$1 million gift allows Libertyville church to stay

The resignation of having to sell its home of more than a century to make ends meet has turned into joy for St. Lawrence Episcopal Church in Libertyville with the receipt of a $1 million gift.

"This gift is unimaginably good news both for the congregation and the broader community," said the Rev. Kristin Saylor, rector of the old church located in the heart of downtown.

"With the financial freedom this opens up, we are finally able to invest in the ministries that matter to most to us, to reach out to the community and share the joy and vitality that we have in such abundance," she added.

The original portion of the deep red-brick building at 125 W. Church St., across the street from Cook Park, was built in 1908. But in 2018, the building was put up for sale to pay off a debt and allow the church to continue the mission elsewhere.

There was some interest but no serious offers, Saylor said. The process coincided with the coronavirus pandemic, so the timing wasn't optimal, she added.

Saylor said the church with a congregation of about 80 households has been struggling with the financial pressure of a mortgage incurred when it pursued an ambitious building project in the early 2000s.

At that time, the parish had outgrown its space and embarked on an expansion that included a new sanctuary, parish hall classrooms and office space, she said.

With pressure mounting, a member of the congregation who wished to remain anonymous was inspired by its work and motivated to invest in St. Lawrence's future, according to Saylor.

The church was taken off the market April 30.

"Facing the reality of mortgage debt was an anxious time for the congregation," said Deborah DeManno, a church warden. By choosing to let go of the building, the church was being faithful to its mission, she added.

"Now it feels our faith has been affirmed and we move gratefully into the future with renewed energy and promise," DeManno said.

Complicating a potential sale was the fact that many local families had interred the ashes of their loved ones in the church's columbarium. Church leaders had to consider whether a buyer, perhaps another church, would be amenable to keeping the columbarium or find other options, Saylor said.

With that off the table, leaders are eager to revive the church's community presence.

"We are thrilled to be able to invest in things besides our mortgage and are really just beginning the process of imagining who we want to be," Saylor said.

  A gift of $1 million will allow St. Lawrence Episcopal Church in downtown Libertyville to stay put in its century-old location. Mick Zawislak/
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