First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple is a congregation with a glorious past, a vibrant present and a promising future.
It is the oldest church in Chicago! It was founded by Methodist circuit riders in 1831, six years before the City of Chicago was incorporated.
For more than 175-years, the congregation has gathered for worship in five buildings. Its first services were held in the homes of its members. But in 1834 the growing congregation built a log cabin north of the Chicago River.
Four years later, Chicago’s first Methodists floated the cabin across the river and rolled it on logs to its present site at the corner of Washington and Clark Streets. From there it has never moved. A conventional brick church with a 148-foot spire replaced the log cabin in 1845. That building served the church until 1858 when the congregation’s leaders, acting on a bold new idea, dedicated a four-story, multi-use structure with stores and other businesses on the first two floors and church space for worship and classes on the top two floors.
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 reduced the 1858 building to ashes. Refusing to yield to the “carrion comforts of despair,” the trustees, just days after the fire, voted to stay put and rebuild at “The Methodist Corner.” In short order, they dedicated another multi-use building that served the congregation until 1924 when the present skyscraper was dedicated. It was then the tallest building in Chicago. In 1922, at the last service in the old building that was about to be razed, the Rev. John Thompson declared in his sermon: “Changing conditions require new adaptations in methods, and a larger, more varied ministry. So a new building is to be erected on this corner. This great new church building will be known henceforth as The First Methodist Episcopal Church-’City Temple.’” During the two years of construction, the name “City Temple” was changed to “The Chicago Temple.”
Since 1831, the church has played a vital role in the lives of its members and in the city of Chicago. It is truly an urban church. Its diverse membership wondrously reflects the cosmopolitan mix of the Chicago metropolitan area.