RAVENSWOOD — All Saints Episcopal Church is an official Chicago landmark but it "looks like a shack," said Stephen Christy, a member of the church's leadership council and resident historian.
"I was amazed this structure, despite its decrepit shape, was still standing," Christy said of his first impression of All Saints, which he joined in the 1980s.
After spending the past decade raising $1.1 million for structural repairs — upgrading the electrical, adding a sprinkler system and pouring an actual foundation (portions of the 130-year-old church rested on nothing more than cedar posts) — All Saints, 4550 N. Hermitage Ave., is now turning its attention to restoring its exterior.
Patty Wetli says the congregation is rallying to help the church:
The process is expected to take three years and cost approximately $1.35 million, of which the church only needs to raise the final $250,000. Work has already begun on the church's north facade, with crews stripping away stucco that was affixed in 1917.
What lies underneath? All Saints' original stick-style architecture, designed by John Cochrane, who's also responsible for the state Capitol buildings in Illinois and Iowa.
"It's an unusual and rare structure," said Christy.
Members of the community are invited to inspect the changes up close during an open house scheduled for 4-7 p.m. Saturday. Visitors are also welcome to tour the church's interior, basement and even the bell tower.
The tower, which dates to All Saints' 1884 construction, was once used to summon Ravenswood's volunteer firefighters to duty, Christy said.
"It served an enormous purpose," he said.
It was also, records show, the subject of complaints, dated 1903, from a nearby boarding house that objected to 7 a.m. peals, and was the scene in 1920 of a former rector's sit-in to protest the passage of women's suffrage.
"Of course it was the women who sent food up to feed him," Christy said.
That All Saints is still a vital part of the Ravenswood community a century later is something of a miracle.
The building — the oldest wooden church in Chicago — has survived two fires, barely escaped the wrecking ball (demolition was halted for lack of funds during the Great Depression) and was nearly closed in the 1990s when attendance at Sunday service could be counted by the handful.
With the arrival of Rector Bonnie Perry in 1992, All Saints' spiritual community underwent a revitalization, Christy said.
Parishioners now number in the hundreds and the church's ministry outreach includes a weekly food pantry and community kitchen.
Though the congregation may worship in a historic building, its mission is thoroughly modern, and once the exterior renovation is complete, the face that All Saints presents to its neighbors will better represent the renewed vibrancy within, Christy said.
"The outside will reflect the energy and spiritual beauty on the inside," he said.
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