Sanctuaries: A photo tour of Woodlawn’s churches

Churches dot the Woodlawn like freckles and underlie it like foundations. Some of them are historically significant, some have architectural merit, and some stand out only for their typicality. This photo essay includes a little of each.
First Presbyterian
Founded in the second Fort Dearborn in 1833, First Presbyterian Church was a pioneer in the temperance and abolition movements in the mid-nineteenth century. The congregation had moved to its sixth and most lavish building when it was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1871. Several mergers and nearly six decades later, First Church moved into its present home at 6400 South Kimbark Avenue. Its membership grew in numbers and racial diversity throughout the ’40s, and in the late ’50s the church helped establish T.W.O., or The Woodlawn Organization, to fight the encroachment of the University of Chicago campus. Since then, First Church has housed organizations and efforts as diverse as the Blackstone Rangers, Head Start classes, a community garden, and today the Woodlawn Collaborative, which unites Woodlawn residents and UofC students in promoting arts, education, and community empowerment.

Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church
Organized in 1928 and located at 6614 South Blackstone Avenue since 1951, Original Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church has seen the Woodlawn community through many changes, gaining members as the neighborhood’s population swelled during the second Great Migration of African-Americans from the South. Many of the new congregants stuck with the church, and today it has many third- and fourth-generation members. Mount Pleasant also delivers weekly radio and TV broadcasts.

Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer
When Charles G. Hayes first organized the Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer, it had a membership of seven and held services in a basement. As the congregation grew, it began sharing facilities with a church in Bronzeville, and moved five more times to locations including a former telephone building and Post Office before ending up in its present location at 842 East 65th Street in 1991. A pioneer in church broadcasting over FM radio, in 1960 Cosmopolitan organized a choir known as the Warriors, which has since recorded thirty albums, one of them certified Gold.

Family Prayer Band
The Family Prayer Band Holiness C.O.G.I.C., located at 6533 South Cottage Grove Avenue, is one of the South Side’s many storefront churches. The first of these churches appeared around the turn of the 20th century when poor Northern blacks, many of whom had recently arrived from the rural South, set up religious congregations in defunct shops. Today storefront churches are increasingly diverse, no longer just black but also Hispanic and Asian-American, and farther south than Woodlawn there are a number of storefront mosques.

Christ the King Sovereign Priest
The church now occupied by the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, located at 6401 South Woodlawn Avenue, was known as St. Gelasius when it suffered a devastating fire in 1976. The main body of the Renaissance Revival church, built in 1923, and the 120-foot-high bell tower survived with some damage, but the parish dwindled away and the Archdiocese of Chicago attempted to demolish the building in 2003. The historic structure was saved by local activists with the support of the alderman and Mayor, and the archdiocese handed it off to its current occupant, a group of priests previously based in Wisconsin who are still in the process of renovating the church. The Institute is also trying to make connections in the neighborhood, sponsoring events including a Baroque concert series on the third Sunday of every month.
Christ the King 2

Apostolic Church of God
The Apostolic Church of God at 6320 South Dorchester Avenue is one of America’s largest black megachurches. As of 2008, it had about 24,000 parishioners, according to Bishop Arthur Brazier, who built the church up from a 100-member congregation in 1960. His son Byron Brazier took over the pastorship last year. The Brazier family has been known to wield some clout in Chicago politics; Arthur Brazier was one of the founders of The Woodlawn Organization, a legendary community organization, and the Tribune reported last week that his daughter Janice Dortch appears to be helping Governor Pat Quinn keep opponents off the gubernatorial ballot.

Photos by Sam Bowman (except Apostolic Church of God, by Ellis Calvin)
Text by Sam Feldman and Robin Peterson

9 comments for “Sanctuaries: A photo tour of Woodlawn’s churches

  1. Mike
    December 3, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    There were even more large churches in Woodlawn, most of which are now empty lots; the Woodlawn Immanuel Lutheran Church at 64th and Kenwood, the Woodlawn Park Methodist Episcopal Church at 64th and Woodlawn (across from St. Gelasius/St. Clara), St. Cyril’s at 64th and Blackstone and the Woodlawn Episcopal Church at 65th and Woodlawn.

    The building that houses the Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer was formerly the parish of Holy Cross (with a school just south of there on Maryland), thus putting three huge Catholic parishes (Holy Cross, St. Clara’s and St. Cyril’s) within eight blocks of each other.

  2. Susan
    September 7, 2011 at 11:00 am

    I am looking ot find a church that no longer exists. It would have been located about 61st Street and faced perhaps Woodlawn, east side of street. It had a classically styled temple facade with an inscription that began ” Blesings and Glory… Thanksgiving and honor..” Any info appreciated.

  3. Mr. Marion Mims
    July 9, 2012 at 9:37 am

    It’s sad that so many of our historic churches and their pastors have disappeared into the void of history and little remains of their influences on their communities or even their former locations.
    A case in point, I am seeking information on the Reedeeming Church of Christ which was at 6920 so. Harper and was pastored by the late Bishop James L. Anderson. The only information available on-line is a small tribute to the Bishop’s passing. Today the church building is occupied by Nigerians who speak little english, and are not friendly to approach.

  4. Diane
    January 16, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    You showed the picture but you didn’t mention that the church on 842 E 65th St. was the former
    Holy Cross Church. I attended the grammar school from Kindergarden through 8th grade. It was so beautiful and I miss my old parish. I grew up in Woodlawn on 64th & St. Lawrence. I remember when the TWO was founded and the original Mayor Daly attened a meeting there and the 7th grade girsls (I was one) were ushers and handed out material about the organization and met the mayor with a firm hand shake.

  5. R'Mel Cornelious
    January 18, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    I took a picture of Holy cross school. The school closed in 1990. The church , I think, might have been a little bit more active for a longer time before it was sold to Rev. Hayes’ congregation. Another building was also mislabeled. I think that The rectory( where the priests lived)was labeled as a church. There are two very old churches on 61st and Woodlawn. 6150 S. Woodlawn St. John Baptist Church (originally 9th Church of Christ Science) and the other at 1210 E. 62nd street( The Christ Way Baptist Church) built in the late 1890’s or early 1900’s. I don’t know the original name of this church.

  6. R'Mel Cornelious
    January 18, 2013 at 11:31 pm

    Is there a way that anyone can possibly expand on this article. I’d love to do it if I had the chance.

  7. January 22, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    ike others, we were apartment dwellers and we moved around quite a bit,but always within walking distance of Holy Cross.First,64th Place and Maryland Avenue.then East 65th Street and then finally 66th and Ingleside Avenue where I was drafted into the Army and my world changed forever. The longing for the past never leaves me.The corner store where we bought our penny candy or tops to spin in the street and yo- yos to spin with our hands.The smell of fresh blooms from the flowers and the spreading buds opening in the trees in the Spring or the burning of leaves at the curb in the Fall. The laughter and smiles of my classmates or running in the school play- yard during recess. The innocence of it all overcame us before we were exposed to the world when we realized that we were kids no more. It leaves an aching in the heart that we can never return no more. And then, we realize that we had no control over our destiny as it was shaped and controlled by others. We hope and pray that there is a hereafter where we might repeat the scenes of yesteryear when we were young . May God Bless one and all. Thomas J. Crane Holy Cross Class of 1948

  8. Sandy Wilson
    February 15, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    My family were parishioners of Holy Cross Church since it’s early days. My Great Grandmother was married in Holy Cross church. We lived at 65th and Ingleside and my grandmother and aunts lived in the same building. My mother graduated from Holy Cross and I went to Holy Cross school from kindergarten until 3rd grade when we moved to CA in 1951. Even though I was only eight years old I never got over leaving our neighborhood. I still remember walking down 65th to school and church. Our lives revolved around the church and it was never the same at the churches we attended in CA. I too have wonderful memories of the neighborhood though it was changing by the time we left. My dad made the decision to move to CA for a better job but his heart was always in Chicago and he too longed for the old neighborhood as it was when he was growing up. He died a very young man at the age of 45 and we took him back to Chicago and buried him at St. Mary’s cemetery. My mother was left with 5 children (out of 10) under the age of 12. She considered moving back but soon realized she couldn’t go back to how it was before we moved so she stayed in CA. I also long for the sense of community we had in that neighborhood but know I will never find it again!
    Sandy “Osborne” Wilson

    Sandy Osborne Wilson

  9. Ron Z.
    July 8, 2013 at 1:36 am

    Volunteer at a nearby food pantry and often passed by what looked like a beautiful church but always just saw it from Cottage Grove. Wife and I decided one day to drive in and look around. It was called Cosmopolitan House of Prayer but it was plain to see it was once a complete Catholic parish.Researched and found it was once Holy Cross Catholic Church. All the buildings appear to be in good repair. What a beautiful place of worship it must have been to celebrate the sacraments. I understand how so many have fond memories of the church and neighborhood.

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