A special little church in Chicago…

Christian Fellowship ChicagoThis past Sunday, my wife and I were in Chicago for Parents’ Weekend at Loyola University. It’s our habit to find a place to worship on Sunday when we’re out of town and we were looking forward to doing church and breakfast with our oldest daughter (Leah), studying hard in pursuit of her goal to be a research physician.

I’d heard great things about Christian Fellowship Church, located on the North Side of Chicago in a lovely neighborhood (Roscoe Village) about a mile or so west of Wrigley Field.

Seven years ago, Sergei Marchenko moved into the neighborhood with his wife Gillian and their four daughters to become pastor of the church. Gillian is a well-known author and national speaker who writes and speaks about parenting kids with Down Syndrome, faith, depression, imperfection, and adoption. Gillian was a faculty member for our Inclusion Fusion Web Summit in 2012. Her video, Loss and Grief in Parenting Children With Special Needs was the most viewed video from the Web Summit that year.

Marchenko girlsOur family arrived a little bit early…I was pleasantly surprised by how plentiful parking was on the street in front of the church. I’d messaged Gillian to let her know we might be coming by…we were welcomed by Gillian and given a brief tour of the facilities.

On the morning we attended, the preponderance of kids attending church would have an identified disability or special need. Christian Fellowship is truly an inclusive church…a church where typical families and families affected by disability can worship together. The children’s area was designed to be sensory-friendly and includes a sensory wall along with a quiet area for kids who need a little break from overstimulation. Kids with significant special needs have 1:1 buddies on Sunday morning. Christian Fellowship also offers a free respite program on Thursday evenings for parents of kids with disabilities (families served DON’T need to belong to the church) staffed in part by students from the Moody Bible Institute a few miles away.

Everyone we met at Christian Fellowship was very friendly without being the least bit pushy. Sergei comes across as the polar opposite of the self-promoting pastor. He was teaching on the parable of the unforgiving servant from Matthew 18…his was the most thought-provoking (and challenging) teaching I’d heard on that passage from the Bible. A sign of a pretty good sermon is a message that continues to provoke thought six days after attending church.

Christian Fellowship RespiteMy biggest surprise was to find that the church wasn’t completely full. I can’t get over the irony that on the morning our family visited Christian Fellowship, we shared this story from an anonymous reader that became our most-viewed guest post ever. At the same time that many of our followers share their experiences of rejection at church, there’s a friendly place with good teaching in a cool neighborhood offering a great experience for families impacted by disability with free respite care in the middle of a city with millions of people and they still have space? I don’t get it.

I asked Gillian if it was OK to share our family’s experience with our readers and she agreed. I’m a little afraid after posting this that they’ll be overwhelmed with visitors. I would ask families planning to visit on a Sunday bringing children with disabilities or Pulling to Standseeking to take advantage of the high quality, free respite care they provide to contact Christian Fellowship in advance to let them know you’re coming so they might be prepared to welcome you in advance.

God’s clearly at work through Christian Fellowship. You’ll be blessed if you check it out.

Editor’s note: In celebration of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, Gillian is giving away the electronic version of her new book, Pulling to Stand: Glimpses of Parenting Two Children With Down Syndrome on Very Different Paths to readers who sign up for her monthly newsletter. Click here to learn more.


KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry is pleased to make available our FREE consultation service to pastors, church leaders and ministry volunteers. Got questions about launching a ministry that you can’t answer…here we are! Have a kid you’re struggling to serve? Contact us! Want to kick around a problem with someone who’s “been there and done that?” Click here to submit a request!

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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2 Responses to A special little church in Chicago…

  1. Ann Holmes says:

    Love, love this!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Camilla says:

    This is awesome! It is great that a church is reaching out so much to make sure the members of their congregation are taken care of. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I know that is definitely an atmosphere that we try to create on Sundays as well 🙂 Love it!!


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