First United Methodist Church (FUMC) at the Chicago Temple occupies the first four floors of a 23-story building constructed in 1924. The Neo-Gothic worship space was designed by Holabird & Root in the Wesleyan style, an emphasis on preaching, seating 1,000 people in pews centered in front of the pulpit. The congregation’s focus changed from the pulpit to the altar, although the configuration of the space remained stagnant. Bailey Edward led the evolution of the sanctuary to meet contemporary worship facility needs, seamlessly upgrading the lighting, audio/visual, pew configuration, accessibility, and flexibility of the entire space while preserving the historic integrity.
The pews were reconfigured and restored to create a spacious center aisle to allow for processions and more access to the seating. The back rows of pews were taken out and a glazed movable partition was installed in alignment with the groin vault bay treatment at the underside of the balcony. This partition created a flexible fellowship space that could be separated off for different events or opened for additional seating for larger ceremonies in the sanctuary.
The original floor sloped towards the chancel, but with the implementation of the level gathering space and an accessibility ramp to the raised chancel, the floor’s slope had to be adjusted. Destructive testing of a small steel coupon verified adequate floor load capacity for a new slab, but not the seven-inch depth needed. Structural foam was utilized to reduce the load and act as an acoustical buffer to the noise of the mechanical systems located below.
The six levels of the chancel were reduced to one, expanding the area, creating more flexible space for larger instruments, including the original E.M. Skinner organ console, and making the chancel fully accessible. Each of the chancel furnishings were restored, then placed on wheels that can lock into place to provide full flexibility.
Seamless integration of multi-media components brings the sanctuary into the 21st century while honoring the space. A large projection screen recesses into an original cavity in the ceiling, enhanced lighting within the carefully restored original fixtures allows the congregation to read from a hymnal with ease and a line-array audio system ensures excellent rendition for both speaking and music performances.
Moving to the lower level, Pierce Hall’s last renovation was 35+ years ago and FUMC needed a more flexible space for its community. The redesign provides functionality for twelve different ministries ranging from a homeless ministry providing meals and supplies to the less fortunate to performances by theater company Silk Road Rising. Classrooms and large assembly space that can house 200 people were created, along with a new kitchen, bathrooms, audio-visual room and storage. Careful placement of lighting and finishes allow the space to adapt to the diverse needs of the community without compromising the look or feel of the space. FUMC was able to become a place of refuge, utilized by the public at large.
These renovations provided FUMC a place to gather before and after services, to build community within the congregation, and it allows space for visitors to see the sanctuary without disrupting services or those worshiping. Furthermore, the gathering space can be leased out to the larger community for events, garnering profit for the congregation and providing a space for various groups’ needs. Annually, the Chicago Humanities Festival utilizes the rehabilitated Sanctuary as a venue for its productions, due to its location in the loop and the flexibility provided by the new design.