St. Martin was founded at its present location in 1878. Prior to 1960, Austin, the community in which the church is located, was predominantly white and today it is predominantly black. The church serves an area of the city once served by seven Episcopal parishes but we are the last viable Episcopal congregation. When the cultural composition of the community changed, the culture of the church, as expressed in its’ liturgy, music, iconography and spirituality did not change. Thus the church, although committed to remaining in the local community, failed to draw new members. In an effort to address the social needs of the residents in Austin, the church became active in social services and housing day care and head start programs in the parish house for over twenty years yet failed to attract members through these service ministries.
In 2000 we began the renovation of our worship space. Chairs replaced the pews and a local artist constructed an altar and ambo. This has made our worship space flexible for a variety of worship experiences as well as for other uses. We engaged a professional musician who has worked with us in gathering music form a variety of traditions particularly African American. Our music adds to our dynamic and participatory worship.
Since we are attracting families with children we have recently begun a monthly family service, which is child friendly and engages children in the service. As we grow we plan to expand the opportunities for activities with children and families. This ministry carries out our vision “to welcome and affirm multiple types of families.”
Our members come from the Austin community and nearby and distant suburbs and communities. Although we are predominantly African American with Hispanic and white and interracial members we are also very diverse in that we intentionally incorporate LGBTQ individuals and families in our congregational life. While some people first encounter our church through Sunday worship, we felt a need to have other ways of people coming to know of our church. This is particularly true in that many people drawn to St. Martin’s have been alienated from traditional churches. Although located in Austin, our active membership currently comes from all over the Chicagoland area and few of our members actually live in Austin.