak Lawn pastor retiring with full heart

  • Written by Joe Boyle

peg at altar  photo 5-24

                                                                      Photo by Joe Boyle

Pastor Peg McClanahan, who has served as pastor of Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ Church in Oak Lawn for over 23 years, will be retiring next month.


Peg McClanahan said she has plenty of memories to share from over 23 years of service as pastor of Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ in Oak Lawn.

McClanahan, who will retire next month, said that many programs have been established and the church has dealt with topical issues ranging from racism and GLBT rights. But the pastor also said there have been moments of laughter and joy while serving at the church, 9411 S. 51st Ave.

“I do remember my first day here,” McClanahan recalled. “I arrived in December and got a chance to look around and get comfortable. My first sermon was on Christmas Eve. I met a lot of people before I came here. But the night before I was going to preach, I had a chance to meet more people and was going to answer some questions. My husband warned me that because this was the South Side of Chicago, that many people are White Sox fans.

“So, the first person to ask me a question was a man about my age and asked straight out if I was a Cubs fan or a White Sox fan? I was so nervous and it only doubled my anxiety. And I responded in a way I didn’t plan to. I responded to him by saying that I’m not really much of a fan and that I don’t know much about football.”

Her gaffe was met with laughter for several minutes.

“It broke up everybody, even the man who asked the question,” McClanahan said. “We would often bring that up over the years. It would always make us laugh.”

Despite long hours that range from 50 to 60 hours a week, McClanahan, 66, usually has a smile on her face. The reason for that is that people at the church are so engaged and involved, she said.

McClanahan had visited Pilgrim Faith several times and had been considered for the pastor position several months before a decision was made. She arrived with experience, serving as a pastor at churches in Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Chris Rapp is currently a moderator at Pilgrim Faith Church. She was on the search committee that was looking for a new pastor. The church was going through a transition at the time and someone had to come in to be a calming influence. When Rapp and other members met McClanahan, they believed they had the right person.

“Fortunately, Peggy took us on despite knowing she would have to help heal a lot of wounds and anger,” Rapp said.  “She showed her care and one of her greatest strengths was working with the church members to heal the wound and go on as a congregation. She is very compassionate and is at her best in helping people who are in crisis, like the death of a loved one or dealing with major illness.” 

McClanahan has been packing boxes and getting ready for the next chapter of her life. She was asked what is going through her mind these final days.

“Oh, it’s such a rollercoaster ride of emotions,” she admits. “It’s not only the end of my ministry here but it is the end of my years as a minister. Yes, there are lot of memories here.”

McClanahan began her ministry at the Oak Lawn church in 1994 and arrived here with a husband and two sons. Her husband, Michael Montgomery, who has also been a minister, had attended schools in Chicago and she became familiar with the city.

She said that in the beginning she maintained programs at Pilgrim Faith that were already in existence. But McClanahan believed that the church had to do more and reach out to the community. While keeping the food pantry program for those in need, McClanahan went a step further and opened up a homeless shelter in 1998.

“The church has a real heart and cares for people,” McClanahan said. “There have been things we have done in the past, like the food pantry. And then we opened a homeless shelter. It was not accepted by everyone at the time. But after some time, people stepped up and did what was the right thing to do.”

And she is most proud that Pilgrim Faith has become an Open and Affirming church in the past four years. Although the church is not directly affiliated with PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender People) of Northern Illinois, McClanahan supports the organization, which holds meetings at Pilgrim Faith. Rapp is the initial president of PFLAG.

“She has encouraged us to start a chapter that meets at the church,” Rapp said about McClanahan. “She’s also very good with the children. They enjoy her children’s sermons every Sunday.”

McClanahan said she had a basic goal while serving as pastor.

“Try to live out God’s love,” McClanahan said. “We should try and look out for everyone and look out for those on the margins who need love.”

She is pleased that younger members are joining the church and these people are active with the food pantry and other organizations. Some clubs have developed through the efforts of members, like a book club and STARS (Seniors Together Are Really Special). Men’s and women’s groups also meet, along with a “hot topic” club that discuss current issues.

McClanahan also mentioned that children were not allowed to receive communion before she arrived at the church and now they receive communion along their parents at special services.

Her last day will conclude with a special service at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, June 10 at the church, which will be followed with a catered luncheon in Colonial Hall. A lot has changed since she came here in 1994. Her two sons are adults and live in other parts of the country. She said she is looking forward to retirement and plans on just enjoying herself the first year.

McClanahan was asked what she will miss most when she leaves Pilgrim Faith. She had a quick response.

“The people,” McClanahan said. “I’ve been in love with the people since I’ve come here. They are just great people.”