All Saints Episcopal Church in Chicago

The History of All Saints Episcopal Church

Built Outside Chicago

All Saints' congregation was founded in 1882 and gathered initially in a borrowed Methodist church. Construction of the existing church was completed in 1884 in the then-rural, wooded village of Ravenswood (it was annexed by the city in 1889), where truck farms thrived and Swedish, German and Irish immigrants ascending to the middle class eventually settled.

A Reference Point

The building served as a reference point for the village, and its steeple bell rang out to summon volunteer firefighters. The church was a spiritual home to thousands of Ravenswood residents, who worshipped, baptized their babies, celebrated weddings and mourned their dead from the wooden pews that are still in use today. Earlier congregations included descendants of Conrad and Christine Sulzer, Ravenswood's first settlers, and Carl Sandburg, when he lived for a short time a block away on Hermitage Avenue.

A Unique and Historic Building

All Saints' is considered the oldest wood-frame church building in the city (erecting wooden buildings was prohibited within the city limits after the Great Fire of 1871, but All Saints' was built before the 1889 annexation of Ravenswood to the City of Chicago). Architect John Cochrane, whose best known existing work is the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, designed All Saints' in the so-called Stick Style, so named by architectural historian Vincent Scully and counted (with the Shingle Style) as one of the two most purely American styles of the nineteenth century. A reaction to the chaste formalism of the Greek Revivalism that dominated in the first half of that century, Stick Style flourished from 1850 to 1875. All Saints' is one of the finest examples in Chicago.

Close to Closing

The building itself remains largely intact, having survived two devastating fires and plans for demolition that were aborted by the Great Depression (it was to have been replaced by a stone edifice to match the Gothic-style Parish Hall that lies to the west on Wilson Avenue). In the early 1950's, this thriving parish responded to its own baby boom by building a Sunday school wing to accommodate the burgeoning number of children in the congregation. By the end of the 1960's, however, that wing was no longer needed. Many parishioners had responded to the call of the suburbs. Church attendance and revenues plummeted.

church-archive

By 1992, the Episcopal Diocese was on the verge of closing the church, which had been designated a Chicago Historical Landmark only two years earlier. We had been relegated to mission status, as we were no longer financially solvent. At this time 35 people attended services on a typical Sunday. The tiny congregation had pledged $23,000; at year-end, we had debts that exceeded $25,000 in payables and $50,000 in loans. The physical building was in an advanced state of decay: roofs leaked, the furnace constantly broke down, the paint was peeling inside and out and even the bell in our steeple no longer rang. We struggled to keep the doors

open each Sunday for a few dozen faithful parishioners. Our sense of community was strong, but faltering. Crisis and need increasingly depleted the remaining congregation. 

Stepping Out in Faith

The determination and commitment of a handful of dedicated people convinced the bishop that All Saints' could be reborn. In 1992, we took a leap of faith. We found the courage to change our leadership; the Rev. Bonnie Perry agreed to be our interim Vicar and was appointed by the Bishop. With that decision came reinvigoration, realigned priorities and a rich infusion of individuals and talent that led to a virtual rebirth and reconnection to the outer community.

All Saints Today

Today, 220 to 230 people attend services on a typical Sunday, and the congregation has pledged more than $348,000 for fiscal year 2013. We completed the first phase of an ambitious capital campaign in 2005: 100 percent of the congregation contributed a total $720,000. During Bonnie Perry’s ministry, All Saints’ has paid off its $50,000 debt, allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars to outreach, refurbished our interior and made important structural improvements (including installing a sprinkler system to protect Chicago’s oldest wooden church). We now have new decisions ahead as we choose the best ways to continue strengthening and growing in our ministries, while maintaining the requirements of an aging historic church building.

Risen from the Ashes

In 1991, even before we knew just how perilously close we were to extinction, our then-tiny parish decided to redesign our logo. We prophetically adopted the symbol of the phoenix and underscored it with the phrase, "A Rising Church for the Risen Christ." In 2000, All Saints’ officially ascended from the ashes when it returned to parish status. Today, each and every service and ministry testifies to the energy, grace, spirituality and community involvement that now imbue our parish life.

I am the resurrection and the life: Those that believe in me, though they were dead, yet shall they live. And whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die.

John 11:25-26