July 6, 1890, twenty-nine people from Morgan Park met to discuss the need for a local Presbyterian congregation. The Morgan Park Presbyterian Association was formed and petitioned the Chicago Presbytery for a Church in Morgan Park.
“On Sabbath forenoon 15th of January, 1891, the Morgan Park Presbyterian Association became merged into the Morgan Park Presbyterian Church, duly organized on that day. Thankful for the pleasant experiences we all have enjoyed during these past months, in our relationship with each other as yokefellows in a common work, we look forward hopefully to the future, trusting in The Beneficent Wisdom under whose guidance and protection we are.” (Session Minutes, February 1891)
On January 25, 1891, a charter was signed by the Home Missions Committee of The Chicago Presbytery, which gave birth to our church. The Reverend Edwin R. Davis, who had just completed a term as Moderator of the Presbytery, was named pastor. The newly organized Session placed on the rolls fifteen charter members.
By May of 1891, the Reverend Edwin Davis left Morgan Park to assume the position of Stated Clerk for the Chicago Presbytery, and the Reverend W.R. Scarret was named pastor. Under his leadership, the congregation undertook the important work of finding a permanent location for worship.
In 1892, Mr. W.G. Ferguson donated a parcel of land on Longwood Drive in Morgan Park for the construction of a house of worship for the new congregation. The surrounding community was connected to the city of Chicago by the Rock Island train line. Across the street from the new location was the 111th street passenger station, and many of the congregation’s members were employed by the railroad. Although the land required extensive excavation for drainage before construction could begin, the congregation considered it a blessing to receive such a donation. The original church building was erected in 1892 and dedicated January 15, 1893 with the charter number of 46.
Despite the fact that Reverend Scarret left Morgan Park after only four months of ministry, the first annual report, for the year 1892, reflected the generosity of the members. Contributions that year not only covered the complete construction of the first church building, but also included: benevolent contributions to home and foreign missions, aid to denominational colleges, contributions to hunger relief, and gifts to the assistance of freed slaves. In the fall of 1892, the congregation worked to provide a growing ministry in Morgan Park.
The Reverend W.D. McFarland led the congregation for 8 months until 1894 when the congregation called Rev. Wilson A. Eisenhart who remained until October 1, 1900. Following was Reverend Sherman L. Divine for two years; Reverend Alexander Patterson for three years and Reverend Clyde Lucas from 1908-1913.
Searching for a pastor again in 1913, the congregation was determined to find an individual who would be willing to make an extended commitment. Their persistence and prayers were at last rewarded with the calling of the Reverend Samuel Findley, who was installed on February 4, 1914. Reverend Findley recognized the need to encourage benevolence and mission in the congregation.
The Reverend Findley remained until his retirement from congregational ministry in January of 1930. Dr. Milford Hall Lyon was called April of that same year, but left after only one year, having experienced a great deal of turmoil in the congregation.
The congregation called the Reverend Leason Sharpe in December of 1931… an Englishman who was known for his intellectual power, his inspiring leadership, and powerful preaching. The congregation and the Reverend Sharpe could not have known how important his gifts would prove to be for the future of the church.
On the night of January 19, 1933 the original church building was almost completely destroyed by fire. Although this crushing event occurred at the very depth of the depression, the congregation bravely determined to rebuild at once. Some counseled against it, but the strong faith of the majority prevailed and Morgan Park Presbyterian Church dedicated a new place of worship February 18, 1934. A stone had been selected from the old church and was fashioned into the "founder's stone," marked with the date 1891. The cornerstone was laid on October 1, 1933. The founder's stone was laid in the corner of the new church by; Elder William S. Kiskaddon. Resting on the "founder's stone" is the cornerstone of the new church building marked with the date 1933. The cornerstone was laid by the Reverend Samuel W. Findley. The lower portion of the church was completed in 1933 and was dedicated on Sunday February 18th, 1934. The congregation worshiped in this section which is now the building's Westminster Fellowship Hall.
When Dr. Millford Hall Lyon left after only one year, the congregation experienced a great deal of turmoil in the congregation. The Presbytery quickly appointed Dr. Robert Clements as Interim Supply who united the congregation in spirit and purpose until the call of the Reverend Leason Sharpe who remained until 1945. After several months with interim supply, Rev. Robert Sawyier the church called Dr. William C. Graham in April, 1945.
As the war ended, many couples married, purchased homes in the community, started families, and joined Morgan Park Presbyterian Church. The new members found themselves challenged and invigorated by the charismatic ministry of the new pastor Dr. William Graham who accepted the call as pastor to Morgan Park Presbyterian Church in 1945, and began the longest pastoral tenure to date. Dr. and Mrs. (Helen) Graham’s leadership brought many children and youth into the congregation. Children’s choirs, youth music programs, Boy Scouts, Sunday School and Tuxus required tireless dedication on the part of the church’s staff and volunteers. By the early 1950’s, Dr. Graham’s enthusiastic leadership brought about tremendous congregational growth. As the community grew the congregation found its facilities inadequate for Christian education and fellowship.
The first of two additions, now the south end of our Christian Education Wing, was dedicated on November 14, 1954. The second addition, the north end of the Christian Education Wing, was completed in 1967. Also in 1967, Morgan Park Presbyterian Church members completed renovations to the South Wing, which included the addition of a washroom, the deacon’s storage room, and the creation of the Fireside Room.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, while constructing our current Christian Education buildings, Morgan Park Presbyterian Church members not only expanded congregational programs, but also increased their contributions to foreign and local missions. The congregation sponsored Missionary: Ms. Virginia Deter in Japan for many years. Often special offerings were received for neighborhood settlement houses and the Presbyterian Home. The Deacons also directed a hospital equipment loan program which provided free use of medical equipment for members of the congregation and community. The Presbyterian Women actively supported the Infant Welfare League and quilted blankets for orphans. In 1969, after nearly a quarter century of ministry in Morgan Park, Dr. Graham retired. During Dr. Graham’s tenure, we held 3 worship services on Sundays and had large choirs, Carol, Westminster and Chancel who provided many professional concerts. Mr. Kent Newberry, Mrs Lillian Duroscher and Mrs. Secord and Mrs. Bonnie Wolma were wonderful Music leaders.
After a lengthy pastoral search, the congregation extended a call to the Reverend Roy Schneider in 1971. Several members had moved to suburban homes west of their former community during a period of “white flight” and racial unrest in the area. Still, ministry continued at Morgan Park Presbyterian Church. In addition to his gifted preaching, the Reverend Schneider recognized a need for greater fellowship among members. At his prompting, several groups volunteered to sponsor time for coffee and conversation following each Sunday worship.
Rev Herbert Brockway served as Interim following the departure of Reverend Schneider until the congregation called the Reverend Jerry Hazen, who celebrated his marriage to Colleen while pastor. Reverend Hazen expanded the congregation’s vision and, with the special assistance of Elders Cliff Parker and Richard Johnson, Morgan Park Presbyterian Church purchased the home at Longwood & 110th place, and in 1979, dedicated the parking lot. In addition, the Reverend Hazen encouraged the congregation’s participation in community and denominational ministries and encouraged the congregation’s growth to reflect the community’s diversity. During this period we welcomed our first African American family, the Tolbert family. Elder John Tolbert was then called to be our second commissioner to the General Assembly. In 1986, the Reverend Hazen accepted a call in Monmouth, Illinois and, under the interim leadership of Reverend Fred Milligan, the congregation began the search for a new pastor.
The interim leadership of the Reverend Fred Milligan directed the congregation's search for a new pastor. Reverend Milligan was instrumental in reorganizing the committee structure of the congregation and initiated the development of a Worship and Music Committee led by Elder Dr. Maribeth Montgomery Kasik. Reverend Milligan was very active in community activities such as the Ridge Run and Heart and Soul walk through the community. During his tenure, the Children's choir was started as well as a strong emphasis on music in reformed worship. Reverend Milligan had specialized training in Urban ministry and strongly encouraged the participation of members at the Chicago Presbytery. As an Interim pastor, Reverend Milligan had under his care a very "young" seminarian named Jonathan Krogh.
In July of 1988, following his ordination, the Reverend Jonathan Krogh was called as pastor. Reverend Krogh continued to help Morgan Park Presbyterian Church grow as an expression of the Kingdom of God in the world. In 1991, the congregation celebrated its 100th Anniversary, which included a $150,000 Centennial Fund Drive to complete several restoration projects, purchase a new organ, and ready the facilities for future generations. At this time also, an Adult Literacy program was begun to meet the reading needs of many adults in the larger community, led by Elder Louise Beardsley. There were new programs for High School Youth, All Church Retreats and Picnics as well as a highly successful LOGOS after school program. During this period, Dr. Maribeth Montgomery Kasik was called as our 3rd commissioner to the General Assembly.
The church was visited by fire a second time on the night of December 19, 1992 which brought another test of faith for the congregation as the church was engulfed with flame and nearly destroyed before Christmas. Church custodian Fred Meeks, who lived in an apartment across the street, noticed the fire around 4:00 a.m., flagged a policeman down, and the Fire Department arrived quickly.
Once again, the faith of the congregation rose to meet the challenge. For one year, the congregation enjoyed many inspiring, memorable services worshipping in Westminster Hall. One year later, on December 19, 1993, the sanctuary was refurbished and rededicated. On June 11, 1995, the south wing and Fireside Room were rededicated.
Reverend Krogh left the church in July, 1995. He was replaced by Interim co-pastors Reverend Ensign Leininger and Rev. Dr. George Thompson who led the congregation through the inevitable changes and transitions of the interim period. Reverend Leininger remains an active presence in the congregation.
In July, 1997, the Reverend Dr. David Neff was called as pastor. Dr. Neff brought opportunities for spiritual growth and social awareness as he led by example, using creative, compassionate approaches to the church’s mission. During this time, Elder Brenda Taylor was called as our 4th Commissioner to the General Assembly. After Rev. David Neff left in July 2007 to pursue a teaching ministry, Rev. Ed Dykstra served as interim minister until 2009 to help lead the congregation into its new future.
Rev. SanDawna Ashley was called as pastor on May 10, 2009 as both the first female and the first African-American to lead the congregation. Rev. Ashley implemented a multicultural music program that allowed worshipers to experience contemporary, Gospel, Classical and Spiritual music to match the diversity of the congregation. She implemented other reforms to promote transparency in leadership. She was called to serve at the national office of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2011.
Rev. Jane Tuma came to serve as a part-time pastor in 2011. With her willingness to serve at a part-time salary and her financial acumen, she helped the church achieve financial stability. In worship, a monthly Gospel/Contemporary worship service was integrated into the traditional worship service. A quarterly Jazz service began under the leadership of Music Director Lance Loiselle. Two major community outreach programs were started and then discontinued, as the church learned more about the community needs and desires. A garden ministry was started by Ensign Leininger and expanded every year. We were greatly helped by the mentoring of Grace Seeds Ministry. During this period, the church opened its space to bring in extra income and become a resource to the wider community. Partners included: Spirit and Truth Outreach Ministry and Plaid Academy.
In October of 2016, our church celebrated their 125th Anniversary Celebration. Shortly after, Rev. Tuma left the church due to health concerns and the session decided to move forward with pulpit supply until they could call a new pastor.
The Finance committee worked to stabilize the church's financial position by cutting costs and increasing fundraising/building revenues. They proactively invited black members to get involved in counting the offering that had been a mostly white team historically. This invitation to inclusion allowed members to share power in the finances of the church more equitably.
Rev. Ben Heimach-Snipes arrived in 2017 and served as temporary pastor until September of 2019. After two years, he was installed as pastor by the congregation due to his leadership. Upon his arrival, he led the church into a “Discernment Process” using the questions, “Who are we? Who is our neighbor? Who is God calling us to be?” This led to a focus on racism in Adult Education, a new partnership to support homeless students at Esmond Elementary School, and changes in worship to become more inclusive for children and persons with disabilities. In 2018 our partnership with Plaid Academy ended when they closed their doors. Due to building damage and revenue lost from PLAID Academy, a “Hope” fund raising campaign was begun.
In 2019, we realized the need to incorporate children into worship. We added a “Pray-Ground” in the front of our sanctuary after much discernment. Also, under the leadership of Elder Jamie Wasowski, we started a new Children’s Choir that has been enthusiastically received.
As the Pandemic made a permanent impact on our lives together, our worship went online and so much of how we do ministry was open for transformation. Some members lost touch, while others who had once been isolated in nursing homes could now be fully engaged in the life of the church through online community and worship. The church hosted an emergency food pantry in partnership with a neighborhood group called 19th Ward Mutual Aid. Outdoor worship and fellowship became the highlight of the year as the only time we could gather together.
In 2022, a change in committee structures allowed for the formation of the Community Outreach Committee that would foster community partnerships that empowered our new values of "healing, inclusion and collaboration." Hosting an LGBTQ Youth Group, the Burrito Brigade homeless support group, the toiletries Free Store, and an annual Juneteenth Family Festival came from this community oriented initiative. The Congregational Nurture Committee was formed through the merger of Worship and Music, Congregational Life, Christian Education and Spiritual Care. The merged committee provided a space for collaboration across ministries.
The congregation continues to offer strong Christian education for every age; a place for the celebration of Divine worship; opportunities for the faithful to serve and share in ministries of care and compassion; and the continued proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. The music program continues to thrive with annual performances of Handel's Messiah, and concerts featuring jazz, gospel and contemporary Christian music. The church faithfully serves the community and greater world through the Garden Ministry, Maple/Morgan Park Food Pantry, Youth Cook Classes, The Toiletries Free Store, and the Juneteenth Family Festival. We celebrate the continued dedication, faithfulness and generosity of our members, past and present; especially during the difficult times of trial and challenge. As we look back on the evidence of God’s faithfulness in the past, we express genuine enthusiasm for our future.
MINISTERS WHO HAVE SERVED OUR CHURCH
(*Denotes Interim Supply)
|Reverend Edwin R. Davis
|Reverend W.R. Scarret
|1891 - 1892
|Reverend W.D. McFarland
|1893 - 1894
|Reverend Wilson A. Eisenhart
|1896 - 1900
|Reverend Sherman L. Divine
|1901 - 1903
|Reverend Alexander Patterson
|1903 - 1907
|Reverend Clyde L. Lucas
|1908 - 1913
|Reverend Samuel E. Findley
|1914 - 1930
|Reverend Milford H. Lyon
|1930 - 1931
|Reverend Robert Clements*
|1931 - 1932
|Reverend Leason Sharpe
|1932 - 1945
|Reverend Robert L. Sawyer*
|1945 - 1945
|Reverend William C. Graham
|1945 - 1969
|Reverend Roy L. Schneider
|1971 - 1976
|Reverend Herbert Brockway*
|1976 - 1977
|Reverend Jerry L. Hazen
|1977 - 1986
|Reverend Fred Milligan*
|1986 - 1988
|Reverend Jonathan B. Krogh
|1988 - 1995
|Reverend Dr. George Thompson*
|1995 - 1997
|Reverend Ensign Leininger*
|1995 - 1997
|Reverend Dr. David M. Neff
|1997 - 2007
|Reverend Edwin Dykstra*
|2008 - 2009
|Reverend SanDawna Ashley
|2009 - 2011
|Reverend Jane Tuma
|2011 - 2016
|Reverend Ben Heimach-Snipes
|2017 - Present