Wicker Park Lutheran Church (WPLC) was founded on August 25, 1879 as an English speaking Lutheran church by German and Scandinavian businessmen and professionals who lived in Wicker Park. The founders purchased an unused and unfinished gothic framed church building on the corner of Hoyne Avenue and LeMoyne Street in what was then a rural area.
By the turn of the century, the congregation had outgrown the original building and was surrounded by large residences. With great vision, it erected the current structure on the same site in 1906. It boasts a basilica design, with double colonnades and an apse, a style used in ancient Rome for courts of law or places of public assembly. It is characterized by the use of the round arch and vaulted ceiling, differing from the Gothic style which made use of a pointed arch. The two towers are based on those of Abbey of Sainte-Trinité (the Holy Trinity), also known as Abbaye aux Dames, in Caen, France, which was built in the 11th century.
The stone on the outside walls is flecked mica, which glitters in the sunlight. When the church was built, the pastor, Rev. Austin Crile, was asked by a reporter if it was appropriate that these stones be used for a church, since they had come from a house of ill repute. The pastor replied, “They have served the devil long enough; it is time they served the Lord.”
In the sanctuary, over the altar, carved out of a solid piece of wood, is an eight-by-two foot portrayal of The Last Supper by Alois Lang, master woodcarver from Oberammergau, Germany. In the left transept is the white marble baptismal font, a replica of Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen’s “The Kneeling Angel.” The original is in St Giles church in Edinburgh, Scotland. In the right transept sits our “Mighty Möller” organ, installed by the M.P. Möller Organ Co. in 1906. It is completely original, and no changes have been made to it since it was built, except for the addition of the Zimbelstern, a musical instrument that rings small bells at random as an accompaniment to organ music, and the Deagan Liberty chimes. Documents suggest that it was the prototype for all pneumatic organs. Rather than using wires and electricity, the organ is activated entirely by compressed air.
The four large windows in the nave are “Munich style” stained glass, produced in the Royal Bavarian Stained Glass Manufactory in Munich, Germany. The style consists of painting on relatively large glass panels (as opposed to the medieval technique that used smaller pieces of colored glass held in a leaded framework, later adapted and modified by Louis Comfort Tiffany). In the vaulted ceiling are ten half-circle windows, depicting the life of Christ. The series ends with the full circle Ascension window above the altar. The magnificent rose window over the balcony features Martin Luther’s seal as a central element. Repairs to this window still need to be completed, at an estimated cost of $45,000.
In the south tower is a bell from the original building, which still calls the community to worship. Inscribed on it are words signifying its origin: Buckeye Foundry 1801.
The congregation has always been innovative, having had the first Sunday School bus to transport children, and in the 1950s, using a school bus as a mobile chapel along Milwaukee Ave.
In the 60s and 70s as the neighborhood rapidly changed from Jewish, Russian, and Polish Catholic to Appalachian White to Puerto Rican to African-American, turnover at the elementary school was 80% per year, and students were an average of three years behind in reading skills. The church sponsored after-school tutoring with the help of students from North Park University, reasoning that “if we maintain the church only for ourselves and worship only for our own edification, we have lost our way.” A Spanish-speaking pastor was called to establish a parallel congregation to complement the English one. That congregation left in 1970 to join another mission congregation and form the first Spanish-language Lutheran church in the Illinois Synod.
In 1973 the church was burglarized five times and the stained glass was broken. In 1976 three large stained glass windows in the fellowship hall were stolen. The insurance company never reimbursed the congregation, claiming that the church itself sold the windows. Such was the state of affairs at the time, and many members stayed away out of fear.
By 2000, the building had deteriorated to the point that it was almost condemned. A newly called pastor, Rev. Ruth VanDemark, oversaw the extensive renovation of the building and the congregation’s ministry. Rev. VanDemark served the congregation working tirelessly to grow the congregation from a small group of faithful worshippers to a more sustainable congregation. Upon her death in 2012, she gave a bequest that helped to substantially fund the renovation of the sanctuary and pay off outstanding debt. A memorial in the narthex continues to honor her lasting legacy.
The congregation views the building as an extension of its ministry. It is an active part of the greater Wicker Park, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square communities, partnering with community and faith-based organizations on issues of social justice and urban ecology, hosting public concerts, mounting art exhibits, and providing space for many community groups. We are home for the Wicker Park Choral Singers, six Alcoholics Anonymous groups, karate classes, Marion Consort, a homeschool co-op, First Floor Theater, two multi-ethnic churches, and many local non-profit groups. Our building was even featured in three episodes of Showtime’s “Shameless” season six. Wicker Park Lutheran Church has been designated a “WPB Green” organization by the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce for its commitment to eco-justice.
WPLC is a vibrant, Christian community focused on a traditional liturgy with expansive theology. We are a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) known for our tagline “God’s work. Our hands.” A Sunday School and staffed nursery are available for children during the service. Bible study and community service (including feeding the hungry) are ongoing priorities. Our beautifully restored sanctuary is available for weddings and baptisms, regardless of membership status.
|The Rev. Edmund Belflour- Founder||1879-|
|The Rev. Henry Rick||1880-|
|The Rev. WM Ashmead Schaeffer||1880-1881|
|The Rev. F C C Kahler||1882-1887|
|The Rev. Henry Warren Roth D.D||1888-1889|
|The Rev. Austin Crile||1899-1912|
|The Rev. A. C. Anda||1912-1917|
|The Rev Simon Peter Long D.D.||1918-1929|
|The Rev. Orlando Ingvolstad D.D.||1929-1932|
|The Rev. Charles Leslie Venable D.D.||1933-1946|
|The Rev. Malcom D. Shutters||1946-1987|
|The Rev. Paul R. Buettner||1991-1999|
|The Rev. Ruth E. Vandemark||1999-2012|
|The Rev. Paul Kopka||2012-2013|
|The Rev. Jason S. Glombicki||2013-|