As the longtime pastor of Beverly Evangelical Covenant Church (BECC), the Rev. Don Nelson has witnessed the compassion of his congregation in his personal life.
The church, 10545 S. Claremont Ave., is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year, and Nelson, pastor for over 16 years, is positive that many more anniversaries are in store.
For the last year and a half, Nelson has battled cancer. He is cancer free at the moment, he said, but his illness has a high recurrence rate.
Throughout his ordeal, BECC members have been there for him and his family, and he said he’s extremely grateful.
“This church has stepped up in incredible ways to support me and my family personally, to encourage us, and then really to assist and to cover for me in ministry,” Nelson said. “We’ve got men, we’ve got women, who, when I’m just not able to do it, they’re planning worship; they’re leading the services; they’re preaching. We really believe in the giftedness and the leadership of everyone in the church, and they have stepped up.”
Nelson, who lives in Beverly and has three daughters with his wife, Beth, officially started at BECC on July 1, 2001. He and his family moved from Iowa, and he said they “just instantly felt welcomed.”
Church members have increased that kindness during his health issues.
“They have just been so incredibly generous with time, with care, with support and with their own efforts,” Nelson said. “I can only express real gratitude for this congregation of people. They’ve been just great.”
BECC was built in 1952. Located at the northeast corner of 106th Street and Claremont Avenue, the building was designed by architect Hugh Haeuser, of Milwaukee. According to church officials, its style is a “middle ground” between older churches that were designed in a Gothic style and a simpler style popular in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
The congregation has been known as Beverly Evangelical Covenant Church since 1969, but its roots date back to the late 1800s and have a strong Swedish influence from two churches.
In Chicago in 1882, a group of Swedish immigrants who had been hosting prayer meetings in their homes near 51st Street and Princeton Avenue decided to organize a church. They began worshipping at a school and named their congregation after Bethany, the village near Jerusalem where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
In 1900, members built a structure on the northeast corner of Garfield Boulevard and Wells Street. It was later demolished to make way for the Dan Ryan Expressway.
In 1888, at 59th and Peoria streets, another group of Swedes formed a church that eventually became known as Englewood Mission Covenant Church. In 1898, a new church, with a capacity of 1,000 people, was built at 59th and Carpenter streets to accommodate its growing congregation.
During World War I, both Bethany and Englewood joined the Swedish Mission Covenant, but as the Swedish population in the area declined in the 1940s, church leaders once again sought new locations, this time to the south and west.
In 1951, Bethany moved into a new building at 91st and Bishop streets, and Englewood began building at 106th Street and Claremont Avenue; that building was dedicated on Sept. 28, 1952, and the congregation was renamed Redeemer Covenant Church.
In 1968, Bethany and Redeemer merged into the church at 106th and Claremont, and the new congregation was named Beverly Evangelical Covenant Church, with the first unified service held on March 2, 1969.
The church is part of the Evangelical Covenant Church, which was formerly the Swedish Mission Covenant.
While the church has no specific activities to commemorate the 65th anniversary, other celebrations are in store.
Its three-manual organ was built by the Schantz Organ Co., of Orrville, Ohio, in 1961, for Bethany Covenant Church, then moved into the current church.
Its pipes are mounted on both sides of the church altar, and on Sunday, Dec. 10, at 3:30 p.m., a recital will celebrate the beloved instrument.
Nelson said the congregation’s weekly service is “moderately informal,” with worshippers wearing anything from suits to shorts, and its services feature “fairly traditional” music.
The church encourages congregation participation, he said, and services include a “time for sharing concerns and prayer requests” ranging from health to public issues such as natural disasters and gun violence.
“We really believe that worship is the work of the people, and it’s meant to be engaged and invested,” Nelson said. “It’s not just the formal leadership up front.”
The church is also active in charitable efforts. It is a longtime supporter of PADS homeless shelters, and for 25 years, a “Moms of Preschoolers” group has met at the church, where women provide emotional support and share their experiences in raising youngsters.
Church members have also created “the closet,” in which people can donate adult and children’s clothing to people in need.
The “Moms of Preschoolers” meet every Tuesday at 9:15 a.m.
The church also opens its doors to visitors during the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade, offering snacks, drinks and bathrooms.
Peter Berghoff, a former Beverly resident, has been a church member his entire life, as were his father, Robert Berghoff, and grandmother, Doris Andersen.
He takes pride in the church and its activities, including its support of a women’s shelter for 25 years.
He also expressed pride in the church partnering with St. Barnabas Roman Catholic Church for charitable causes.
“We’re a little church. We kind of fly under the radar,” Berghoff said. “But we’re making a difference in a lot of places.”
BECC will offer a new worship service to support community members this winter.
During Advent, the church will host a “Blue Christmas” service, in which people who are grieving and experiencing difficulties during the holidays can unite to comfort each other.
Nelson said the goal is to help those who have “no need to project an image of happiness.” Some needs are apparent, he said, but he also wants to help people with unseen struggles.
“It’s just a practical application of how we can reach out to help people whose needs might not be as visible as homelessness, for example,” Nelson said. “We really want to seek ways to help.”
Beverly Evangelical Covenant Church hosts a Sunday Bible study at 9:30 a.m., followed by a service at 10:45 a.m.
For more information, call (773) 445-4319 or visit the website at beverlycovenantchurch.org.