Mega-church coming to Gold Coast
Former Scottish Rite Cathedral bought for $4.6 million
02/23/2011 10:00 PM
A suburban “mega-church” has its sights set on a move to the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Chicago’s affluent Gold Coast neighborhood.
The Rolling Meadows-based Harvest Bible Chapel, a non-denominational evangelical church, recently expressed plans to open a branch of its 13,000-member congregation in the historic cathedral at 929 N. Dearborn across from the Newberry Library.
This is all according to a sign posted outside the 30,600-square-foot cathedral, which has been vacant since 2005, as reported last week in Crain’s.
The downtown church will be Harvest’s sixth campus in Illinois, adding to a network of locations in Elgin, Niles, Aurora, Crystal Lake and at a newly-formed congregation at Bell Elementary School on the city’s North Side.
The known details of Harvest’s move to the Gold Coast are still few, but if the church’s activities in the suburbs are any indication, neighbors can expect the congregation to think big.
Founded in 1988 by Pastor James MacDonald, Harvest was cited in 2008 by Outreach Magazine as one of the largest and fastest growing churches in the nation. The church’s website lists dozens of affiliated and “transitioned” Harvest Bible Chapel sites throughout North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
Serving more than 5,500 congregates weekly at its Rolling Meadows campus, the church is an example of the burgeoning “multi-site” approach, in which, among other services, sermons given at one central location are broadcasted via video satellite to a number of “planted” churches.
In a publicized discussion last year between Seattle Pastor Mark Driscoll and Mark Dever, a Southern Baptist pastor, MacDonald defended his decision to oversee recent church-planting projects in places like Kansas City and Miami.
“These big cities are such a perplexity to all of us,” he said. “Where I have a lot of influence … I believe that there is something I’ve built there that I can extend.”
In the interview, MacDonald stated that he currently only uses the multi-site model in his Chicago-area churches, where individual worship and prayer sessions also take place.
With size and location in mind, a video-fed church site could be a likely use for the Gold Coast cathedral.
Harvest bought the Scottish Rite last December from SR Cathedral LLC, the venture responsible for the Walton on the Park project, a 450-unit luxury condominium just east of the site. Harvest picked up the property for around $4.6 million, according to Mike Senner, a broker for Colliers Bennett & Kahnweiler Inc, the firm that oversaw the deal.
“It’s a traditional sale,” said Senner. “They are going to use the church as it was before but they are going to upgrade it.” He said that the firm was still looking for a buyer for a 17,000-square-foot tower building to the east of the church.
A complete teardown of the church is out of the question, as the building was landmarked in 1990 as part of the historic Washington Square District. The interior of the church, however, is open to redevelopment under the terms of the designation.
Jonathan Fine, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said that his group was happy to see plans for the cathedral returning to its original use as a place of worship.
“We wish them well,” he said.
Completed 1869, the cathedral, originally home to a Unitarian congregation, was one of the few structures to survive the Great Chicago Fire that occurred a few years later. In 1911, the cathedral was purchased by the Scottish Rite Valley of Chicago, a wing of the fraternal order of Masons, who stayed there for the remainder of the century. The cathedral’s facade was rehabbed in 2008.
Harvest did not respond to calls and e-mails from Skyline for this story, but a spokesperson for Harvest told Crain’s that the church would open in 2012.
The Gold Coast is already home to two large congregations: The Holy Name Cathedral at 735 N. State St. and the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago at 126 E. Chestnut St.
Other mega-churches in the Chicago area include the Willow Creek Community Church, a South Barrington institution that draws up to 20,000 worshippers every weekend, and the Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, led by the Illinois senator and recent mayoral hopeful the Rev. James T. Meeks.