Gazette Article by: Carol Erickson
Appeared in the Gazette: Summer 1998
More than 97 years ago a small group of Swedish-American young people met regularly for Bible study and fellowship in rooms above an empty store at Maple Street and Willow Road. Among their leaders were brothers Gustav and Eric Nelson, owners of the Nelson Laundry—now the well-known Laundry Mall on Chestnut Street. Before long the group began to use the empty store for a sanctuary, and after three years were offered the use of the Congregational Church.
On March 12, 1904, the group organized as the First Scandinavian Church of Winnetka. The first edifice was a gift to the growing congregation from Christ Church, [the first Church on the Hill] which was relocating to a larger sanctuary. Because the building was too fragile to move, it was dismantled board by board and carried on horse-drawn lumber wagons to a lot at 886 Elm Street, where it was reassembled by the men of the church.
In 1913 Sunday school classes started, and by 1922 English became the language used in all services.
The 25th anniversary of the church was celebrated in 1929. The building was remodeled, adding a 30-foot extension to the south, a new entrance with a tower, new heating system, kitchen, and washrooms. At the same time, the name was changed to First Evangelical Church of Winnetka.
The name was changed again in 1937, and it became the Winnetka Bible Church. In 1946 the house at 888 Elm Street was purchased for use as Sunday school classrooms and office space; one year later it was converted to a parsonage.
A Christian education building, Nelson Hall, was built in 1958, and the church began to experience phenomenal growth. Expansion continued, and the present sanctuary at 555 Birch Street was built and dedicated on June 7, 1964. A year later the original building on Elm Street was razed and replaced by a new parsonage.
In 1973 a structure at 850-852 Spruce Street was purchased, providing four apartments for missionaries on leave from overseas ministry assignments. The first floor now houses a Japanese church—a “daughter congregation.”
Even greater than the church’s physical growth has been the growth of its ministries. Currently the Winnetka Bible Church supports more than 75 missionaries both at home and abroad. Sunday schools, children’s programs, and various youth activities were greatly enhanced by the addition of a state-of-the-art gymnasium and Family Life Center in 1987 and enabled the church to add a contemporary style worship service. The Creator Arts Center, established in 1994, encourages participation and provides quality instruction in fine and performing arts for approximately 250 children and adults in the community.
The vision and purpose of the Winnetka Bible Church has always been the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people everywhere. . . . and today that vision continues.