The “mother of the Baptist Church” was Frances Iglehart who, in about 1856, began a Sunday school in her home for children of various Christian backgrounds. Mrs. Iglehart, a Baptist, was joined by five other individuals who formally organized the Evanston Baptist Church (later First Baptist Church of Evanston) in 1858. Today LSC is a vibrant community of progressive Christians affiliated with the American Baptist Churches of the U.S.A.
The journey from gathering around Mrs. Iglehart’s sewing machine in her home to a historic Sanctuary building has included manifestations of the Social Gospel movement with its emphasis on efforts to better the lives of all people, support for the ecumenical movement and a more recent emphasis on spiritualism and interfaith dialog.
The influence of the Social Gospel can be heard in Reverend Dr. James M. Stifler’s [Senior Minister 1909–1931] statement: “The real religious question is not what can I believe, but how fine a life am I willing to live? This church, like all sincere Christian churches, exists to help. We are here to be used.” Notice in Northwestern University Student Directory, 1927–28.
Rev. Charles Heimsath, (LSC minister 1932–1947) put this thought in different words:
“Our business as Christians in the future is to demonstrate the moral fitness of Christianity to cope with poverty, injustice and war.”
Sermon, April 24, 1938.
There are many examples of this church being of use to others and attempting to cope with the ills of society. One is the story of the Delano Chapel which the church ran as a neighborhood settlement house in an underserved area of Evanston from 1897 to 1922. This was the site of training classes for youth, mothers groups, bible study, worship and other positive activities.
Church member Dr. Anna Barbara Grey served others as a medical missionary in Burma from 1923 to 1957 at a time when women physicians were uncommon. There she faced such challenges as the need for an x-ray machine, patients suffering from leprosy and a Japanese invasion during WWII. Through all of that, she enjoyed the active support of her home congregation.
In 1984, Reverend Robert Thompson led the community in a controversial effort to found a shelter for homeless people in the church basement, which is still the only such shelter from Chicago’s northern border up to Wisconsin. Today “Hilda’s Place” is one of the programs of Connections for the Homeless intended to alleviate and prevent homelessness. Church Members continue to support the shelter by cooking dinner for residents two nights a month and providing additional volunteer and financial assistance. Many other social service agencies receive support from members of the congregation.
Lake Street Church has a history of tolerance, respect and involvement with other faiths. In 1954 it was a host church for religious leaders attending the World Council of Churches. During the 1970s and 80s, Lake Street Church shared its space with Hispanic, Korean and Jewish congregations. In the 1990s Rev. Thompson served as President of the World Parliament of Religions and started regular interfaith worship services involving representatives of Buddhist, Moslem, Jewish and other faith traditions. In 1993, Lake Street Church was one of the first congregations to join the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptist Churches in support of all people regardless of sexual orientation. One of the reasons First Baptist Church of Evanston changed its name to Lake Street Church in 1995 was to, “let the community know we are an ecumenical congregation,” according to Reverend Thompson. Evanston Review, June 22, 1995.
Today, while many of us do not identify ourselves as Baptists, our Covenant, adopted in 2006, proclaims that we are a community, “connected by our respect for soul liberty” and aspiring “to act against injustice and for peace.”