Ravenswood United Church of Christ (Chicago, IL)
“Church is more than a place to go on Sunday morning. At its best, it is a community that lives and breathes with the seasons of life.”
– Rev. Jason W. Coulter, Pastor, Ravenswood UCC
Ravenswood Raises the Roof
Ravenswood United Church of Christ is a mainstay in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. It has provided a place to fellowship and worship for almost a century. But when Rev. Jason W. Coulter took over as lead pastor in 2008, he noticed years of deferred maintenance to an aging building. “The walls needed painting. The boilers were old and failing, and the bathrooms – extremely dated – just weren’t aesthetically pleasing,” says Coulter.
With a small, yet mighty congregation, Rev. Coulter was able to address many of the church’s needs with fundraising and an unexpected insurance settlement. “We had a committed group of people who wanted to fundraise,” explains Coulter. And those efforts paid off. After a year-long campaign which included a country-line dance inspired fundraising party resulted in a $75,000 surplus. Those funds covered many upgrades including new paint and a new boiler.
However, Coulter needed an additional $50,000 for a huge undertaking – replacing the building’s roof. With a grand total of about $120,000, Coulter understood that fundraising would not be enough to fix the church’s most pressing repair. So, with advice from a friend in the banking industry, Coulter opened a few small investments with the Cornerstone Fund. In addition, he applied and was approved for a small loan – just enough to cover the repairs for the roof.
Fix the roof, reach the people.
One of the core missions of Ravenswood UCC is sharing the love of God with people, regardless of an individual’s background. On the website, Rev. Coulter emphasizes, “Our doors are to you no matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey. So whether you’re young or old, black or while, gay or straight, right or left-handed, or somehow all of the above – you are welcome here with us.”
Indirectly, the Cornerstone Fund loan has helped to support this mission. “Our biggest relief is that we don’t have to worry about the building structure anymore. We get to attend church every Sunday knowing it’s going to be warm and that there’s not going to be any leaks,” says Coulter. “We can just focus on our core mission – which is worshiping God and serving our community” adds Rev. Coulter.
Another part of Ravenswood’s mission involves a congregation which has a social justice focus. Coupled with a strong UCC identity, Coulter wants to ensure an objective that is recognizable even by those driving past the church or pedestrian passersby. A large banner that includes a 4’x8” rainbow flag, occupies the main entrance of the church and states, “God is still speaking.” It’s a clear indicator that Ravenswood UCC is an LGTBQIA–welcoming community.
“Having an up-to-date building where people can come together with shared values, compassion, kindness, and inclusion – that is the kind of identity we want…that’s who we are,” says Coulter.
Preserving the building for the next generation is a priority.
The cover of Ravenswood UCC fundraising brochure featured the 90-year-old matriarch of the church holding a baby on her lap. The image speaks volumes about the direction of Ravenswood and why building repairs were so necessary. “We want to make sure this church is around so that the next generation can enjoy the same worship that the previous generation had access to,” Coulter asserts.
The new roof has allowed Pastor Coulter to also focus on the family and childrens’ ministries. Since he started in 2008, he’s noticed an increase in the number of children who attend service, too.
Since addressing the major repairs to the roof, Coulter has also been able to give some much-needed attention to the children’s ministry, nursery, and Sunday school. “We also have a young parents’ group that meets regularly for parents night out. Our nursery provider comes in on a Friday night and all the kids play under a secure roof while the parents enjoy a night on the town. We can do all of these things because we don’t have to worry about the structural security of the building,” says Coulter.
Churches helping other churches
With a congregation of only about fifty members, Coulter relies heavily on volunteers to assist with every aspect of operation. Ravenswood is a “small church that doesn’t have an administrative staff.”
It was critical, then, to have a seamless loan process – one that is straightforward and uncomplicated. Coulter was able to single-handedly submit the loan application and provide supporting documentation with ease.
And when asked whether he’d encourage other small churches to partner with the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund, Rev. Coulter gave a ringing endorsement. “We took advantage of a good loan at a fair rate. And the process was very simple.” He continues, “Churches helping other churches really resonate spiritually and organizationally.”