Top of the Morning: First United Methodist Church at Chicago Temple

April 30, 2014 10:22:33 AM PDT
The First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple was once one of Chicago's tallest buildings. Nearly a century later, this Loop architectural gem is still a record-setter.

The corner of Clark Street and Washington Avenue may be one of the busiest corners in the Loop. But if you take a few steps back and look up 568 feet, you'll realize one of the Windy City's most recognizable buildings is actually a church - home to the oldest congregation in the city.

"The congregation started in 1831. They built a log cabin church on the north side of the river in 1834," senior pastor Reverend Phil Blackwell explained. "When the city was started on this side of the river in 1837, the congregation took the log cabin, put it on a barge and floated it across the river and rolled it down Clark Street on logs to this corner."

The First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple was commissioned in the 1920's.

"When people come to Chicago seeking gold, they'll find God because it will be the tallest building in the city - which it was when it was finished in 1924," Rev. Blackwell said, quoting the minister at the time.

Today, the Chicago Temple remains an architectural gem. The Main Sanctuary sits on the first level. But what draws thousands of visitors every year is the Sky Chapel, just above the 22nd floor inside the old bell tower.

"Guinness says this is the highest point of worship above street level," Blackwell said.

The chapel was a donation from Mrs. Walgreen of the famous Walgreen family, in memory of her husband.

"The way it looks today is what it looked like in 1952, when it was first used on Easter morning for sunrise service," Blackwell said.

There's one more floor to explore that not everyone sees. Blackwell's living quarters are located just below the Sky Chapel. Yes, he lives in the steeple.

"This is prime real estate," Blackwell said, "if you don't mind visitors and bells ringing all the time."

The First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple offers daily tours of the Sky Chapel at 2 p.m., except on Sundays. Last year, 6,000 people came from around the world to see it. The church has been serving its members since 1831, before the city of Chicago was incorporated. Today, it remains a vibrant, urban church.

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