While walking through busy downtown Chicago, you may be surprised what you find when you look up. On Washington, for example, between Dearborn and Clark, look to the top of that skyscraper. You’ll see the world’s tallest church.
Dating back to 1831, the First United Methodist Church of Chicago is the city’s oldest church. Today, the church is mostly known for its unusual location. After World War I, the First United Methodist Church was urged to move out to the suburbs to a less-expensive, larger site. But church leaders were committed to the center of the city, and they stayed their ground.
They hired renowned architects Holabird & Roche to build a Gothic skyscraper—quite the oxymoron. The building has 21 floors, and, topped with a traditional church spire, it reaches 568 feet into the air. (Technically because the spire is built on a skyscraper it is not considered the tallest church spire, but the world’s tallest “church building.”)
The first floor hosts the central sanctuary, which seats 1,000. While some of the stained glass in the sanctuary portrays traditional scenes from the Bible, two windows on the west wall depict the Chicago skyline and local seminaries and institutions that support the church. The second to fourth floors contain smaller sanctuaries and other church offices, while the rest, the fifth through 21st floors are leased to local businesses, mostly lawyers. But at the very top of the building, in the top spire, 400 feet above the noisy city streets, sits the Sky Chapel: the world’s highest church.
The Sky Chapel holds worship three times a week, as well as prayer and Taize (candle-lit meditative) services throughout the week. This is about as close to the heavens as folks living in the Windy City can get.
Update as of January 2022: Tours are officially closed.
Know Before You Go
Free tours of the Sky Chapel are offered Monday through Saturday at 2:00 p.m. or Sunday at 9:45 a.m. or 12:15 p.m. Meet at the second floor church office.