Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church (1888) John S. Woollacott, architect; (1898) addition, William G. Barfield, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Through controversy, dissent, money problems, shrinking membership, mergers and consolidations, the Fullerton Avenue Presbyterian Church weathered it all and survived to become the Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church, no stranger to a similar set of challenges.

  [Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church, 600 W. Fullerton Parkway, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The congregants who made up the Fullerton Avenue Presbyterian Church moved from another location just down the street to occupy their new building in 1888. Designed by John Woollacott with a creamy, Michigan sandstone exterior, the sanctuary was built to hold 800 members - a number never reached. The stable looking building was shaken to its rock foundations in July, 1895 when the pastor, Rev. Dr. John Rusk abruptly resigned. He had been called to the church after the previous pastor killed his wife and then committed suicide. Rusk left, accusing church elders of holding back progressive reform, and causing the horrible act that had occurred under their watch. Things had settled down enough enough by 1898 that architect William G. Barfield was hired to expand the original building 25 feet, in a harmonious transition joining old and new.

  [Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

This Lincoln Park area was teaming with Presbyterians back in those days. Within a six block radius there were four Presbyterian congregations and most prominently, the McCormick Theological Seminary, endowed by the wealthy and very staunch Presbyterian Cyrus McCormick and his wife Nettie. In 1932, merger talks got underway between the Seminary's Covenant Church and Fullerton Avenue, which resulted in Covenant moving from their building and into Fullerton's. Thirty years later nearby Christ Church became part of a 1966 urban renewal district, and with demolition looming the congregation joined-up with Fullerton-Covenant which then became Lincoln Park Presbyterian. Still, it was hard to fill up sanctuary pews, and by the time the Seminary left the neighborhood in the early 1970s, membership was at a low point. And as if things weren't bad enough, the tall, wood steeple which was in dire need of repair, yet so beautifully topped-off the corner stone tower, had to be removed.
Times were tough for the small church, but as the neighborhood transitioned from downtrodden to more upscale, parish rolls grew and parishioners donated the large sums of money required to maintain the upkeep of their charming, little gem of a building. In 1968, the church became a sanctuary for anti-war demonstrators during the explosive Democratic Convention, and congregation members were spied upon by Chicago police looking for subversives in their ranks. Under the leadership of current pastor Jeffrey Doane, the church reached out to Chicago's gay and lesbian community at a time when most religious institutions turned their backs on them. And in 1985, the church along with other area institutions, founded the Lincoln Park Community Shelter, providing services to the neighborhood's homeless population. In 2005 as the area surrounding the church became more and more affluent, neighbors complained of harassment by shelter residents, and the church found itself at battle with its neighbors. After a series of talks and heated discussions, a settlement was reached in 2006 and the Shelter still provides 25 beds for overnight guests.

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