Baptist church celebrates 100 years in Western Springs
Louise Graff of LaGrange Park greets parishioners before service at Western Springs Baptist Church in Western Springs. The church is celebrating its centennial this year. | Rob Hart~Sun-Times Media
1912: The church is founded
1927: Land at current location purchased
1947: The “basement church” gets a first floor
1954: The church adds a wing for education purposes
1973: A community room is added
2000: The church completely remodels its sanctuary
2012: The church celebrates its centennial
Updated: September 10, 2012 6:04AM
WESTERN SPRINGS — There is a Psalm in the Bible that goes like this: Lord You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.
The words of that psalm hang from a bold blue banner that descends from the ceiling of the Western Springs Baptist Church. Designed specifically to make one feel as though he or she is being lifted up, the church has a modern, clean, almost clinically bright feel to it. Windows line the walls just where they meet the ceiling, letting light in; one can see the tops of trees sway in the wind.
A typical Sunday service will have live music, rich Christian philosophy and pews full of nicely dressed families. After 100 years, this is what the former storefront church has become.
Since its founding in 1912 the physical church, the modern building in which the people worship, has changed. So too have the people, who, week after week, generation after generation, have returned to the corner of Wolf Road and 45th Street to practice their faith.
“In 1912 there was nothing here. In 1912 (they) met in a store front here in Western Springs,” said congregation member Norm Swift.
Now 80 years old, Swift has been attending services at the Western Springs Baptist Church since 1962.
After a recent Sunday service in July he poured himself a cup of strong black coffee and sat down with a visitor to talk about the church’s history.
“I think the church has become … more open minded without sacrificing its fundamental basic doctrinal distinctives. We call ourselves a Baptist church, we’re independent … we’ve never been associated with any national denomination,” Swift said.
In 1927 the church’s congregation began building an actual church for themselves at 4475 Wolf Road. In those early years the church paid pastors $25 a month and offered them train fare and a meal.
“They constructed a basement, put a roof over it and it was a basement church,” Swift said.
The church’s leaders planned to complete the building once they had the money. According to Swift, those plans were put on hold when the Depression hit, and again when World War II came about.
Over the years the church has had 26 pastors, including a young Billy Graham. According to the church, Graham led the congregation from July 1943 until October 1944, after graduating from Wheaton College.
“Finally in 1947, 20 years after the basement church, they built the floor above,” Swift said.
In 2000 the church remodeled its sanctuary and made other upgrades at a cost of $6 million. The debt is expected to be paid off this year. Swift said the architect designed the sanctuary to make visitors feel as though they are being lifted vertically toward God.
Anyone attending a service at the Western Springs Baptist Church today will find large, flat-screen television screens used to help congregation members follow along with the lyrics of songs.
Swift said the introduction of the televisions may have given some older church members pause.
“On the other hand it was recognized, I think it was recognized that people under 40 … have grown up with the visual cues. They’re much more used to seeing things in that way,” he said.
Swift compares the televisions to stained glass windows.
“That was the technology of the middle ages,” Swift said.
Members old and new will celebrate the milestone with a Centennial Picnic Saturday, Aug. 11, at Spring Rock Park, including a pig roast, old-fashioned games, a hay ride and a barbershop quartet.
The church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Dean Monkemeier, said the Western Springs Baptist Church’s future lies in missionary work.
“The church has a great history of taking care of people that have come here and also reaching out around the world through missions,” Monkemeier said. “I think that we’re in a phase now that we’re saying, ‘What is God doing to allow us to continue that ministry.’”