History of All Saints’ Episcopal Church

All Saints was built on the land of Native Peoples. For thousands of years, this was the territory of the Council of Three Fires—the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa. They welcomed the Ho-Chunk, Fox, Sauk, Miami, Kickapoo, and Illinois confederacy tribes to share in the natural resources of this rich land. They generously gave their knowledge of agriculture and communal portage and trade routes to the first Europeans to travel here, laying out a water passage from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. The ingenious farming techniques of these Native Peoples revealed the fertility of the soil—knowledge later capitalized by the white settlers and European immigrants who made Ravenswood their home and built their wealth through truck farms and greenhouses along the Chicago Ridge. The United States Government forced these nations from their land in 1833 with the Treaty of Chicago.

Built Outside Chicago

All Saints' Episcopal Church, c. 1880's
All Saints’ Episcopal Church (side-view, at Wilson), c. 1880’s via Wikipedia

In 1868, the village of Ravenswood was founded eight miles north of the then boundary of Chicago and about two miles from the shores of Lake Michigan. The Ravenswood Land Company began offering large lots subdivided from farm land along the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad attracting mostly Swedish, German, and Irish immigrants who built comfortable middle-class homes. Many of the corner lots in the subdivision were held in reserve for the future construction of churches in what was planned to be an upscale commuter suburb. By 1880 there was a Congregational Church at Hermitage and Montrose (then Sulzer Ave.) and a Methodist church at Hermitage and Sunnyside. The Annexation to the City of Chicago in 1889 brought sewer lines, street cars and by 1907 the “L.” Apartments and two-flats began to be built offering housing to residents of more modest means as well.

Early in 1882 a group of Episcopalian residents approached the Bishop of Chicago, William Edward McLaren, to establish an organized Episcopal mission to be named All Saints Mission of Ravenswood.

Early History

All Saints Episcopal Church
All Saints’ Episcopal Church. Photo Credit: The 1883 Project

On May 12, 1882 Bishop McLaren agreed to establish All Saints as a mission congregation. The congregation initially rented space on Sunday afternoons in the Ravenswood Methodist church. By 1883 the congregation shared Alfred Louderback as priest-in-charge with the congregation of St Paul By-the-Lake in Rogers Park.

Interior of All Saints’, about 1890.

In August 1883 title to the land at the corner of Hermitage (then Commercial) and Wilson was transferred to the bishop for the purpose of erecting an Episcopal church. The church was completed and the first service held on March 2, 1884, the first Sunday in Lent, with Bishop McLaren presiding, assisted by Rev. Louderback.

The following year the mission’s petition to be admitted to the status of parish was granted and Alfred Louderback became the first rector.

Early congregations included descendants of Conrad and Christine Sulzer, Ravenswood’s first European settlers, and Carl Sandburg, who sang in the choir when he lived for a short time a block away on Hermitage Avenue.

A Reference Point

Located on the corner of Wilson Avenue and Hermitage Avenue, the modest wood-frame church has served as a landmark for the community for over 130 years. In the early days, its steeple bell rang out to summon volunteer firefighters. It has provided 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.

Close to Closing

All Saints’ congregation flourished through the 1950s alongside the economic success of the Lincoln Square community. In 1959, the thriving parish responded to its own baby boom by building a Sunday-school wing to accommodate the burgeoning number of children in the congregation. Fortunes turned however with the urban disinvestment of the following decades. Parishioners left the city with the tide of white flight, propelled by racist redlining policies, global outsourcing of manufacturing jobs, and the expansion of personal car ownership that led to suburban sprawl. By the end of the 1960s, church attendance and revenues plummeted. Both the parish house and church school wing were rented to other organizations in attempts to pay expenses.

By 1992, only about 35 people attended services on a typical Sunday. No longer financially solvent, All Saints had been relegated to mission status by the diocese. The tiny congregation had pledged $23,000 at year-end, with debts that exceeded $25,000 in payables and $50,000 in loans. The building itself was showing its age: the roof leaked, the furnace constantly broke down, the paint was peeling inside and out, and even the bell in the steeple no longer rang. The Episcopal Diocese was on the verge of closing the church.

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

Stepping Out in Faith to Rise from the Ashes

However, the parishioners still retained a strong sense of community and with the determination and commitment of a handful of dedicated people convinced the bishop that All Saints’ could be reborn.

In 1991, perilously close to extinction, the parish logo was redesigned; the congregation prophetically adopted the symbol of the phoenix and underscored it with the phrase, “A Rising Church for the Risen Christ.”

In 1992, the congregation took a leap of faith and changed leadership; the Rev. Bonnie Perry agreed to become “interim Vicar for congregational development” and was appointed by the bishop. With that decision came reinvigoration, realigned priorities, and a rich infusion of energy, time, and talent from all that led to a virtual rebirth and reconnection to the greater community.

In 2000, All Saint’ officially ascended from the ashes when it returned to parish status. In her 27-year tenure with the church, the Rev. Bonnie Perry oversaw the restoration of our historical church building and revitalization of our congregation before accepting the call to become Bishop of the Diocese of Michigan.

A Unique and Historic Building

All Saints is considered the oldest wood-frame church in the city (though wood-frame construction was prohibited within the Chicago city limits after the Great Fire of 1871, All Saints was built before the 1889 annexation of Ravenswood to the City of Chicago). Designed in the “Stick style” by Architect John Cochrane, whose best-known existing work is the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, All Saints is considered one of the finest examples of this style in Chicago. In 1990, the church was designated a Chicago Historical Landmark. The building itself remains largely intact, having survived two devastating fires and plans for demolition and replacement with a Gothic-style stone edifice to match the parish hall built in 1938 that were aborted by the Great Depression. Large capital campaigns in 2005 and 2014 raised necessary funds to update and restore the building, keep the historic bell ringing, and provide the needed center for our ministries both local and global.

All Saints Today

More than a Building

Before rehab work and after,
photo credit: Landmarks Illinois

Our time physically apart from each other and from our church building during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has made clear that All Saints is much more than just a building. We are a vibrant, dynamic, quirky group of people from diverse religious and cultural upbringings, seeking God’s Beloved Community on earth. Today, our congregation consists of more than 600 individuals, with 275 parishioners attending on an average Sunday. Each service and ministry testifies to the energy, grace, spirituality, and community involvement that imbue our parish life with faithful service to God’s promises, as we write the next chapter of All Saints’ history.

Related links: https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20170815/ravenswood/all-saints-episcopal-church-restoration-renovations-preservation-award