Thursday, June 22, 2006
A sad fate for a parish church
The Right Reverend Philander Chase was the first Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Illinois, having been elected (without his knowledge) in 1835 by the parishes that had gathered in that state. One of those historic parishes was Christ Church in Joliet, 30 miles southwest of the city of Chicago. The same year of Bishop Chase’s election, Christ Church was begun by a celebration of the Holy Eucharist where the church still stands. An original structure burned down, but the church was rebuilt using Illinois limestone. The interior was a classic example of high church Gothic architecture, as can be seen in the accompanying photographs. The nave was flanked by beautiful stained glass windows, all dedicated to the memories of loved ones. Behind the altar in the side chapel the remains of church members were interred. The church closed its doors for worship in 2004, after 169 years as an Episcopal Church. A private developer has purchased the church and plans on turning it into a center for live entertainment: the sanctuary will be used as a stage (after the “holy, holy, holy” is scraped from the towering wooden reredos still within the sanctuary), the nave—now stripped of pews—will be used as a dance floor, and the parish hall will be a bar. The stained glass remains. In the meantime, the gutted church was used for a celebrity wedding. I know that the church is not the bricks, stone, and wood of a building, but it is hard not to feel sorrow for a space hallowed by years and years of Christian worship come to this sad end. One can only pray that the remains of the faithful parishioners are no longer housed in the side chapel adjacent to the main sanctuary.