by Kelly Pollock, feature writer for the Buzz Cafe
One of the first things that Mark Doebler, Lead Pastor of Village Church of Oak Park, tells you after meeting him is that he is a rabid South Carolina Gamecock who abhors the color orange since he associates it with his archenemies, the Clemson Tigers. “It just galls me,” he says. So removing the orange-tinted windows at his congregation’s new church is one of his top priorities. Village Church recently acquired the building at 911 S. Taylor Avenue (the former Harrison Street Bible Church) in the Oak Park Arts District.
Village Church of Oak Park was “planted” about 10 years ago as a member of the Evangelical Free Church of America when a small group of people came together believing that Oak Park needed a fresh voice in an evangelical church. Since its inception, Village Church had been worshiping at The Nineteenth Century Charitable Association until the COVID-19 pandemic forced them online last spring. The acquisition of the new building finally gives them a physical home.
“The long-term goal of almost any church is a place to call home, but property in Oak Park is crazy expensive. We were exploring a few possibilities of churches that were available and this one felt like the best fit and the best opportunity,” says Mark. Village Church was able to take possession at the end of March. They have jumped right into renovations including a new roof and a new HVAC system as well as some interior remodeling. “We technically could have walked in and started using the building, but we didn’t want to do that. We need to make it ours, freshen it up, and make it as welcoming as we can.”
While he is focused on settling his congregation into their new home, Mark is simultaneously settling into his relatively new role as Lead Pastor. He and his wife Lesley just arrived here in August after he was called by the church. “Making a move in the middle of a pandemic to a church that was only meeting online was bizarre. In Hebrews, faith is described as ‘the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ We were all trusting God that this was the right fit.”
Faced with at least a few months of construction, Village Church is currently worshiping outside in their new parking lot. “On Easter, we had over 100 people all socially-distanced,” says Mark. And while their Village Kids children’s ministry program is on hold, their Village Youth youth group for middle and high school students has been making use of the parking lot as well. “They love it. They’ve never had their own space before.”
Mark is excited about the possibilities that the new building offers. “Jesus said that nobody lights a candle and then hides it. While there’s nothing wrong with renting worship space, it’s kind of like turning the light on and then turning it off. You’re there for a very short period of time and then you disperse because you have no choice. It’s hard to really become a presence, a shining light, when the time that you’re on is so brief. This building gives us a chance to be a light full-time.”
And for Village Church, being a light also means being a good neighbor. “Jesus was once asked, ‘What is the greatest commandment?’ and he said, ‘The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Who is my neighbor? My neighbor is my neighbor. We don’t always agree about everything, but we love them because God loves them.”
Mark is especially eager to see what the fellowship hall might mean for the community. “It’s great multi-purpose space. We’ve got a lot of flexibility with what to do with it. We want to be full participants in making this neighborhood a wonderful place to live and to do business and to experience life.” And whatever that means for Village Church, Mark is sure of one thing: that the coffee will be flowing. “I always say that coffee is proof that God loves us,” he says with a smile.
Village Church of Oak Park worships in-person on Sundays at 10:30 am in the parking lot at 911 S. Taylor Avenue. Services can also be streamed on Facebook Live. To learn more, visit their website at www.villagechurchoakpark.com