Chicago is a city known for its rich architectural heritage, and one aspect that stands out prominently is its historical protestant churches. These sacred structures serve as enduring testaments to the city’s diverse religious history and architectural prowess. From Tudor revival, to Romanesque revival churches, Chicago’s religious buildings reflect various architectural styles and bear witness to the spiritual and cultural fabric of the city.
These historical protestant churches not only serve as places of worship but also embody the architectural genius of renowned architects who left their mark on the city. Each structure tells a story, preserving the memories and traditions of the communities they have served throughout the years. Whether it is the soaring spires, intricate stained glass windows, or grandiose interiors, these sacred spaces evoke a sense of awe and reverence.
In this exploration of Chicago’s historical protestant churches, we delve into their architectural splendor, delve into their historical significance, and uncover the stories behind these sacred landmarks. Join us on this journey to discover the spiritual and architectural treasures that grace the vibrant streets of Chicago.
The St. James Cathedral
St. James Cathedral in Chicago holds a revered place as the mother church of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America Diocese of Chicago. Founded in 1834, it stands as the oldest Anglican Communion and Episcopal tradition church in the area. The cathedral’s location at Huron and Wabash streets has witnessed significant historical moments, including the worship of Abraham Lincoln shortly after his election as President in 1860.
While the original parish church fell victim to the Great Chicago Fire, the surviving bell tower was incorporated into the rebuilt structure, with its soot-stained stones still bearing witness to the fire’s devastation.
As Chicago prospered, so did St. James, resulting in the construction of a grand church building. Notably, in the 1870s, the cathedral commissioned works by women artists, exemplified by the exquisite baptismal font carved from Carrara marble by Augusta Freeman.
St. James Cathedral gained the status of a cathedral in 1928 after the previous cathedral was destroyed in a fire, although this arrangement ended in 1931. It was officially designated as the cathedral once again in 1955. The cathedral boasts Victorian-era stained glass windows, generously gifted by prominent Chicago leaders, depicting biblical scenes and symbols.
Throughout its history, St. James has been renowned for its sacred music ministry, led by esteemed composers and organists. Leo Sowerby, Dudley Buck, Peter C. Lutkin, and Clarence Dickinson are among the notable figures associated with the cathedral. The organ, installed in 1920 and subsequently rebuilt and enlarged in 1999, continues to resonate with magnificent tones.
In recent years, the cathedral has addressed structural concerns, leading to temporary modifications as preparations for a full restoration take place. St. James Cathedral stands as a testament to its rich heritage, offering a sacred space where history, art, and worship intertwine.
All Saints Episcopal Church
All Saints Episcopal Church, located in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, is a rare example of stick style architecture in the city. Built in 1883, it has been recognized as a Chicago Landmark.
The church features vertical beams and decorative shingles, showcasing its unique design. The stained glass windows, originally crafted by the Healy & Millet firm, add to the church’s visual appeal.
Designed by architect John Cochrane, known for his work on the Illinois State Capitol, All Saints’ is considered one of the finest examples of the Stick style in Chicago. Despite facing two fires and plans for demolition, the building has survived and remains largely intact. In 1990, it was designated a Chicago Historical Landmark. The church’s adjoining rectory, designed by John Hulla in 1905, exhibits Tudor Revival style.
All Saints Episcopal Church is an active place of worship known for its community outreach programs, including a food pantry and neighborhood events that attract diverse members. The church has undergone updates and restoration efforts through successful capital campaigns in 2005 and 2014. These initiatives have preserved the historic building, maintained the ringing of the bell, and established a center for local and global ministries.
The Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church
Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, located in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, was founded in 1850, with the current remains dating back to 1880. The church saw a change in its congregation over the years as German residents moved away from Pilsen, making room for other cultural groups. By 1956, the original congregation had abandoned the church.
Following a fire and windstorm in 1979, the church was nearly destroyed, but it was saved from demolition by John Podmajersky Jr., a local resident and property owner. Podmajersky initially planned to redevelop the site but had a change of heart when descendants of the early congregants visited, bringing a record of the church’s history. This inspired him to preserve the remaining structure.
Today, the bell tower features a modern skylight, and the walls have been restored and stabilized. The church’s bell tower, wooden doors, brickwork, and German script above the entrance reflect its historical significance.
The interior has been transformed into a peaceful garden sanctuary, with a crucifix hanging on the inner wall as a reminder of the church’s past. While Podmajersky’s plans for artist studios in the tower have yet to materialize, the preserved church stands as a captivating reminder of Pilsen’s forgotten history.
The Greater Union Baptist Church
The Greater Union Baptist Church, located at the intersection of W. Warren Boulevard and N. Damen Avenue, is a significant example of William Le Baron Jenney’s architectural style. The Romanesque Revival design showcases Jenney’s philosophy of strong massing, restrained ornamentation, and functional interior planning.
The church’s prominent position and architectural beauty highlight the role of religious institutions in Chicago’s neighborhood development.
The Church of the Redeemer, established in 1858, had a rich history in Chicago. Originally holding services in various locations, they built their first church in 1861. The congregation took a firm anti-slavery and pro-Union stance during the Civil War, with many members enlisting in the Union Army.
In 1885, a new church designed by William Le Baron Jenney was constructed with the support of philanthropist Mary H. Talcott. Reverend Thomas B. Gregory became pastor in 1895 but stirred controversy with his views on Christianity.
The church building was later sold to the Greater Union Missionary Baptist Church in 1928. It served as a significant venue for events and hosted notable speakers, including actor James A. Herne and Mayor William Hale Thompson.
Over the years, the church continued to play a role in the community, supporting civil rights causes and hosting gospel music concerts. Walter Arthur McCray, who headed the National Black Evangelical Association, served as pastor from 1996 to 2002 and returned in 2019.
Constructed with dark-red pressed brick and unglazed terra cotta details, the church features a monochromatic effect. The rectangular building has four transepts extending from a cross-gabled roof, with singular, large gables dominating each elevation.
The front facade facing Warren Boulevard is adorned with decorative panels and stained glass windows. Engaged buttresses express structural stability, and a projecting portico with round-arched entrances adds architectural interest.
Inside, the first floor consists of Sunday School and social rooms, while the second floor houses the main worship space. The auditorium showcases a sloped floor with curved pews facing the raised chancel.
The column-free worship space features massive hammerbeam trusses with ornate wood pendants and a varnished Southern pine ceiling. Allegorical stained-glass windows, including “The Sower” depicting a peasant farmer sowing winter wheat, adorn the transepts.
The church’s architectural significance, Jenney’s design philosophy, and the interior’s elegance make Greater Union Baptist Church a remarkable landmark in Chicago’s architectural and religious history.
The First Baptist Congregational Church
First Baptist Congregational Church in Chicago, Illinois, is a United Church of Christ and Baptist congregation. Situated at 60 N. Ashland Blvd., the church building itself holds immense historical significance as an Illinois Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Architect Gurdon P. Randall designed the structure for the Union Park Congregational Church, which was established in 1860 and constructed between 1869 and 1871.
The church played a vital role in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire, serving as temporary headquarters for the Mayor’s Office, City Council, and General Relief Committee. Over the years, several mergers took place, resulting in the formation of (New) First Congregational Church. In 1970, the congregation merged with Mozart Baptist Church to become First Congregational Baptist Church.
The Lemont limestone building, featuring a slate roof, displays an almost square plan with shallow transepts. The interior, designed by Randall, follows an amphitheater style, reflecting the sermon-centered Congregational service.
Adjacent to the south stands the Carpenter Chapel, harmonizing in style and materials. The church’s architectural excellence has been recognized in various publications on church architecture. Notably, it has been featured in “Chicago Churches: A Photographic Essay” by Elizabeth Johnson and “Chicago Churches and Synagogues: An Architectural Pilgrimage” by George A. Lane, SJ, and Algimantas Kezys, SJ.
The building’s historical and architectural significance led to its designation as an Illinois Historic Landmark, listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and recognition as a Chicago Landmark.
The Moody Church
The Moody Church, located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, is a historic evangelical Christian church. Designed by architects Fugard and Knapp, construction of the church was completed in 1925. Combining elements of Romanesque and Byzantine architecture, the building spans 140 feet by 225 feet, making it one of the largest Romanesque churches in the United States.
The Moody Church, originally established by Dwight L. Moody in the mid-19th century, began as a renowned Sunday school outreach. After the Great Chicago Fire, a temporary structure known as the North Side Tabernacle was built, followed by a new church capable of holding 10,000 people, which was renamed Chicago Avenue Church.
In 1908, it was formally renamed The Moody Church in honor of Dwight Moody. Over the years, various pastors, including A.C. Dixon, Harry A. Ironside, and Alan Redpath, led the congregation. In 1925, the church relocated to its current location, and in 2007, a Christian Life Center addition was constructed to accommodate growing ministries.
With permanent seating for 3,740 people, the church features a curved balcony that focuses attention on the pulpit. Its exceptional acoustics were designed in an era before modern sound systems, with the only slight drawback being the floor carpet.
The church boasts 36 unique stained glass windows, each donated as a memorial. Originally lacking an organ, a 4-manual Reuter organ with 4,400 pipes was later added, hidden behind a black screen. In 1986, a fire caused significant damage, leading to the installation of a modern audio-visual system during the rebuilding process.
Notably, the sanctuary now includes a pair of the tallest ascending screens in the United States. The Moody Church stands as a significant landmark in Chicago, reflecting its rich architectural heritage and commitment to evangelical Christian worship.
Church of the Ascension
The Church of the Ascension, an Anglo-Catholic parish in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, was founded in 1857 as a mission of St. James Church. Located on Chicago’s Near North Side, the church has a rich history in the Anglo-Catholic tradition.
The principal Sunday service is the Solemn High Mass at 11 a.m., featuring sacred ministers, acolytes, incense, and a professional choir. The church is known for its commitment to reverent worship and beautiful sacred music.
In addition to its worship practices, the church is engaged in outreach efforts, including language programs for immigrants, evangelism missions, and a food pantry ministry. The church holds various special services throughout the year, such as the Festival of Lessons and Carols, Mass on the Feast of the Ascension, and Requiem Masses on All Souls’ Day.
Notably, the Church of the Ascension was the first in the Anglican Communion to offer benediction of the Blessed Sacrament since the Reformation. Monthly benediction services are held, along with other occasions during Lent and Corpus Christi. The church embraces diversity in race, socioeconomic status, age, and sexual orientation, reflecting its inclusive values.
The Kenwood Evangelical Church
Kenwood Evangelical Church, also known as Kenwood United Church of Christ, is a historic Romanesque building located at 4600-4608 South Greenwood Avenue in Chicago. Constructed in 1887, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a Chicago Landmark.
Kenwood United Church of Christ was established on November 17, 1885, under the name Kenwood Evangelical Church. Starting as a Sunday School, it quickly grew in membership, leading to the construction of a larger building called Kenwood Chapel.
The decision to form a neighborhood church was made on September 5, 1885, and on November 17, 1885, Kenwood Evangelical Church was officially established with 37 members. Rev. John P. Hale served as the first pastor until 1898. Recognizing the need for a larger space, the cornerstone for the current building was laid on November 26, 1887.
The Second Presbyterian Church
The Second Presbyterian Church is a notable Gothic Revival church located on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It attracted prominent families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is celebrated for its Arts and Crafts interior, which was created after a fire in 1900.
The sanctuary exemplifies the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement with its simplicity, hand craftsmanship, and unified design. Additionally, the church features nine impressive Tiffany windows. It holds historical significance as a listed National Historic Landmark and a designated Chicago Landmark.
Designed by James Renwick, the church’s exterior showcases limestone with sandstone accents. The interior, dedicated in 1874, embodies Gothic architecture with pointed arches, iron columns, and intricate stenciling. After the fire, Howard Van Doren Shaw, influenced by Arts and Crafts architects, reconstructed the sanctuary.
The renovated space featured warm stained oak, plaster panels, and an auditorium-style layout without a central aisle, accommodating the congregation’s emphasis on preaching and music. Shaw and Frederic Clay Bartlett, along with other designers and craftsmen, created a harmonious interior with recurring motifs such as angels and grapevines.
Bartlett’s pre-Raphaelite murals are a highlight of the sanctuary, showcasing expressiveness and spirituality inspired by medieval church painters. The magnificent mural behind the altar depicts the tree of life and a celestial orchestra.
Shaw’s floral windows were gradually replaced with commissioned memorial windows, including notable examples by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Edward Burne-Jones. These windows utilize innovative glass-working techniques and portray biblical scenes, landscapes, and ornamental designs.
Second Presbyterian Church is recognized for its architectural and artistic heritage. Guided tours are now available, allowing a wider audience to appreciate the building’s beauty. The Friends of Historic Second Church organization was established to ensure accurate restoration and oversee tours and events. With its rich history and stunning interior, the church continues to captivate visitors.
Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church
Located at 4501 S. Vincennes Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church holds a significant place in history. Initially built in 1899 as a synagogue for the Isaiah Temple congregation, the Neoclassical building was designed by architect Dankmar Adler, known for his collaboration with Louis Sullivan in constructing Chicago’s early skyscrapers.
Following the demographic changes brought about by African-American settlement, the church was sold to the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church congregation in 1921. It was within these walls that the first gospel choir was formed in 1931, led by Thomas A. Dorsey, Theodore Frye, and Roberta Martin, who played vital roles in popularizing gospel music in Chicago’s black churches.
The church’s choir became a launchpad for numerous influential gospel musicians, including Mahalia Jackson, Sallie Martin, Dinah Washington, and even rock and roll pioneer Bo Diddley. Recognizing its historical significance, the church was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 24, 2016.
The First Presbyterian Church
The First Presbyterian Church in Chicago holds a significant place in the city’s history as the first Presbyterian church and arguably the first church organized in the area. It predates the founding of Chicago by two months and remains the oldest continuously operating institution in the city.
The church played a role in education, housing the first public school and Head Start programs in the region. Early members included notable figures such as Chicago’s first pharmacist, public school teacher, and founders of the first abolitionist society in the area.
The current Gothic Revival church, located at 6400 S Kimbark Ave, was built in 1927 as the church’s sixth building. Designed by the architectural firm of Thomas Tallmadge and Vernon Watson, the cross-shaped sanctuary features beautiful stained glass windows.
R. Toland Wright Studios designed the nave windows depicting scenes from the life of Jesus, while Willett Studios designed the Great East Window honoring women of the Bible. The church also has additional facilities such as a fellowship hall, kitchen, meeting rooms, classrooms, an art studio, and a gymnasium. Adjacent to the fellowship hall is a greenhouse undergoing renovation to serve the church’s garden plots.
The First Presbyterian Church remains a symbol of faith, community, and historical significance in Chicago, preserving its legacy through its architectural beauty and continued service to the congregation and the surrounding area.
The Episcopal Church of the Atonement and Parish House
The Episcopal Church of the Atonement in Chicago is a historic Gothic Revival building constructed in 1889. Designed by Henry Ives Cobb, the church features a stone tower and expandable east wall. The church also engaged in outreach programs and developed a renowned music program.
In 1886, Episcopalian families in Edgewater, Chicago decided to build a church. By 1888, it became a mission congregation named Church of the Atonement. The cornerstone was laid in November 1889, and the church was consecrated in June 1890. The first priest-in-charge was Frederick W. Keator.
In 1898, the mission became a self-supporting parish, with construction of the Parish House starting in 1901. The parish grew under Rector Charles E. Deuel and expanded the church building in 1910 and 1919.
Pridmore’s expansion during World War I raised the roof, extended the building, and added stained glass windows. The notable Christ the King window in the North Chapel is considered one of the best in Chicago.
The church’s Parish House houses the Elizabethan Room, a registered paneling from England dating back to 1620, making it a unique example in the Midwest. The church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
The Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church
The Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, originally known as the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, is an iconic structure situated on West Washington Boulevard in Chicago, Illinois.
Designed by architect Hugh M.G. Garden and completed in 1901, this church stands out as a departure from traditional ecclesiastical architecture of its time. Its unique design was a deliberate attempt to capture the essence of the then-emerging Christian Science religious movement.
Hugh M.G. Garden skillfully blended classical and modern elements to create a visually striking edifice that embodied the principles of the Christian Science faith. His distinct style, often referred to as “Gardenesque,” can be seen in the ornamental details that adorn the building, showcasing his artistic vision and attention to detail.
In 1947, the church changed hands and became the property of the Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, which continues to occupy the premises to this day. The significance of the building’s architectural and historical value was officially recognized when it was designated as a Chicago Landmark on February 16, 1989. Furthermore, in 2016, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, solidifying its status as a cherished part of Chicago’s architectural heritage.
The First United Methodist Church of Chicago
The First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple is a unique church housed within the Chicago Temple Building, a towering skyscraper in downtown Chicago, Illinois. Standing at a height of 173 meters (568 feet), the building itself is an architectural marvel.
The church’s history dates back to 1831 when the congregation was founded and initially built a log cabin along the Chicago River. Over the years, the church went through several relocations and debates regarding its central location versus selling the property and moving to the suburbs. Eventually, the current structure was completed.
Constructed in 1924, the Chicago Temple Building served as the tallest building in Chicago until 1930. Designed in the neo-gothic style by Holabird & Roche, the building features a steel frame faced with limestone. It houses three sanctuaries, including Sanctuary 1 with seating for 1,000 people, Sanctuary 2 known as the “Dixon Chapel,” and Sanctuary 3, also called the “Sky Chapel,” situated at the base of the steeple.
The Sky Chapel, a gift from the Walgreen family, is considered the world’s highest worship space, located at 400 feet (120 meters) above ground level. It features stunning stained glass windows depicting biblical scenes and a carved wood altar-front showing Jesus overlooking the city of Chicago.
Apart from the church facilities, the building offers office space from floors 4 to 21, with one residential area occupied by the senior pastor. Notable tenants include law firms, the Northern Illinois Conference, and the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.
The Chicago Temple’s strategic location places it across from the Richard J. Daley Center, near the Cook County and US District Courts. The building’s courtyard features the sculpture “Miró’s Chicago” by Joan Miró, adding to the cultural significance of the area.
Overall, the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple combines religious devotion, stunning architecture, and a prominent presence within the bustling cityscape of Chicago.
The Church of the Epiphany
The historic Church of the Epiphany, located in Chicago, Illinois, was built in 1885 as a replacement for the congregation’s original church. Designed by architect Francis Meredyth Whitehouse, it exemplifies the Richardsonian Romanesque style.
With its sandstone exterior, heavy arched entrances and windows, and a bell tower completed in 1887, the church stands as one of the early examples of Richardsonian Romanesque in Chicago.
The stone used in the construction was imported from Lake Superior. The church’s distinctive design features irregularly coursed and roughly faced blocks, along with floral decorations on short columns. In 1962, the church established St. Gregory Episcopal School, an outreach ministry focused on providing educational opportunities for young men in the neighborhood. The school utilized a traditional boy choir educational model for liturgical and educational learning.
The Church of the Epiphany was recognized for its architectural significance and was added to the National Register of Historic Places on February 5, 1998.