At 5 p.m. on Sunday nights in a Rogers Park bar, about 40 people drink, tell stories and laugh together. This is a common situation for a bar, but here, everyone is gathered for church.
Gilead Church Chicago is a Christian worship service held in the Buffalo Bar at Heartland Cafe, off the Morse Red Line stop. It’s a place created to “Tell your stories, share good food and worship beautifully,” according to the Gilead Church Chicago website.
Gilead was officially established in 2016 by its current pastors, Vince Amlin and Rebecca Anderson, both 36. While attending the University of Chicago, they became friends and later graduated with degrees in ministry. They dreamed about starting their own church and years later that dream became a reality.
Amlin said the church is a unique organization for a unique group of people.
“Being in a bar, it wasn’t the original thought, but it feels like it was because it’s so much of who we are now … we always wanted to have it in a nontraditional space,” Amlin said. “We wanted to be a church that reaches out to people that wouldn’t normally walk into church or would be turned off by that or have been turned away by churches in the past or have dismissed that way of religion.”
According to Amlin, the idea of Gilead was in the works for three years after he and Anderson finished college, but it didn’t begin until about a year ago.
“It went from, ‘What if we did this?’ to, ‘What would it actually look like?’ to, ‘I think we are going to do this.’ We just had this dream and the more we talked about it, the more excited we got and wanted it to happen,” Amlin said.
Anderson said the church’s name came from the Book of Jeremiah, which speaks about the distribution of resources to all people, abundance and healing.
“Because this is a new church, I get to meet new people anytime and anywhere,” Anderson said. “This gives me so much joy and lets me know that this is the work I am called to do … building connections just might make an impact.”
Even though Gilead is a worship service for a Christian organization, Anderson said the church welcomes and accepts all groups of people from all religious backgrounds into its community.
“The mission is making a space for people to gather, especially people that were told or made to feel that church is not for them,” Anderson said.
Each of Gilead’s services are composed of poetry, storytelling, a variety of music and communion. At Gilead, communion is open to everyone who wishes to participate.
In addition, Gilead organizes events within the community. “Know and Be Known Dinners” are held at the homes of volunteers to encourage churchgoers to gather in an even more personal setting. Loyola alumna Krista Damico, 36, recently hosted one of these dinners.
“I literally opened my house to strangers, and [Gilead] gave me a way to do that. It’s all about the community and the people,” Damico said.
Damico also attends St. Gertrude’s Church in Edgewater for Catholic Mass on Sunday mornings. She said she appreciates the opportunity to be involved in different types of worship as well as the smaller, personal setting of Gilead.
“The thing that’s different about this is the space … the attitudes of the people in charge, and what’s asked or required of people,” Damico said. “They are remarkably meet-you-where-you-are. They’re not demanding certain things or certain beliefs. They are asking for good intention and an openness.”
Ellen Wessel, one of the church’s attendees, said although she isn’t religious, she enjoys attending and participating in the community Gilead creates.
“When I’m here [Gilead], it’s a little Jesus-heavy for me. But there’s too much love here to not feel something,” Wessel said. “They embrace the messiness of being a human being, and there isn’t a judgement when you are here at all.”
Gilead services are on Sundays at 5 p.m. in Buffalo Bar at Heartland Cafe (7006 N. Glenwood Ave.).