On May 25, Reba Place Church held an open house to celebrate new life brought to an old building, its Ministry center, 525 Custer Ave. Church members and neighbors, together with the churches and agencies located in the Ministry Center, gathered to celebrate artwork by local artists and transformation of the building.
Purchased by the church in the late 1980s, the building was formerly a food-processing factory. In the intervening decades, the building became the church Ministry Center for Reba Place Church, housing a mini-gym and numerous church and community agencies. Over the decades, however, the interior had declined.
Church members said they wanted the building to be a welcoming beacon to the surrounding neighborhood and, with the help of volunteers from the church, walls were painted and ceramic tiles laid. The interior began to glow.
In Mennonite tradition, church members created a quilt with squares representing the different ministries housed in the building. Church members have had a lot of practice making quilts to celebrate weddings or births, and each square is unique and crafted by a different quilter from the church.
Artists affiliated with the church donated art work to cover the long, bare hallways. El Salvadoran artist and social activist Fernando Llort visited the Reba Place community last fall; one of his prints with dancing images hangs in the entrance way.
Situated between the pastor’s office and the H.E. Lane prison ministry program is a portrait of Christ portrayed as a person of color by local artist Anne Gavitt. It is hung at eye-level, enabling a personal encounter with the image
A few steps north up the hallway is a mural size painting by artist Rob Larson entitled “Jesus Calls the Disciples,” which, in one large and bold painting, retells stories Jesus’ follower, Peter.
Around the corner and heading east up the slanted hallway is an icon style portrait of the Syrian Orthodox Bishop Johanna Ibrahim of Aleppo, Syria, who was kidnapped by a terrorist group a year ago and not heard from since. Iconographer Lois Engelman plans to rotate her collection of over 30 icons through this spot in the hallway.
Water color character portraits of four fellowship community members as well as several photographs of community groupings were created by portrait artist Josh McCallister, who is also a furniture designer at Plain and Simple.
The building houses more than unexpected artwork; there is a lot going on at the Ministry Center. On Saturday mornings the food co-op housed just inside the doors of the Ministry Center is like a bustling general store in a small town. On Sunday nights local youth hang out at the gym and are invited to RPC youth group.
It also houses Reba Place church offices. Meeting rooms bustle with small group meetings for church members and 12-Step recovery groups. Two Spanish-speaking churches meet at the Ministry Center, and Evanston Bible Fellowship has offices there.
Senior Connections, Chicago Area Peace Action, Spirit Moves Ensemble Group and New Revelation Community Choir all call the Ministry Center home or at least a space to practice, rehearse and land in.
The H.E. Lane Center for Positive Change is an example of a community-transforming agency housed in the Ministry Center. Rev. Hardist Lane and Janice Lane hold 200-300 meetings a year with 75 men coming out of prison. They say 90% of the former prisoners involved in this program do not become repeat offenders.
Reba Place Church members say the Ministry Center is more than a re-purposed building now housing original and unexpected artwork. It’s a building with a purpose – to serve the community.