100th Anniversary of North Evanston Presbyterian Mission
North Evanston was growing rapidly in the early 1920s. Many new homes and schools were being built and the Central Street business district was expanding west. As these changes took place residents began to express interest in forming churches in their neighborhoods, and the Presbytery of Chicago conducted several surveys to see if there was support for forming a Presbyterian church.
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On January 29, 1922 a meeting was held at Lincolnwood School (in the first school building, which is no longer there) with local residents and Presbytery officials to gauge community interest. Rev. David Hugh Jones of First Presbyterian Church of Evanston was among the speakers. The result was the decision to start a temporary Sunday school program with Rev. Robert Sawyier as leader. He was a minister and Director of Christian Education for the Presbytery. The program would be called the North Evanston Presbyterian Mission (NEPM).
The first Lincolnwood School had been built in 1913 and was designed by architect Dwight Heald Perkins. He was a prominent architect who built many houses in the area, including his own just a few blocks east on Lincoln Street. Perkins was also a conservationist who helped establish the Cook County Forest Preserves. The only forest preserve in Evanston is located just west of the school and is named in his honor.
When Lincolnwood School was built it quickly became the center of community life in that part of Evanston. Dances, lectures, plays and meetings were often held here. The original building was closer to McDaniel Avenue, facing east, and there was a street that separated the school from the playground and Perkins Woods to the west.
The North Evanston Presbyterian Mission held its first Sunday School classes at Lincolnwood School on February 5, 1922 at 3:30 p.m. Seventeen children attended four classes. Three teachers, a pianist and Sawyier were present. On February 19, the NEPM published its first bulletin.
Later in the spring, Easter services were held and 143 children and adults attended. The name was changed to North Evanston Presbyterian Bible School, and classes were moved to 9 a.m. on Sundays. In May, a children’s worship service was added.
Children’s Day was held on June 11th, and on July 4th the group entered a decorated pony cart in the annual parade held on Central Street. On August 12th, a community picnic was held.
September 1922 saw the addition of adult Bible study to the Sunday schedule. In November, the worship service was changed to appeal to both adults and children, and weekly attendance was approximately 100. A “benevolence” effort began with sending baskets of food to Howell Neighborhood House and Erie Neighborhood House, which were settlement houses in Chicago connected with the Presbytery. The effort also sent food and clothing to Tennessee.
Around Christmas time in 1922, the benevolence was offered to Erie Neighborhood House and an organization called Onward Mission. That Christmas season also included services and Bible study at Lincolnwood School.
In the new year it was clear to the Presbytery there was sufficient interest in a new church in north Evanston, and a meeting was held on January 3, 1923 to discuss a plan. A formal organizational meeting was held on Sunday, January 28, 1923. About 150 people attended, and 57 became members of the new Northminster Presbyterian Church of Evanston.
On March 4, 1923 Sawyier was installed as Northminster’s first pastor. In his report to the Presbytery at the end of 1923, Sawyier wrote: “No new field in Chicago Presbytery offers more promise of rapid growth in strength and fruitfulness than this.“
By Lori Osborne, NPC Archivist