Austin Community Fellowship
Circle Community Center
Worship Next to CCC?
First Oak Park Location
Second Oak Park Location
Church Membership Benefit
Last Oak Park Location
Gone But Not Forgotten
Circle Church had their first worship service on January 29, 1967 just after the Big Snow. The church was founded by David and Karen Mains who wanted to start a church whose Evangelical Christian beliefs were the same as, say, Moody Church, but everything else was radically different.
The church met in the appealed to young adults who lived in the area around University of Illinois in Chicago which was called ‘the Circle Campus’ because of the Chicago Circle Interchange to the northeast of the campus. (It is now called the Jane Byrne Interchange).
The church also got its name from the Circle Interchange.
The church met until 1979 in the Teamsters Union Hall at 1645 W. Jackson Blvd. Sunday mornings began with members cleaning up after the Saturday night parties so they could set up the worship area for the church service.
You can find some recollections of Circle Church, Circle Christian Health Center, and Jon Beran here.
The vision of Circle Church was one of different races and classes coming together to appreciate and celebrate in Christian harmony their differences in culture, class, and race. The church staff reflected this vision:
The exciting early days of the church are described in the book Full Circle written by David Mains. The church intentionally became multi-cultural and multi-racial.
A group of twenty-something’s heard the Lord call them to live out their faith in a new way. They formed an intentional Christian community called the Austin Community Fellowship which shared housing, resources, and a vision to impact the Austin neighborhood of Chicago with God’s love.
In 1976 the African-American members left as described by Glen Kehrein in the book Breaking Down Walls.
David Mains resigned from the now diminished church in 1977 to work with the Chapel of the Air radio ministry. (In 1980 Christianity Today published an article which reflects his thoughts in My Greatest Ministry Mistakes.) His wife, Karen Mains, besides being on the radio with her husband, has written many books. One of her first books was Open Heart, Open Home which explained the emphasis on hospitality at Circle. Simplifying one’s lifestyle by minimizing possessions was also a value as explained in the book Living More with Less by Doris Longacre. Members at Circle Church evaluated philosophies for themselves. There were no “but we’ve always done it this way” traditions at Circle.
Circle Community Center was located in the former Rectory of St Lucy’s church. The church had an opportunity in 1978 to purchase the St Lucy church/school building but the membership of the church wasn’t sure they wanted to worship in Austin. Mars Hill Baptist Church made a cash offer and the opportunity to have the church next to CCC was gone.
The twenty-somethings in the late 1960s had grown up, married, and had children. The Teamster’s Union Hall facility did not work well for children’s Sunday School classes,the nursery space was quite limited, and there were not enough bathrooms for the women. In 1979 the church decided to start holding services in what was then the Austin Boulevard Christian Church in Oak Park on Austin at Superior.
The Pastor was Robert Sprinkle. Because the facility was shared, the services were held at 4:30 PM on Sunday afternoons. Although the church was only half a mile from CCC, the members of Austin Community Fellowship felt betrayed by the church when it didn’t try hard to get St. Lucy’s and they left to form a church of their own in late 1979.
The 4:30 PM worship time did not work well with small children, and since Bob Sprinkle and ACF had left, the church moved deeper into Oak Park in 1983 (?)to what was then Faith United Methodist Church. at Cuyler and Ontario. Circle worshiped at 9:30 AM while Faith worshiped at 11 AM and Circle had their Christian Education time.
During this time, Rock Church was planted and some members left Circle because they lived in Austin and wanted a church they could bring their neighbors too. Circle was, by this time, a mostly white middle-class Oak Park church.
A number of members of Circle had been raised in foreign countries while their parents were missionaries. They became quite interested in the U.S. Center for World Mission, now called the Venture Center. They started the Midwest Center for World Mission and bought the building at 156 N. Oak Park Ave to house it.
The building was previously owned by Emmaus Bible College and, having been the Oak Park YMCA at one point, had a gym which could be used for worship. There were also rooms that had been dorm rooms that they hoped could be used for International Student Housing. There was a kitchen in the basement that could be used for meals. Unfortunately, the Village of Oak Park demanded many expensive upgrades before anyone could live in the building. The upkeep of the building was more than Circle Church and the Midwest Center could afford, since only a small amount of the building was being used, so it was sold to a developer who turned it into condos.
A nice benefit of being a member at Circle Church was that they were allowed to stay free at Bergs’ vacation home known as Beech Tree Circle. Small groups sometimes held retreats there. Once the women held a retreat there with forty women–even the garage (now demolished) was used. (This was before the second house was built.)
Pastor Tim Rowland came and went while the church met at the Midwest Center. Circle Church had always had women elders and would not permanently give them up, although they offered to have an all male elder board while Pastor Rowland was there. He was unwilling to accept this compromise.
Circle moved to their last worship site in 1988(?)–the Seventh Day Adventist Church at 1154 Wisconsin Avenue (Wisconsin and Fillmore) in Oak Park. This worked out well because the Seventh Day Adventists worshiped on Saturday and there was no competition on Sunday morning.
Pastor Richard Griffin came and went while the church met at the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
During the times that Circle was without a pastor, they usually had an interim pastor from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (now Trinity International University) located in Deerfield, Illinois. He preached on Sundays but the elders of the church ran everything else. Cal Hansen was often the interim.
For many years, Sunday School teachers wrote their own curriculum and drama was utilized in the worship service occasionally. The music sung was based on the sermon theme and there was emphasis on having an application to the believer’s life or a “take=away.”
The membership had declined over the years and in 2003, the church was dissolved. Its remaining members scattered to a wide variety of churches, including First United Church Oak Park, LaSalle Street Church, Vineyard, and Oak Park Avenue Baptist Church.
Its legacy continues in Rock Church, Circle Urban Ministries.