Freedom Church Ministries excited to bring old Illiana campus back to life

“Lansing is a great community!” says Pastor Thaddeus Searcy

by Melanie Jongsma

LANSING, Ill. (February 25, 2020) – “We’ve always been community minded, but we’ve never had a home base,” said Pastor Thaddeus Searcy. “Being in a rental situation, we just are not able to accomplish what we want to accomplish. We’ve been limited in what we could do and the plans we could dream.” But now, with a large building and a 9.5-acre campus, Searcy and his church—Freedom Church Ministries—are eager to get involved and get creative. They signed the papers at closing on Friday, February 21, and took ownership of the Illiana campus that has been vacant for the past year and a half.

“We want to open it up to the community of Lansing. Our goal is to be a place where the community can gather,” said Searcy—not just on Sundays, and not just for church services. Searcy envisions sports tournaments, events, and voting in the big gym; he wants to see the five tennis courts used; he has plans for using the shop classrooms to teach people the trades; he hopes to partner with “all the humanitarian and social justice efforts that are already happening in Lansing.”

Standing on the stage, looking out at the “old gym,” Pastor Thaddeus Searcy envisions the space as the main worship center for Freedom Church Ministries, and he hopes to have it transformed by Easter this year. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Searcy sees opportunity in the shop classrooms—he’d like to host a program that teaches people the trades. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Searcy finds it energizing to have so much space and the freedom to use it. “Any creativity we can think of, we can do!” he says, still amazed at the providential process that made the acquisition possible. He had walked through the building when Illiana first listed it, and it was “out of our price range. We couldn’t afford it.” But other potential buyers didn’t make it to closing, and Illiana dropped the price, and the property eventually went up for auction. Searcy had had interactions with the auction company months earlier when they showed him some other possible properties. In handling the Illiana auction, the company reached out to Searcy and encouraged him to place a bid. Freedom Church had started a building campaign last January—at 500 weekly attendees they were outgrowing their current location—so they were in a position to put together a bid.

Illiana was in a position to accept it. Searcy said, “They read through what we’re about, and they called and said ‘We want you guys to have the building.’ They basically wanted us to be there. They showed some generosity to us—they were so gracious. And God came through for us.”

Of course, there are still some permissions and processes to complete. Freedom Church Ministries will appear before the Planning and Zoning Board on March 11 to request a “Special Use to allow a church in a residential district, and a Variance to allow a church within 750 feet of another church.” The Special Use is not unusual, since many Lansing churches are in residential areas. The Variance is necessary because of an ordinance that was enacted to minimize traffic concerns related to ingress and egress at service times. Since the Illiana property is across the street from Oak Glen United Reformed Church, Freedom Church paid to have a traffic study done. They plan to use the south parking lot and entrance (which is more than 750 feet away from Oak Glen’s entrance), and they will share the results of the study at the Planning and Zoning meeting.

The doors on the south side of the building will become the main entrance for Freedom Church Ministries. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Searcy is eager for the meeting and for eventual Village Board approval because he is hoping that Freedom Church can hold services in their new building already on Easter Sunday this year, April 12. He envisions that with some remodeling Illiana’s smaller gym will become the main worship center—the space accommodates nearly 1,000 people. “Last Easter,” remembers Searcy, “we had 700 people at our services. We are outgrowing the space we’re in.”

He welcomes the Lansing community to join Freedom Church at 10:30am on Easter Sunday, not only to celebrate Resurrection Day, but also to look around at the changes he hopes to have made to the building by then. As the main entrance, the southeast doors will open to a redesigned lobby, which will lead to the transformed worship center. The exit at one corner of the gym will lead up a staircase to what will become the “kids wing,” complete with nursery, Sunday School classes, and a youth room in the former band and choir space.

A wing of former classrooms will be used to house the nursery and Sunday school. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
The former band/choir room will be transformed into a youth room. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

“On our end,” said Illiana Principal Peter Boonstra in a February 25 email, “we are pleased with the sale of the Lansing campus and are pleased that it will continue to be used in kingdom service. It was a long process for us, and we are glad to hand over the keys to an institution that will bring it back to life.”

Searcy sees the beauty of building on the campus’s 75-year legacy of preparing and equipping people for making a difference in the world. “Part of the reason our church has grown so fast is our community outreach,” he said. The multi-ethnic, multi-generational, non-denominational congregation is involved in diverse programs that include prayer shawls for hospital patients, dance mentoring for young women, Bible studies for seniors, organizing young people to feed the homeless, and more.

“We want to continue that legacy and then take it to wherever the Lord wants in the future,” said Searcy. “Our whole church is excited about this.”

The property address is 2261 Indiana Avenue in Lansing, though as Freedom Church Ministries becomes situated there, the main entrance will be on Ridge Road.