A historic Maywood church building that dates back to 1871 took in its newest congregation on July 7.
Dressed in communion Sunday white, members of the Rose of Sharon Community Church converged on the steps of 201 S. 5th Ave. for a brief ribbon-cutting and prayer before eagerly marching into their new house of worship.
The moment marked a historic transition for Rose of Sharon, whose longtime pastor, the late Rev. James A. Murphy Sr., built the church into an institution on Chicago’s West Side. Murphy, who died last year at 87, founded the church in 1955 and pastored for more than 62 years, according to an obituary published in the Chicago Crusader.
Murphy was also a serial entrepreneur, owning an array of businesses on the West Side that constituted their own cottage economy. Murphy owned R.O.S. Cleaners, “a chain of dry cleaners with 13 locations,” the Crusader article pointed out; the Turning Point Supper Club; Murph’s Place Restaurant; and Century 21 Murphy Real Estate.
The enterprising pastor also penetrated the city’s airwaves, broadcasting his church’s live services for more than 50 years on area radio stations. In the 1990s, he created “The Lord Will Make a Way” broadcast on cable television, where he often sung “The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow” — a song that he made his own.
“When people would see him coming, they’d start singing that song,” said Congressman Danny K. Davis, a friend of Murphy’s and a native of Chicago’s Austin community.
“Rose of Sharon was the first church I stepped foot in in Chicago,” Davis said during Sunday’s ribbon-cutting. Davis said he was also a frequent patron of R.O.S. Cleaners.
“The Murphy family has been an integral part of our community,” he said.
While on the West Side, the Rose of Sharon worshipped in four different locations. In 1990, a fire destroyed the third location, at 2950 W. Warren, forcing the congregation to temporarily worship in a mortuary, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“Our faith is on trial,” Clementine Murphy, Rev. Murphy’s wife of 66 years, told a Tribune reporter at the time. “Well be stronger at the end of this.”
Eventually, the church moved into their last location in the city, a spacious building at 4256 W. Walton. After Rev. Murphy’s death in 2018, the church moved again, this time to First Congregational Church, 400 N. 5th Ave. in Maywood, where they rented space, before finding their permanent location.
Chevonne Nash, the church’s communications manager and Rev. James and Clementine Murphy’s granddaughter, said that Rose of Sharon’s last West Side location was too large and too costly for the congregation of roughly 50 members.
“We wanted to downsize,” Nash said. “Also, a lot of our members are from the west suburbs, so this location is easier for them to get to.”
The previous congregation to worship at 201 S. 5th Ave., New Beginnings Christian Fellowship, disbanded after its pastor, David Torres, died in 2014.
“The church had been just sitting here vacant, for a couple of years, when we found out about it through our chairman,” said Rev. Myron Austin, Rose of Sharon’s current pastor. “We believe everything is in divine order.”
Annie Beckworth, who joined Rose of Sharon in 1960, gave the church’s new location her stamp of approval.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “I love it. I love it.”
“This is a great location. This corner has a whole lot of history,” said state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th), who also attended the ribbon-cutting.
“You’re across from the old Masonic Temple, but your church holds a lot of meaning itself,” he said. “You’re right next to the police station and the park and Fred Hampton Pool. We’re looking forward to Rose of Sharon adding to the rich history of this village.”
Welch could have added another factoid. According to Douglas Deuchler, who authored a book on Maywood, the church’s original congregation, the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion, included “many prominent Maywood families” as members, including the man who founded the village — Colonel William T. Nichols, a Civil War veteran from Vermont, who named the town after his deceased daughter, May.
Now, the burden of building on that history is up to the historic building’s newest hosts. Before she cut the ribbon on Sunday, Clementine Murphy, echoing her sentiments following the 1990 fire, seemed up to the task.
“The Lord will make a way somehow,” Murphy said, channeling her late husband. “We want to keep on going, no matter how hard or rough it might be. This church is full of love. We believe in sharing one another’s burdens and problems. There’s no end to church work. You’ve got to keep going.”