Austin’s Third Unitarian Church is one of 10 churches in the Chicago area taking part in a Illinois Landmark Preservation Council joint program to help congregations upgrade their historic buildings.

The Preservation Council is a sponsor of the New Dollar/New Partners for Your Sacred Places program. The program offers congregations training in assessing their building’s needs and how to make improvements. The program is run by Philadelphia-based Partners for Sacred Places, a non-profit, national organization that helps churches maintain their older buildings and properties.

The 70-year-old Third Unitarian Church, 301 N. Mayfield, is the only church in Austin taking part in the program.

Grace Episcopal Church in Oak Park, one of the participating churches, hosted the first in a series of two-day workshops last week. Future workshops will take place later in the year at other locations. Participating congregations will receive a $6,000 grant toward projects involved with their buildings’ renovation.

This is the first time the New Dollars/New Partners program has been offered to the Chicago area. Of the many churches to apply, said Suzanne Germann, Preservation Fund and Assessment coordinator for the council, the 10 who were able to send at least four representatives to the four scheduled workshops were chosen.

“We really focused on the congregations who were enthusiastic about the program,” said Germann.

Eight of the 10 participating churches are in Chicago. Each church will have four representatives attending the workshops. Churches began applying last fall. An introductory workshop for applicants took place in September 2005.

“Many of the churches who participated in the introduction applied for the program,” said Germann. “We were looking for a program like this. Congregations with historic buildings needed that support, so this program will sort of fulfill that need.”

The first workshop had church representatives and their instructors talking about each church’s community, as well as needed projects. Rev. Shawn Schreiner of Grace Episcopal Church, 924 Lake Street, who hosted the first workshop, said the emphasis on an “asset-based” development approach was a good first step.

“It was good to do that,” she said. “We tend to think about this thing needing to be fixed and that thing needing to be worked on, and we forget to give thanks for what we have and how that impacts the community. I’m glad they got us to focus on that. It’s hard to do that when there’s so much that needs to be done.”

The three remaining workshops are scheduled for June, August and September, to take place at different locations.

Third Unitarian Church was built in 1936, though the congregation has been in existence since 1868. They lost their first location to a fire before moving into its Mayfield location. The church facility was expanded in 1956. The Chicago City Council in 1960 declared the building a Chicago landmark.

For more information about the program New Dollar/New Partners for Your Sacred Place, contact Sarah Peveler, director of training for Sacred Places at 215/567-3234 ext. 14 or