Friendship Presbyterian Church is Moving its Mission Forward Through Community Building


Expansive. Inclusive. Collaborative. Creative. Transformative.

Those are just a few of the values Chicago-based Friendship Presbyterian Church (FPC) embodies through its ministry work.

“Something that we say often — what I understand was a phrase that first originated in the disability rights community — is, ‘Nothing for us without us,’” said FPC Pastor, the Rev. Shawna Bowman (they/them). “We say it as a reminder to ourselves that we don’t do things to people, we do things with people. I think that’s one of our core values that really leads to all the rest.”

A perfect example of an initiative truly created with people in mind is Friendship Kitchen, the church’s commercially licensed, shared-use kitchen, which provides a free, weekly meal to those in need.

The number of weekly meals served went from about 40 to over 200 last summer and fall, as a huge influx of migrants flocked to the Windy City for asylum. The intake process was handled largely through local police stations. Church leaders became aware of the increase of new arrivals because the church is located across the street from the 16th district police department.

While the demand isn’t quite as high today, FPC continues to serve the immigrant population and others who are experiencing food insecurity.

“We still see folks return for a weekly meal, and community volunteers offer ESL class in our space on the same evening as the meal to try to round out some tools for those folks, but it’s one of the places where we’ve really embodied our collaboration,” Rev. Bowman said.

They add that it’s not just the regular Thursday meal that comes out of the kitchen. The “Kitchen Krewe” is made up of neighbors, community volunteers and church members. “We plan the menus together, and we take turns as chef of the day. Everybody contributes, and everybody eats.”

Everyone on the team has to complete FPC’s kitchen safety certification program, and the church also subsidizes kitchen manager training for those who are interested. “The idea is the kitchen is a place for folks to build community, to build networks of support and build skills they can use hospitality industry,” Rev. Bowman said.

New Beginnings

Building community began with building an entirely new church.

In the face of dwindling attendance and resources, two legacy congregations on Chicago’s northwest side made the decision to dissolve and sell their buildings about 13 years ago. Friendship Presbyterian Church was born as a result. Rev. Bowman became FPC’s first installed pastor in 2011.

“For the first eight years, we worshiped in a train station, and we did some really intentional work to begin to build relationships and partnerships in the community,” Rev. Bowman said. “We helped form a group called Neighbors for Affordable Housing,” which advocated for the construction of the affordable housing development in which FPC now occupies the first floor. FPC partnered with the nonprofit developer, Full Circle Communities, to create its shared space.

“The building design always had a commercial space planned on the first floor, and they could have gone the commercial route and put a Walgreens or something in there, but they came to us and said, ‘We love what your vision is,’” said Rev. Bowman. “They saw us as a really great fit with their mission, so we negotiated a long-term lease agreement, and they brought us into the design process.”

The 4,000-square-foot space includes a multipurpose space for worship and community events, the kitchen and a community room that features a lending library. Above FPC are 75 units of mixed-income residential apartments.

A Place and a Space

Bowman notes that their church is made up of two entities: Friendship Presbyterian Church, the congregational entity, and Friendship Community Place, a 501(c)3 founded by the church to create a sustainable community center and space for community engagement around issues of justice, equity and innovation.

“We want to be very clear that Friendship Community Place is the responsibility of the ministry of Friendship Presbyterian Church, but we wanted to create something that was expansive and wasn’t a faith-based organization because we want it to be accessible to all,” said Rev. Bowman, who also serves as Executive Director of Friendship Community Place. “We want to connect folks with resources no matter their faith background or whether they’re interested in being part of our faith community.”

In fact, “We have come to understand that Friendship Community Place is really our primary way of expressing our mission in the world,” they added. Though FPC’s congregation is about 60, “the amount of touch points that we have through Friendship Community Place every week is in the hundreds.” Community events include everything from meals to movie nights to health screenings.

“I think many churches feel as if they’re on the margins of their community,” Rev. Bowman said. “Through community organizing and advocacy and relationship building, we’ve become a part of the fabric of the community. And that’s really what I think the mission of the church is to be.”

Stewarding its Resources

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Foundation and New Covenant Trust Company held the investments of the two legacy congregations while they were in transition before FPC was formed. Church leaders then decided to invest FPC’s funds with an outside investment management firm. When that arrangement was no longer serving the best interests of FPC’s ministry, they reached out to NCTC.

We told them we need to have a partner that is managing our funds that understands we take our stewardship and our responsibility to these funds very seriously, and we also understand that they are meant to be utilized for the mission and ministry of the gospel, and to do that is going to require us to spend some of them,” said Rev. Bowman.

FPC is exploring fundraising options and nontraditional strategies in efforts to foster long-term sustainability. NCTC has been honored to help support these strategies.

“It’s been a gift to work with folks who are on the same page we are and who are aligned with our vision and are even excited about it,” Rev. Bowman said. “They are able to align with our vision, match our capacity for risk, be reflective with us about what’s possible for our ministry.”

NCTC is proud to partner with Friendship Presbyterian Church and is excited to help open up more possibilities for their wonderful ministry in the future.

For more about FPC, visit