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Bryn Mawr Community Church is celebrating its 100-year anniversary on May 15-17, 2015. | Mary Mitchell/Sun-Times

Mitchell: Hidden jewel on South Side turns 100 years old

SHARE Mitchell: Hidden jewel on South Side turns 100 years old
SHARE Mitchell: Hidden jewel on South Side turns 100 years old

Christianity is on the decline in America, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.

The survey found the number of adults who described themselves as Christians dropped by nearly 8 percentage points in just seven years — from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2014.

The repercussion of this falloff is evident in areas where churches are no longer the center of community life for many families.

“It’s nothing for the children to do. It’s no jobs, no after-school programs, no funding, no field houses, no parents stepping up,” Helena Henry told an ABC7 news reporter after two teens were wounded in a drive-by shooting in the South Shore neighborhood on Monday.

It was a similar need that gave birth to Bryn Mawr Community Church at 7000 S. Jeffery 100 years ago.

At that time, a group of mothers came together to establish a Sunday school where youth could receive spiritual guidance.

Bryn Mawr grew so rapidly, a new sanctuary had to be added after only a few years. Today the church takes up most of the block and has several meeting rooms and classrooms, a theater, four kitchens and a banquet hall.

Its breath-taking sanctuary is adorned with more than a dozen stained-glass windows and a pipe organ that attracts visitors from all over the world.

“Those mothers didn’t have in mind an organized structure. They saw a need and they actually began meeting the need without all of the organizational trappings,” said the Rev. Karl B. Wilson Sr., who has been pastor at Bryn Mawr for 29 years.

“I think one of the challenges of a congregation, that at its peak had over 3,000 members, is to remember regardless of our size, real ministry is people touching other people,” he said.

This weekend the church will mark its 100-year anniversary with a youth concert on Friday evening, an open house and community forum on Saturday morning, and two services on Sunday.

My husband and I joined Bryn Mawr because we believe it has the resources to tackle some of the underlying issues that have contributed to the increase in violence.

We also recognized that Bryn Mawr is a hidden jewel in the neighborhood.

Every day, hundreds of people pass its doors without understanding the church was built not only to minister to people just like them but also to be a beacon in the community.

Those of us who call ourselves Christians have the responsibility of doing the same thing today that a small band of mothers did in 1915.

They built the house. It is up to us to fill the rooms.

Wilson is encouraged despite survey results.

“I think the decline is not of Christians, but there is a decline in the organized religion of Christianity as we know it,” he said. “I think that is a good thing when those things kind of burn away or fade away. Then I think it is easier to see what should be there — what real ministry should be like. It was basically meeting spiritual needs.”

For more info on the Bryn Mawr Community Church 100-Year Celebration, go to www.brynmawrfaith.org. All events are free.

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