A decade after relocating a small, but faithful congregation from the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago to Brookfield, parishioners of St. Nikola Serbian Eastern Orthodox Church are poised to build a new house of worship at 4301 Prairie Ave.
Church leaders will make their case for the new building, which will need a zoning variance to accommodate the height of the proposed dome and bell tower, at a public hearing before the Brookfield Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. at the Brookfield Village Hall, 8820 Brookfield Ave.
“We’re making progress,” said Tom Milutinovic, president of the church’s executive board. “The community has been very supportive of us. We couldn’t have picked a better location.”
The congregation wished to build a new church for a couple of reasons. First, the 1950s-era building they currently inhabit is too small to comfortably hold the number of people who show up for the weekly 10 a.m. Mass on Sunday.
According to Milutinovic, when St. Nikola relocated to Brookfield back in 2010, it was drawing less than a dozen people to Mass on a weekly basis. At that time, a church official told the Landmark the parish had just about 80 contributing members.
Moving to Brookfield, in close proximity to large Serbian communities in that village as well as Lyons, LaGrange, Burr Ridge and Justice, church attendance has grown to about 130 every week.
Even after enclosing a courtyard to enlarge the sanctuary, it’s still too small.
“We’re probably short a good 60 spots of seating,” Milutinovic said. “We’re just cramped.”
Church officials would also like to be able to accommodate a growing need for Sunday school and for church clubs dedicated to Serbian culture like their folklore dancers.
The second reason for a new church was, in a word, tradition. While the mid-century design of the existing church has served its purpose, the congregation wants to worship in a building that reflects the traditional style of Eastern Orthodoxy – a cruciform church with an east-facing altar, a bell tower and a dome above the sanctuary.
In time the interior will be decorated in the traditional Byzantine style, with a marble floor and walls covered in iconic frescos.
“Our architecture is 800-900 years old, and we want to make something in that style,” said the Rev. Nemanja Tesic, who was appointed as St. Nikola’s pastor last November after four years at St. Simeon Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he also oversaw the construction of a new church in the traditional Orthodox style.
Renderings of the church, which are part of the parish’s planning application on file with the village, indicate that the proposed stone church building, at 4,200 square feet, will be larger than the existing worship space, which is about 2,600 square feet.
The proposed church would also appear more monumental that the existing, low-slung church, with the bell tower rising to 48 feet and the central dome rising to a height of 41 feet.
Crosses placed atop the bell tower and dome would increase those total heights by another five feet.
The church itself would be placed on the southeast corner of the more than 40,000-square-foot property, which the parish bought in 2010. That purchase included the church’s rectory, a ranch home at 4309 Prairie Ave.
In 2012, Milutinovic bought the brick bungalow at 4312 Forest Ave., which sits immediately south of the church property, and conveyed ownership to the church a year later. Both residential buildings will remain standing, said Milutinovic.
Tesic lives in the Prairie Avenue rectory while the Forest Avenue residence houses assisting clergy. Mortgages on all of the properties have been paid off, and the church owns them free and clear.
If all goes smoothly with the village planning process, Milutinovic said construction could start within a year. The new building will cost an estimated $800,000 to $1 million, said Milutinovic, which will be funded through a capital campaign. He said the church has already secured a few large financial pledges.
As construction moves forward, Milutinovic said, he expects more people to become involved financially.
“People love to see something in progress,” he said.
As for the future of the existing building, Milutinovic said the congregation would eventually like to demolish it and build a new gymnasium/parish hall that would include classrooms for Sunday school.
Exactly when that might happen depends on the getting the new church approved and raising funds to move to the next phase.