Elgin Church Outreach Coordinator, Terri Dallas (right), with the Mayor of the City of Elgin (next to her), welcomes the volunteers to the Heal Elgin Clinic last June. | Photo courtesy Gabriel Bardan
When Elgin Church Pastor Gabriel Bardan joined a clergy meeting and introduced himself as the pastor of the Elgin Adventist Church, the chairman, a mainline Protestant pastor looked at him and asked, "Where have you been so far?"
Bardan acknowledges, "Indeed we had been disconnected from the community for a long time. Now, our goal is to become a community hub!"
This renewed push for a higher profile in the community came after a brutally honest assessment in a summer 2017 church business meeting. Members of Elgin Church, located 40 miles northwest of Chicago, concluded that a radical change was needed — something beyond revival or a new direction. A rebirth of Elgin was required.
They call it re-planting, a process so rare it happens in a handful of churches across the North American Division each year. According to North American Division Evangelism Institute (NADEI) church plant expert, Anthony WagenerSmith, re-planting happens when, "You put everything on the table, revisit the vision and discover a whole new paradigm."
When the Elgin church's leadership met to analyze their resources, as well as skills and talents in the church, they noticed several factors: They have a large building that is used mostly on weekends; six acres of land that doesn’t produce any benefit; medical skills never used collectively to alleviate the suffering around them; and despite the school closing decades ago, that section of the building was never repurposed to glorify God. Their assessment led to the church initiating the "Heal Elgin Project" under the leadership of outreach director,Terri Dallas, MD. But more on that later.
This wasn't the first time Elgin Church has re-planted itself.
The town of Elgin, located half-way along the railroad from Chicago to Galena, was founded in 1835. Over the winter of 1856 and into the spring of 1857, John Loughborough “labored” in the area. For wages, he received “board, a buffalo skin, and $10.” Elder Curtis was assigned as pastor in 1898, and records show that in 1909 Ellen White attended the Elgin camp meeting and delivered two sermons there.
During the Great Depression in 1929, most members moved away. Some had lost their faith and others had passed away, so for about 10 years there was no Adventist presence in Elgin.
After 1939, a family moved in the area and started Sabbath School in their home. The Elgin Church was re-organized in 1944 with 25 members, meeting in the Masonic Temple. Eventually they purchased six acres of land and built a school and then a church, dedicated in 1970 and 1971 respectively.
In the last 15 years, the Elgin Church has helped to plant five new churches. During the summer 2017 church business meeting, they unanimously voted to “start a process leading to the rebirth of the church, authorizing Pastor Gabriel Bardan to create and facilitate a visioning team.”
However, their first step was to establish the spiritual foundation of the team. Four months were dedicated to daily prayer and study of the gospel, plus a two-hour meeting each Saturday night just for praying and sharing testimonies.
In 2018, the focus was on learning the skills of relational evangelism, leading small groups and relational Bible studies. Members started contacting friends, neighbors and coworkers. The team was experiencing revival, and others noticed. Barden explained that they followed a vision framing process designed by Auxano, a church consulting organization, but, by the time the vision framing process began, the congregation was already seeing people with different eyes — seeing other's from heaven’s perspective which was a tremendous help in defining the vision.
The second leg of the process was the breakthrough moment for the whole team. After an in-depth analysis of the needs in their territory, the talent and resources in the church, and the passions of the leaders, they determined what they believed to be the direction of God’s preferred future. The description of their mission and ministry read as follows: “We honor God and make disciples in the greater Elgin area by becoming a healing community of faith, by operating a Recovery Center, and training those who are restored in the image of God to become agents of healing.” That statement brought tremendous clarity to the process. Key words such as “brokenness”, “restoring” and “healing”, were popping up naturally in their conversations.
The next steps were easy to make. The local mission statement was “to restore the image of God in a world of brokenness, one life at a time.” The values, measures of success and five-step strategy were defined with clarity.
Heal Elgin Project
The first dental and vision clinic was organized about two months before the June 2018 event. AMEN clinics provided the equipment, training and management, using the church building to set up on Friday for the clinic on Sunday. Local dentists and ophthalmologists were contacted, tapping into their network of colleagues and volunteers. A partnership between three churches in the district and local organizations resulted in registering 101 volunteers before the weekend, most of them from the community. The clinic’s tagline was “We love to see you smile!”
Marketing assistance was a gift from God. Because the clinic would operate on the same weekend as the Love Elgin Day (a seven-campus Christian community service event), they distributed the invitations for the church's clinic.
"It rained very hard that Sunday, but inside, dental patients were smiling and volunteers were happy, even after 12 hours of work, (and) looking forward for the next year's clinic," said Bardan.
The second Heal Elgin Clinic was on June 2, 2019. The church building and parking lot were limiting factors. "The Lord opened a door and the Lords Park Pavilion, a beautiful mansion close to the church, was offered by the city for a very reasonable price," said Bardan. "Plus, they allowed setup on Friday for free."This time the clinic matured into a well-organized event.
HealElgin.org website was the main hub of information. Volunteers came from places as far as Missouri. Chicago Tribune, the newspaper with the largest circulation in Chicagoland published an article with the title "Heal Elgin Project receives Grant from The Chicago Dental Society Foundation."
The Northwestern Herald published the story "Love Elgin and Heal Elgin Offering Free Goods & Services This Weekend." Chicago Dental Association awarded a $5,000 grant. Illinois State Dental Association gave another grant of $5,000. More local businesses also helped. The Mayor of Elgin came on a Sunday morning 6:30 a.m. to congratulate 125 volunteers.
Additional services were offered, such as a community closet from a sister church, hairstylists and immigration lawyer. The Lifestyle and Spiritual Counseling and trained church leaders talked and prayed with dozens of patients, many of whom registered for follow-up classes, such as depression recovery, nutrition and more.
Heal Elgin Clinic was the first building block of the Recovery Center followed by Depression and Anxiety Recovery program. Nutrition and cooking class are the next piece. They plan to run these programs multiple times each year. Addiction recovery will be added by the middle of 2020. Eventually, the goal is to establish a community center of influence. Terri Dallas, the outreach coordinator, would like to name it Wellspring Center for Recovery and Education, with the goal of bringing eternal healing to a broken world.
What’s next? Right now, the Recovery Center moves beyond the boundaries of the district. Another major component scheduled is training. A prevention program will follow shortly. A community garden is planned for the spring and the church's leadership is working on a church re-plant model that can easily be replicated in any part of the country.
If you want to learn more, please feel to contact Gabriel Bardan at (847) 461-9609 or email Gabriel@HealElgin.org