January 18, 2011

My Memories of the Churches of Uptown Chicago

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent


There were three churches in my life that gave me that certain something I was missing. Even at a young age, I realized that religion was very important to a person's development. So at about the age of nine I set out on a quest to find God.

"Christ Died for Our Sins" Church

I never knew the actual name of the church at Sheridan and Wilson but that was the big sign on the top, so that is what we called it. They would send out street ministers to preach to the drunks and sinners on Wilson Ave, usually around Kenmore. The minister would start around 7 PM Friday. He would use a large easel 4 foot long and 3 feet high and a lot of colored chalk. He would draw pictures then relate his drawings to God, religion, and spirituality and around 8 PM he would have 8 to 12 people on their knees, praying for salvation. At the proper time he would walk them the block over to the church. They would all file in and he would start with the preaching in such a manner that I was sure a thunder bolt was going to hit me right there, but it never did; it always seemed to get the other guys. They would say that you could feel the holy spirit enter your body.

I would help the sidewalk minister with his easel and chalk. I tried getting saved but it never worked. I just felt maybe only older people got saved. I wondered what power that minister had; we would set up the easel and then he would have a bunch of people on their knees right there on Wilson Ave.

I would go to Sunday School there and they gave me a bible for going 12 Sundays in a row. The Sunday school teacher wrote in the book "this book will keep you from sin and sin will keep you from this book." I showed the bible to mom and dad; they couldn't figure out why I was going to church. I even sang in the choir.

The minister at the time was Dr. Preston Bradley; he was on the radio every Sunday. I would sit in the balcony and I was always amazed at his diamond ring that would sparkle under the lights. But they had a lot of things going on for us neighborhood kids and it was fun.

Later in life, I would mention that I heard Dr Preston Bradley. I would be asked what I thought of him. Well, he had this big, shiny ring!

At thirteen I drifted over to St. Thomas. Now they had a real neat parish priest, a Monsignor Fox. He was a cool old guy who would walk the parish every night, talk to people, shake hands, etc. I converted when I was 15 and baptized Catholic.

My wife graduated from St Thomas and now that I was a Catholic, her mother would think I was a nice guy and trust me a little.

Mom and Dad were really starting to worry about me.

Today I don't know what I miss more, Uptown or being a teenager.

Editor's Note: Click the "Bill Matteson" link below to read more of Bill's memories of growing up in Uptown.


Anonymous said...


I really enjoy your stories. They are told so well and with such humor.

bill Matteson said...

From Mary Johnson:

> Hi Bill, I just read your article on churches in Uptown......I went to the "Christ Died for our Sins" church for awhile.....North Shore Baptist.....my dad would not go to church so my girlfriend and I started going there....my Sunday School teacher was Lizzie Bell Gill...don't ask me why I remember that name, but I do.....there was no dancing, make-up, etc allowed .
> My girlfriends father played in an orchestra at the Aragon...and she was told that if he didn't play for God he was going to Hell....well, our parents had us out of there REALLY fast..
> I then grew up in the Peoples Church and sang in the choir there....Dr Bradley married my husband and I and baptised our daughter....loved that church and him.....I am a Lutheran now, but miss his church and philosophy.....such a great man...
> I have to tell you again how much I love your stories about Uptown.....it keeps my childhood alive....thanks!!
> Sorry I missed your radio talk....just too late for me.....

Phil Cereghino said...

Greetings Bill:
Your article on Uptown churches mentions the neon sign "Christ Died for Our Sins" atop the church at Sheridan and Wilson, and the minister that use to preach to the people passing by on Fri. evenings. The pastor was J. C. O'Hair and the church was known then as North Shore Church. O'Hair erected the sign and pastored at the church from 1928 until his death in 1958. He was a teacher-evangelist with a burden for reaching the lost.

bill Matteson said...

thanks Phil good information


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