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Church undergoes changes

Franklin Park – Earlier this year, the congregation of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Franklin Park was looking for a sign from God as to whether they should embark on an extensive and costly building project.

In March, after a 24-hour prayer vigil, the Rev. Cliff Mansley said the congregation got a loud and clear message.

Shortly after the prayer vigil ended, the slab of concrete supporting the southern wing of the 36-year-old Rochester Road church collapsed and 800 gallons of water from a broken pipe began flowing through the foundation each day.

“We were asking God to send us a sign that work was needed,” Mansley said. “Then the slab sunk. That was a pretty good sign.”

In early discussions about modernizing and expanding the church, the south wing was to be phase two of the project. Phase one was to be the addition of about 7,500 square feet to the front of the church.

After the foundation damage, however, the phases were reversed, Mansley said.

In November, construction crews arrived to fix the problems in the church’s foundation and also modernize existing classrooms, restrooms and offices.

The work is expected to be completed in January and then, after a few months of quiet, work on the addition is scheduled to begin in late spring or early summer.

As part of the addition, a new fellowship hall with kitchen will be added on one side of the church’s atrium and one the other side, new classrooms will be built.

Mansley did not know how long the work would take, but said he expected it to last more than a year.

He said the additional space — which will double the size of the existing church — is needed to house the growing number of programs the church is offering its congregation.

The church’s sanctuary can seat about 140 people and Mansley said although there are typically seats left at each of the two Sunday masses, the rest of the church’s space is not large enough to accommodate other programs.

Mansley said now that people aren’t just coming to church for a Sunday service, more room was needed for the youth and adult programs.

He said attendance at the church has growth about 50 percent since he first arrived seven years ago. And more of the congregation’s members are getting actively involved, he said. As part of that, they expect more from their church and are willing to contribute to make improvements.

“People have a higher expectation for a variety a reasons,” Mansley said. “One is that families are falling apart in ways we never could have imagined. People are hurting and they are hungry for answers.”

The cost of the construction work is expected to be between $750,000 and $1 million, Mansley said. The church’s congregation has made pledges and donations to pay for the work.

Connie Bentzen, who along with her family joined the church about a year ago, said she has supported the construction project from the beginning. Like Mansley, she said the project is needed.

“The church is growing, particularly the youth programs,” Bentzen said. “This will enable us to have the type of programs we want — for the youth and adults.”

While the construction will lead to an updated facility suited for the 21st century, recently the congregation has had to put up with at least one condition that was more common in the 18th century — no heat.

Mansley said although the current construction work has left the church without heat during the holiday season, the congregation has remained active and the church had one of its largest — if not largest — crowds on Christmas Eve.

“The people at Heritage have been fantastic,” Mansley said. “This has been a really terrific time at the church and it’s an exciting time. God is doing wonderful things.”


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