University Bible Fellowship — a worship group recently surrounded in controversy — will have to find a new home.
On Monday, the Glen Ellyn Village Board denied a special use permit and zoning variations requested by UBF that would have allowed the group to continue worshiping and meeting out of a single-family home at 556 Lowden Ave., Glen Ellyn.
The decision came after two public hearings earlier this year there the Glen Ellyn Plan Commission recommended the village board deny the permit.
UBF has used the home for the past 14 years, hosting informal worship services on Sundays that are usually attended by about 20 people. The group also hosted Bible studies on Fridays and activities such as small prayer meetings at the home. Much of its membership includes College of DuPage students or alumni.
However, on Sunday, the congregation moved its gathering to the College of DuPage — leaving the neighborhood after concerns were raised by the village.
The village gave UBF six months to relocate because there are lingering activities at the home and the address is listed on outreach materials and on its website.
The fact that the group was using the home for its worship services came to the attention of village leaders in February of last year when staff performed an unrelated inspection of the home.
After the decision Monday, Anne Koday, UBF’s attorney, said members of the group are still considering how to use the property. UBF may sell the home to one of its members as a residence, or it may sell the property to someone else.
Outside the village, colleges and communities elsewhere have raised concerns about other branches of the group, some stating the organization has “cult-like” behaviors because of its highly authoritarian structure.
“UBF is an absolute mixed bag,” said Don Veinot, president of Midwest Christian Outreach, a Wonder Lake-based group that compares Christian groups and their religious teachings to the Bible. “We don’t receive a great deal of calls about UBF... but in the past, around 2000 or 2003, the National Association of Evangelicals accepted them into their ranks. They were taken out of the NAE in 2004, and reinstated in 2008.”
Veinot said those in UBF are typically “lovely people,” and the only aspect Midwest Christian Outreach compares is how the group operates.
“Their recruiting is pretty high-pressure as well, and the top-down authoritarian relationship means that your discipler makes life decisions for you,” Veinot said, adding that UBF leaders make decisions for members, such as who they should marry.
According to its website, ubf.org, the fellowship is an international evangelical student organization with emphasis on world mission. It was founded Sept. 1, 1961, in Korea and missionaries created chapters throughout the world.
According to the Chicago chapter’s website, several UBF groups in the area meet near college campuses, including the University of Illinois in Chicago, Northwestern University, Loyola University, Northeastern Illinois University, the University of Chicago, DePaul University, Triton College and Wilbur Wright College.
Like the Glen Ellyn group, many other UBF chapters meet in homes because of the small number of members, Pastor Ron Ward of the Chicago Chapter has said in previous media reports.
Ward also said the group’s so-called “cult-like” behavior may come from cultural misunderstandings. He has said the group honors the Bible as God’s word and “adheres to a very basic statement of faith that can be found in any evangelical church.”
The Glen Ellyn branch of UBF launched after the property was purchased in 1998. A UBF pastor was living in the home, and at the time, there was no intention of operating a church, said Jeremy Hajek, a long-time church member. Hajek also lived in the home for five years in the past.
However, over the years, the location evolved primarily into a place worship.
And that’s the main issue, said village Planning and Development Director Staci Hulseberg — that the property was being used primarily as a place of worship and not as a residence.
“If a resident lived in the home and the primary use is them living there and they had people over (that’s fine),” she said. “But the primary use now is not compliant.”
Veinot, with Midwest Christian Outreach, said despite how UBF operates, his concern with the situation is that group members should be able to worship where they want.
“I don't see why they can’t have home study... it seems like discrimination,” he said. “The city doesn't forbid those things... if it was a family gathering.”
Meanwhile, during this winter’s plan commission hearings, several residents expressed concerns about safety, parking, traffic and having strangers in the close-knit neighborhood.
Erin Micklo, who lives behind the UBF home, was one of several residents who spoke. She said if the group stayed in the residential area, it would change the character of the neighborhood because of the transient nature of the attendees.
The village’s plan commission ultimately recommended that the village board deny the requests by UBF because commissioners felt the hardship was self-created and if the church was allowed to continue operating in the home, traffic and parking problems would persist.
For now, members of UBF will worship at COD — which also rents meeting space to five other religious organizations — until the group can find a new, permanent place to call home.
“We’re looking to eventually buy a building properly, but buildings cost money,” said Hajek, of Lombard. “But we are looking for a property.”