At 100, Northminster Presbyterian Church reflects on the past, prepares for the future


Jorja Siemons/Daily Senior Staffer

Northmintser Presbyterian Church. This year, Northminster celebrates 100 years since the community first began as North Evanston Presbyterian Bible School in 1922.

Jorja Siemons , Senior Staffer

On Oct. 27, 1929, congregation members gathered for the first service in their new Evanston church. They had organized themselves six years earlier as Northminster Presbyterian Church, and now they had a place to worship.

But the young church was in jeopardy. Two days earlier, the stock market crashed, thrusting the country into the Great Depression. Northminster was unable to pay its mortgage, and the building was to be sold.

That is until the congregation members raised $76,000 in 11 days in 1938 by knocking on their neighbors’ doors — an achievement still discussed by Northminster members today. 

“We owe a part of our existence to the generosity of Evanston,” Senior Pastor and Head of Staff Rev. Michael Dale Kirby said. “That creates kind of a deep emotional connection to the entire city.”

This year, Northminster celebrates 100 years since the community first began as North Evanston Presbyterian Bible School in 1922. Today, the Presbyterian church has about 500 members and hosts worship services, a nursery school and service programs. 

Centennial celebrations began last month with a gala and worship service. One hundred silver stars will hang in the church through Ash Wednesday, when they will be scattered throughout the building.

Additionally, a “Northminster at 100” art exhibit is on display in the church’s Tower Gallery through May 28, showcasing photographs of the church during each decade of its history.

Beyond the exhibit, the church has kept archives dating back to its founding.

“We’re really lucky that people have been saving a good portion of all of this,” church archivist Lori Osborne said of the century-old Sunday bulletins and newsletters the church still has today. 

Osborne, who also works as a historian at the Evanston History Center, compiled photographs and records into a digital, interactive timeline on Northminster’s website charting major events and changes from the last 100 years.

She said records show Northminster donating monetary contributions and Christmas gifts to two Chicago organizations serving low-income communities in the Christmas season of 1922-1923.

This year, Osborne said, the church donated to the original organizations’ successors, Erie Neighborhood House and Onward Neighborhood House. 

Though there have been continuities within Northminster’s history, the past century has also brought about changes to the Presbyterian community at large. 

The United Methodist Church and what would become the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), of which Northminster is a part, ordained its first women ministers in 1956.

According to Northminster’s archival timeline, Marian Waitley and Marge Fergusson became the first female elders of Northminster in 1967. The church hired its first female associate pastor, Elaine Klausen, in 1985.

For Associate Pastor Rev. Jessica Gregory, her lived experiences as a woman and a parent are central to her work as a Presbyterian leader. 

“I am grateful to have been called to Northminster because it fully embraces women as pastors,” Gregory said. “The church’s willingness and understanding of women’s unique gifts to ministry, I think, really brings to the community an important, different perspective.” 

Kirby also noted Northminster’s inclusion of LGBTQ+ congregation members. 

He said in the regional presbytery, Northminster played a central role in encouraging the changing of national rules as it relates to the ordination of LGBTQ+ people and the affirming of same-sex marriages.

“When Northminster was founded … if you had told them that 100 years from then, the senior pastor would be an openly gay man and the associate pastor would be a woman, they would be rather shocked at that,” Kirby said, referring to himself and Gregory. “But that’s part of the progression.” 

While the centennial is a time for celebration, Kirby said it’s also an opportunity to examine and address elements of the church’s history.

This includes reflection on Northminster’s role in social justice efforts. 

“Like most predominantly white congregations in the suburbs of Chicago, I think if we look back over our history, we see that there was probably a disconnection with some of the very important work that was being done for racial equity (and) injustice in Chicago at the time,” Kirby said. “It’s important for us to confront that reality.”

Today, Northminster has a Racial Justice Task Force and is a member of Interfaith Action of Evanston, a nonprofit uniting local religious communities. Northminster’s Session has made a commitment with other predominantly white communities of faith to support Evanston’s reparations effort.

Both Gregory and Kirby said examining Northminster’s history is a way to not only reflect on the past but also to identify what the next 100 years should look like. 

“To know where you are, you need to know where you’ve been,” Kirby said. “That helps you set the trajectory for where you’re going.” 

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @JorjaSiemons

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