Photo by Joe Boyle
Rev. Peggy McClanahan, pastor of Pilgrim Faith Church in Oak Lawn, has been serving the congregation since 1994 and is preparing for the 125th anniversary of the church with a celebration planned for Oct. 30.
Rev. Peggy McClanahan just had a good feeling. Her first contact with Pilgrim Faith Church in Oak Lawn had gone smoothly.
“I think the first telephone interview I had went well on both sides,” said McClanahan. “There was something I felt very good about and I think they did, too.”
McClanahan soon became the new pastor at Pilgrim Faith and has been leading the congregation since 1994. It does take time to be appointed because the congregation has to go through a thorough process before deciding on a new pastor. The congregation then has to take a vote. McClanahan was greeted enthusiastically by church members.
She finds that it is hard to believe that it was 22 years ago that she arrived at the Oak Lawn church. She has developed a variety of programs and has made the church more inclusive. This year, a lot of her energy has been spent on organizing events in celebration of Pilgrim‘s 125th anniversary. The grand finale will conclude with a festive anniversary celebration beginning at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 30 at the church, 9411 S. 51st Ave.
The worship service will be followed by a homecoming luncheon. McClanahan said the church’s many ministries and the people involved in them will be recognized. Reservations for the luncheon are required by Monday, Oct. 24 to finalize food orders. Reservation can be made by calling (708) 422-4200.
McClanahan’s journey to Pilgrim Faith began in her native Oklahoma, where she received her education. She was a pastor for a church in Ames, Iowa for five years and Pierce, Neb. for seven years before arriving in Oak Lawn.
Pilgrim Faith was founded as First Congregational Church of Oak Lawn on Oct. 31, 1891 by a group of 14 residents meeting in the Simpson farmhouse, the building that now serves as the Homestead Barr at the corner of Southwest Highway and Central Avenue. Rev. Edgar Libby was the first pastor and within a year the congregation completed their first building on 54th Avenue, just north of 95th Street.
In 1916, the growing congregation completed a larger building on 51st Avenue, which is the present church location. That structure was replaced with a brick building in 1949, with a larger sanctuary and Christian education wing added in 1955.
In the 1960s, after the Congregational Church became part of the United Church of Christ, the Oak Lawn congregation changed its name to Pilgrim United Church of Christ. Faith United Church of the Brainerd community in Chicago merged with Pilgrim in 1970 to form Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ. Faith United Church had been a merger in 1947 of St. Luke’s United Church of Christ of Englewood and Brainerd Congregational Church.
McClanahan said the church has introduced a variety of program since, including the first preschool in 1966 and establishing the first food pantry in the community in the late 1960s. The Pilgrim Faith Pantry continues to serve residents who are in need every Tuesday and Friday.
The pastor said the church was also instrumental in the formation of Oak Lawn Family Services in the 1960s. In 1979, Pilgrim Faith and Christ Hospital established a Wholistic Health Care Center at the church, which was cutting edge at the time in treating patients with both medical and counseling care.
In 1998, McClanahan led the efforts to help South Suburban PADS establish a network of homeless shelters in Oak Lawn and surrounding communities. She said that Pilgrim Faith was one of the first three sites to open and continues their commitment to serving those who are homeless and providing meals and shelter on Thursday nights.
“I really think that the food pantry is the heart and soul of the church,” said McClanahan. “I definitely will continue the pantry and our commitment to the community.”
McClanahan is receiving more assistance from church volunteers and even youth organizations.
“It’s something that does wear on you after a while,” admits McClanahan, but added that it is important and plans to expand the PADS program.
McClanahan said there is constant activity at the church. Pilgrim Faith is home to a variety of scout groups, eight Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon groups, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Southwest and Genesis Counseling Center offices.
The church also provides a wide range of ministries, which are open to everyone, McClanahan said. The programs include vocal ensemble, handbell choir, Sunday School, Bible Study, three youth groups, Vacation Bible School, retreats and camps for all ages, a senior adult organization, and men’s and women’s groups.
McClanahan said that she wants the church to welcoming, including diverse ages, racial and ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientation, abilities and personal situations. In 2015, the church voted to be intentionally open and affirming and welcoming to gay, lesbian and transgender persons of all racial and cultural backgrounds. The church is also currently active in interfaith dialogue and mission with the local Muslim community.
“I think at this point our newest initiative is reaching out to the LGBT community,” said McClanahan. “Some of these people have not been treated well by other faiths.”
As far as the immediate future, McClanahan said that Pilgrim Faith does not have any concrete plans as of yet.
“Where we go beyond this is up to God,” she said.