Tuesday, November 5, 2013

First United Methodist Church of Chicago Cornerstone Ceremony -- November 5, 1922

The tallest worship space in the world (JWB Photo)

The weather on this date back in 1922 was not unlike today’s weather, the sky gray with a rain falling, as 1,000 people gathered under the roof of the partially completed first floor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church at Clark and Washington streets to mark the laying of the new building’s cornerstone. 

What is today the First United Methodist Church of Chicago, or Chicago Temple, is, according to the congregation’s website, the oldest congregation in Chicago, originally established by Methodist circuit riders before Chicago was incorporated.  The first church services were conducted in a cabin north of the river, built in 1834.  In 1837 the congregation floated the cabin across the river and rolled It on logs to the corner of Washington and Clark Street, where the congregation has worshipped ever since.
Counting that original cabin, the 1923 building for which the cornerstone was being dedicated on this day in 1922 is the fifth place of worship that has occupied the corner across the street from what is today the Richard J. Daley Center with the City-County building sitting just to the northwest.

A  church has stood on this corner for 136 years (JWB Photo)
On hand that drizzly gray afternoon in 1922 was Edna May Searles, the great-granddaughter of the Reverend Jesse Walker, who preached in Chicago before the first Methodist church was built. Reverend I. P. Brushingham, a pastor of that first church, was also there along with other dignitaries.

General Charles Dawes
The principal speaker at the ceremony was General Charles Gates Dawes, who was at the time the first Director of the Bureau of the United States Budget.  General Dawes was the kind of Renaissance man that only his age could produce.  He had seemingly been everywhere and done everything. 

By the time he was 29-years-old he was president of both the La Crosse Gas Light Company and the Northwestern Gas Light and Coke Company in Evanston.  He was an accomplished musician; his Melody in A Major, written in 1912, is the music to which the words for All in the Game were added in the late 1950’s.  During World War I he attained the rank of Brigadier General.

In 1924 General Dawes was elected Vice-President of the United States, the running mate of Calvin Coolidge.  In 1925 he won the Nobel Prize for Peace for his work on the Dawes plan, which ensured economic benefits to the German economy and softened the effect of the war reparations that were directed at Germany after its defeat in the First World War.

General Dawes summoned all of his impressive oratorical skills for the dedication ceremony of the new Chicago Temple, at times even stomping his feet as he made his points.

“It was no accident that the church is here on this corner,” he began.  The down town churches of New York and Boston were held by sentiment, but Chicago has grown so fast sentiment has not had a chance to crystalize, and so we must attribute the keeping of this church here when all other denominations moved out, to the wisdom and foresight of the founders.”

“You were congratulated when the mayor was introduced that the church stands under the shadow of city hall,” he continued.  “I remind you that the city hall stands under the shadow of this church.”

Although it didn’t exist in the original Holabird and Roche design, perhaps the most notable feature of the First United Methodist Church of Chicago today may be the Chapel in the Sky, which, at 400 feet above the city, is considered the world’s highest worship space.  The chapel was created as a result of a 1952 gift from Myrtle Walgreen in memory of her husband, Charles Walgreen, the founder of the drugstore chain that still bears his name.  Tours of the chapel are held Monday through Saturday at 2 p.m.

Postcard image obtained from http://chicagopc.info

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