Every day except Sundays, the Chicago Temple offers free 2pm tours of the Chapel in the Sky, purportedly the highest building floor in the world with a place of worship. Anyone interested can walk up the steps to the left of the church on the ground floor and wait for a volunteer to give the tour. There’s no religious message, just a nicely done architectural explanation and a history of the congregation and building.
The Chicago Temple is a mixed-use church and office building that stands 578 feet tall. It was built in 1924 and was the city’s tallest building for six years. The architect was Holabird & Roche and it’s owned by the First United Methodist Church of Chicago. It’s located in the Loop on the south side of Daley Plaza.
The ground floor contains the main sanctuary of the church. It’s four stories tall and can seat 1,000 people. A beautiful hand-carved depiction of Christ weeping over Jerusalem sits in front of the altar. The churches offices are on the second floor and floors 5 to 21 of the building are office space. The legendary trial attorney Clarence Darrow once had his office on the 6th floor. He was the defense attorney in the Scopes Monkey Trial.
As for the tour, it begins with everyone riding the elevator up to the 22nd floor to a small museum with church historical items and a stained glass window of the church’s founders, John Wesley and his brother Charles. There, we were given a short history of the building and how it came into existence. The First United Methodist Church was the very first religious organization in Chicago, founded in 1831. The original church was a log cabin built in 1834 on the north bank of the Chicago River. The cabin was moved to the location of the current building in 1838 as part of a claim.
Chapel in the Sky
It was time to head up the elevator to the Chapel in the Sky. At the top, we were given an explanation of the history, architectural, and design elements of the chapel. The chapel was donated in 1952 by Myrtle Walgreen, widow of Charles Walgreen, the founder of the Walgreens drugstore empire.
It contains a hand-carved wooden panel of Christ weeping over Chicago which was created by the apprentice of the man who carved the panel in the altar of the main sanctuary. There are also 16 stained glass windows. The first four are from the Old Testament, the next four from the New Testament, then four about the historic Old World Christian churches, and four more depicting the history of the First United Methodist Church.
The volunteer opens one of the windows in the chapel for a look down onto Daley Plaza. Before the skyscrapers were built to block the view, it was possible to get the same exact scene depicted on the wooden panel Christ over Chicago.
Finally, we walked down the 170 or so steps back to the main elevator. In the stairwell, we were able to look out the windows onto the pastor’s residence. Every church pastor has lived in the tower of the building since the 1950s.