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Church’s permit application worries some neighbors

A small Christian evangelical church operating out of a Glen Ellyn house is seeking a permit to continue holding the worship services and bible studies it has been hosting for 13 years.

The University Bible Fellowship, a Christian group that aims to preach the gospel to college students and young people, has been operating their informal worship gatherings out of the home at 556 Lowden Avenue since 1998, according to village documents, with no known complaints from neighbors in the Glen Park subdivision where it sits.

But when a village inspector visited the home in February 2011 for an unrelated inspection, it was discovered the church was operating out of the home, which violates village zoning laws.

As representatives from the church now seek the necessary permit,  neighbors in the subdivision have made public their concerns, including overcrowding at the home and in the neighborhood. Neighbors say as many as 40 people attend activities in the house, and they’re also concerned about the volume of traffic the church brings to the neighborhood, where “numerous children” play and ride bikes, according to a letter to the plan commission from a group of neighbors.

The plan commission will hold a public hearing on the permit request Thursday night.

Laura Baloun, who lives near the house the church uses, said neighbors did not realize until they were notified by the village about Thursday’s public hearing that a church was operating in their neighborhood. She said there are many young adults and kids who walk around the neighborhood when the church is holding services. Her main concern is a parking jam and having “more strangers around” the neighborhood.

“Awhile back there were a couple incidents with a couple of the kids where I had to confront the parents,” Baloun said.

Pastor Ron Ward of the University Bible Fellowship’s chapter in Chicago, said the church has no plans to change the way it’s operating if they are granted the permit they seek.

“I really don’t think it’s going to be an issue that we have increased traffic,” Ward said. “If we did, we would find a church in the area for sale and buy it.”

The church, which  has about 700 followers in the Chicago area, including presences on many college campuses, often operates out of residences because its gatherings are comprised of so few people, Ward said.

While University Bible Fellowship has been questioned by some outside the church for being cult-like and authoritarian, the church has been a member of the National Association of Evangelicals since 2008, said NAE spokeswoman Sarah Kropp.  The church is also listed online as a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

Ward said any negative criticism about the church may come from cultural misunderstandings. The church began in Korea and missionaries from there brought University Bible Fellowship to the United States, Ward said.

“We adhere to a very basic statement of faith that can be found in any evangelical church,” Ward said. “We honor the Bible as God’s word.”

The plan commission will hear public comment on the church’s permit application at its meeting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Glen Ellyn Civic Center, 535 Duane Street. After the plan commission votes, the village board will also have to sign off on the church’s permit.

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