On August 18, 1874, a body of 22 souls gathered to form the Winnetka Congregational Church.

From its beginning, the church confirmed the unity of its faith through a congregation which at one time encompassed 37 different denominations. It stressed involvement in and service to its community and beyond. Blessed with able clergy and lay people, the church’s accomplishments have been many. Below are highlights of the church’s activities as compiled by church historian George Brodsky.

The early years, 1881-1921


The Winnetka Public Library had its roots in the basement of the church. Two decades later the library was endowed by the Lloyd family. Church members have been on its board for nine decades, among them Carrie Burr Prouty, who is memorialized in the present building.


Dynamic Reverend Quincy L. Dowd organized the first village Fourth of July celebration, which remains virtually unchanged to this day.


Dowd, with the support of agnostic Henry Demarest Lloyd, founded the Winnetka Town Meeting, destined to become twenty years later the renowned Caucus System in use today.


A generation before women won their suffrage, they voted on a community issue in a church-held meeting, exercising the right to vote perhaps for the first time in American history.


The church’s Woman’s Society held a sale which netted $135.00. No one could have foreseen the growth of that sale annually in fame and fortune. In 1998, the one-day rummage sale earned well in excess of $200,000 and confirmed its prior listings in the Guinness Book of Records. These funds are channeled into a number of worthy benevolences.


The church Messenger served as the village newspaper and major communications medium, until the advent of the Winnetka Talk.


The third home of the church took the form of a Norman-style stone structure on Lincoln Avenue. It is now known as the Children’s Chapel.


The church built the Winnetka Community House “for the use of the whole community.” It has played an invaluable role in the life of the village. In 1966 the church turned its ownership over to the community. Community House (a frequent model for others throughout the nation) is the oldest institution of its kind in the country.


A Thanksgiving Day exchange with Christ Church was begun. Save for brief exceptions, the exchange continues and now involves participation by many of the churches in the community.


Since this year, and for many years, the church sponsored a variety of camps for boys and girls of the community. In 1936, Camp Douglas Smith, a major village asset for 46 years, was deeded to the Community House by one of the church members in honor of his father.

The missionary era, 1920s

During the 1920’s, the church supported the work of two missionary families, one in China (the Paul Reynolds) and one in India (the Wolsteds). Clarence Wolsted is credited with having introduced the iron plow to Indian agriculture. Reynolds played a significant role in the education of young Chinese in that period of awakening in Chinese history which gave rise to the “Red Revolution”.

It is appropriate to note here that nine young men and two young women from the congregation have gone into the Christian ministry.

The middle years, 1922-1957


The inspirational courage of a blind member of the church gave his name to the internationally renowned Hadley School for the Blind.


The church reached out to the city, joining the Union Church of Glencoe in establishing Onward Neighborhood House in Chicago.


The present church on Pine Street was completed and the Children’s Chapel remodeled for multiple use.


The church participated in the founding and financing of Parkway Community Center in Chicago.


The pleasing sounds of the Woolson Carillon were heard for the first time from the church tower (the highest building structure in the village). In the same year the church spire lighting, visible throughout the village, was given in memory of George Moses.


Harkness Hall was built for the church school and the use of various church groups which now include: Rummage, Women’s Exchange, and Harkness House for Children.


The church withdrew from its Congregational connection to become an unaffiliated “community church,” confirming the inscription on the church architrave which reads: “A House of Worship for All People.”

1960s to the present


This period proved to be a “time of trouble” marked by divisiveness around the question of a denominational affiliation. This was overcome by the essential stability of the congregational and the inspirational interim ministry of Lawrence E. Schwarz from 1964-1965.


Under the leadership of Paul S. Allen, the church entered a period of renaissance which saw a dramatic growth of programs to meet the spiritual and cultural needs of the congregation. Dynamic school, youth and adult education programs were developed. The music program was notably enhanced under the leadership of Beth Chalupka, utilizing the talents of a variety of choirs, and introducing special spring “productions” which are now annual events.


The church observed its Centennial, marked by colorful celebrations and physical improvements in its facilities. Over $300,000 was raised to construct new church offices, the Centennial Room for group gatherings, and to commission an impressive bronze figure of “The Great Fisherman” by renowned sculptor Abbott Pattison, which stands on the church lawn. An additional $100,000 was raised for a revolving Church Loan Fund to help struggling inner-city churches. During the next two decades the church also developed new ministries, including mission relationships with Chicago’s Good News, North of Howard Church and Friendship Baptist Church on the far west side of the city.


The Church founded the Women’s Exchange, a covenant group available to all women in the community to help them cope with problems in a changing world.


A youth group called “Servants” was formed. It continues to teach faith through practical service, including mission trips to where the group helps to build homes and develop facilities for community activities.


The church sponsored as a covenant group a day-care center, Harkness House for Children.


The church, under the leadership of the Reverend Joseph A. Shank, raised a building fund of $5,000,000 (largely through the efforts of a committee headed by Bonnie Winn), to construct a new North Wing to the present church. The structure is harmoniously integrated with the existing church design. It provides full facilities for education, a large fellowship hall, a spacious multi-purpose room, a modern catering kitchen, and other amenities.


With the new addition now in place, the Church sold Harkness Hall and the Children’s Chapel to Harkness Outreach Center, a new non-profit agency formed to operate the facility, thus assuring a permanent home for Harkness House for Children, the Women’s Exchange, and Woman’s Society Rummage.


The congregation approved a sanctuary renewal project, including a new pipe organ, and an outreach component, changing and growing into the future with hope and enthusiasm, “a house of worship for all people”.


In April, a new Pasi Organ was dedicated with guest organist Douglas Cleveland. Since then our organ has been utilized by organizations such as American Guild of Organists. In July 2012 The Organ Historical Society filled the sanctuary with over 400 organists and enthusiasts.


After 22 years of service (on June 1) as Senior Pastor, Joseph A. Shank retired.


At the end of August, a new Mission Statement was formed and is now as follows: Our purpose is to change lives by following the teaching and life of Jesus Christ with peace and courage; and to weave the grace of God into the fabric of our relationships and the world.


After a 12 month search, our Search Committee unanimously recommended The Rev. Jeffrey D. Braun as our new Senior Pastor.


Ritual of Release of the Rev. Jeffrey D. Braun and Mutual Blessing.


The Rev. Jeffrey L. Phillips becomes a Designated-Term Pastor. This is a United Church of Christ designation signifying that Jeffrey’s role is more than the better-known title “Interim Pastor". It refers both to a designated term and a designated purpose. The term will be eighteen months, beginning April 1, 2023, and ending September 30, 2024