Chapter 7 - The YMCA And The Chicago Avenue Church

Table of Contents

First work with the Young Men's Christian Association - The Illinois Street Church - Elected President of the Young Men's Christian Association - Dedication of the New Building - A Great Religious Centre - The North Side Tabernacle - Development of the Chicago Avenue Church.

MR. MOODY had not been long identified with active Christian work in Chicago, before he saw an opportunity for service in connection with the Young Men's Christian Association. This organisation had been established in Chicago as a result of the great revival of 1857 - 8, but after a few years the interest in the daily noon prayer meeting began to wane. To increase this interest impressed Mr. Moody as his duty. His abilities were soon recognised by those in charge of the work, and he was appointed chairman of the Visiting Committee to the sick and to strangers. His work in behalf of the noon meetings was blessed moreover with large results.


He had found the Association made up of conservative men of middle or advanced years, but his advent among them was, as an officer of the Association has said, "like a stiff north-west breeze," and under his influence the institution became free and popular, and its influence was extensively widened. His abilities were especially eminent in raising money, but of the thousands of dollars he secured he would take nothing for himself. Among other schemes devised by him was one which federated the mission schools of the city under the Association, and brought them under the care of the stronger churches. The report of the first year of the work of his committee on visitation gives the number of families visited as 554, and the amount of money used for charitable purposes as $2350.

Meanwhile, the growing strength of the North Market Mission taxed the ingenuity of the young superintendent to provide room for its expansion. He set himself to work to secure a suitable edifice, and, collecting personally about $20,000, saw a neat chapel rise in Illinois Street, not far from the old North Market Hall. This was in 1863. Mr. Moody had ever aimed, as the converts of the Mission grew in number, to recommend them to regular church homes, but an increasing unwillingness on the part of the converts to leave the influences of his personal presence seemed to necessitate the organisation of a regular church to be made up of the converts of the Mission.


The Illinois Street Church" was therefore organised under Congregational auspices. Members were baptised and received into the church by regular pastors of other Congregational churches, but the communion service was conducted by Mr. Moody without reference to established forms. He was the pastor of the church, although he never received ordination. For this reason, probably, the church, although organised by Congregationalists, was not reckoned a Congregational Church. Its discipline and confession of faith were made up with the end that no true lover of the Lord should be kept from the fellowship of this Christian band by any non-essential of doctrine or observance.

The membership of this church in the beginning was unique. Almost every communicant had been rescued from degradation by the work of the Mission. And it was a working congregation. Labour was so divided that every member had something to do, and every night saw some service in the chapel. The meetings seemed to be a continuous revival. Boundless energy and great physical strength, with the constant dwelling of God's spirit in him, alone enabled Mr. Moody to bear up under the great strain. At times he would find himself completely exhausted and almost ready to give up, but a few hours of rest or a slight change I occupation generally sufficed to put him very quickly on his feet again.


The story is told of how he made two hundred calls on New Year's Day. "At an early hour the omnibus which was to take him and several of his leading men was at the door, and, with a carefully prepared list of residences, they began the day's labour. The list included a large proportion of families living in garrets and the upper stories of high tenements. On reaching the home of a family belonging to his congregation he would spring out of the 'bus, leap up the stairways, rush into the room, and pay his respects as follows

I am Moody; this is Deacon De Golyer; this is Deacon Thane; this is Brother Hitchcock. Are you well? Do you all come to church and Sunday-school? Have you all the coal you need for the winter? 'Let us pray? And down we would all go upon our knees, while Mr. Moody offered from fifteen to twenty words of earnest, tender, sympathetic supplication.

"Then springing to his feet, he would dash on his hat, dart through the doorway and down the stairs, throwing a hearty 'good bye' behind him, leap into the 'bus, and off to the next place on his list the entire exercise occupying about one minute and a half.

Before long the horses were tired out, for Mr. Moody insisted on their going on a run from one house to another; so the omnibus was abandoned, and the party proceeded on foot One after another of his companions became exhausted with running upstairs and downstairs, and across the streets, and kneeling on bare floors, and getting up in a hurry; until, reluctantly, but of necessity, they were obliged to relinquish the attempt, and the tireless pastor was left to make the last of the two hundred calls alone. He returned home in the highest spirits to laugh at his exhausted companions for deserting him."

The next year Mr. Moody went on foot through another such day - reminding his friends that on the previous New Year they had often felt obliged to leave the 'bus before reaching a house, lest the sight of the vehicle should hurt the poor they visited, as an apparent waste of money.


The increase of the work of the Young Men's Christian Association during the Civil War called for increased accommodations. Mr. Moody's success with his Mission, and his well-known energy and boldness, led to the proposal that he be elected president of the Association. His lack of learning and his bluntness caused considerable opposition to his election, but he received a small majority. A building committee was immediately organised. Mr. Moody's plan was to organise a stock company, with twelve trustees, who should erect and hold the building in trust. The stock was to bear six percent interest, from the completion of the building, and the interest on the stock was to be paid out of the rentals of such portions of the building as were not needed for the use of the Association, and also from the rent of the great Hall. The excess of the rentals over the interest was to be used to buy up the stock, at par, in behalf of the Association. Mr. Moody succeeded in placing the stock to the value of $101000.

The new building was erected in Madison Street, between Clark and La Salle Streets. The large hall had a seating capacity of three thousand. There were in the building a large room for the noon prayer meetings, a library, offices, etc. The hall was dedicated September 29, 1867. The report of the treasurer, Mr. John V, Farwell, on that occasion, showed that the entire cost of land, building, etc., was $199000. Stock had been subscribed to the amount of $135000; $50000 had been loaned on mortgages. The remaining indebtedness was at once cleared up by subscriptions.


Among the speakers at the dedicatory service was Mr. George H. Stuart, president of the United States Christian Commission. His address sketched the history of the Association, and described the possibilities that were open to its efforts. The effect of his speech was marvellous. It seemed as if the words of this great Christian man had loosened the heart-strings of every individual in the large audience. The hall was still unnamed, but on Mr. Moody's nomination it was christened "Farwell Hall," in honour of Mr. John V. Farwell.

Under the management of Mr. Moody, Farwell Hall became very popular. The daily noon prayer meeting was so well attended that occasionally the one thousand seats in the prayer room were not sufficient to hold the people, and it was necessary to adjourn to the large hall. Monday evening a special meeting was held for strangers. Every noon Mr. Moody would go to the street in front of the hall a few minutes before the meeting, and endeavour to send within as many of the passers-by as he could approach. Then, as the clock struck twelve, he would hurry up the stairs and take his usual seat, near the leader, where, if the meeting seemed to drag or to require a stimulus, he would take it in hand and do everything necessary to animate it.

Mr. Moody began to be known in Young Men's Christian Association work throughout the United States and Canada, and his services were in frequent demand for conventions and revival services.

Four months after its dedication, Farwell Hall was burned, in January, 1868. Mr. Moody did not lag when this catastrophe overtook the enterprise in which he was bound up. Subscriptions were opened immediately, and most of the original stockholders came to the front with renewed support. On the old foundations a new Farwell Hall was erected. It was dedicated in 1869, to an only too brief period of noble service for the Master.


Mr. Moody continued president of the Association for four years. He then declined re-election, but consented to act as vice-president, with Mr. J. V. Farwell in the chair. The Sunday evening meetings in the new hall were wonderful. Mr. Moody would there preach the same discourse he had delivered to his congregation in Illinois Street in the morning. Such throngs attended these evening meeting that they came to compose, with one exception, the largest protestant congregation in Chicago. The sermon was followed by an inquiry meeting.

Farwell Hall soon became a great religious centre. That its success as an institution was due in large degree to Mr. Moody cannot be doubted. His energy made possible the erection of the first structure; his perseverance called forth the second, phoenix like, from the ashes of the first; his devotion filled the prayer meetings; his faith led hundreds to a changed life; and his directness, his singleness of purpose, prevented any deviation of the work from the paths of Christian helpfulness. The second Farwell Hall went down in the great fire of 1871, but its work still lived.

Mr. Moody used to give an incident of his last service in Farwell Hall on the night of the great fire. He said:


The last time I preached upon this question was in Farwell HaIl. I had been for five nights preaching on the life of Christ. I took Him from the cradle and followed Him up to the judgement hall, and on that occasion I consider I made as great a blunder as ever I made in my life. If I could recall my act I would give this right hand. It was upon that memorable night in October, and the Court House bell was sounding an alarm of fire, but I paid no attention to it. You know we were accustomed to hear the fire-bell often, and it didn't disturb us much when it sounded. I finished the sermon upon 'What shall I do with Jesus?' And I said to the audience, 'Now I want you to take the question with you and think over it, and next Sunday I want you to come back and tell me what you are going to do with it.' What a mistake It seems now as if Satan was in my mind when I said this. Since then I have never dared to give an audience a week to think on their salvation. If they were lost, they might rise up in judgement against me, 'Now is the accepted time.' We went down stairs to the other meeting, and I remember when Mr. Sankey was singing and how his voice rang when he came to that pleading verse:

'To-day the Saviour calls;
For refuge fly.
The storm of justice falls,
And death is nigh.'

After the meeting we went home. I remember going down La Salle street with a young man who is probably in the hall to-night, and saw the glare of flames. I said to the young man, 'This means ruin to Chicago.' About one o'clock Farwell Hall went; soon the church in which I had preached went down, and everything was scattered. I never saw that audience again. My friends, we don't know what may happen to-morrow, but there is one thing I do know, and that is, if you take the gift, you are saved. If you have eternal life, you need not fear fire, death, or sickness. Let disease or death come, you can shout triumphantly over the grave, if you have Christ. My friends, what are you going to do with Him tonight? Will you decide now?"


The Illinois Street Church was also burned in the great fire, and Mr. Moody at once began the work of feeding and sheltering the homeless. Complaints were made of his too bountiful distribution, for he would refuse no one who asked. He therefore withdrew from the relief work, and went East, to hold revival meetings and to raise money toward rebuilding his church. With the large assistance of Mr. George H. Stuart and Mr. John Wanamaker, of Philadelphia, he obtained three thousand dollars for the erection of a rough structure in the burned district, not far from the ruins of the old church. This " North Side Tabernacle," as it was called, covered a plot of ground one hundred and nine feet long and seventy-five feet wide. All around it were the ruins. There was some doubt whether the situation of the Tabernacle would permit a large attendance, but on the day of dedication more than one thousand children came together.

The meetings in the Tabernacle were distinguished by a remarkable revival. During the year following the fire eight services were held every Sunday. A wide relief work was also instituted by the indefatigable pastor. Mr. Moody had returned from the eastern tour refreshed spiritually and blessed by a large access of power. He has told us how, while he was in New York City on that memorable journey, God revealed Himself especially to his servant. This baptism of the Divine Love vivified his later work and made it tell with the unconverted as never before. And so, in the Tabernacle among the ashes, sprang up a wonderful manifestation of God's presence, and hundreds were led to Christ.


The new church, which afterward came to be known as "The Chicago Avenue Church", was partly erected in 1873. From that time it was used by the congregation, a temporary roof being built over the first floor, but not until 1876 was it completed, freed of debt, and dedicated. Up to this time the preaching and pastoral work was done chiefly by Mr. Moody and Mr. Watts Dc Golyer. Since then the Rev. W. J. Erdman, the Rev. Charles H. Norton, the Rev. G. C. Needham, President Blanchard, the Rev. Charles F. Goss and the Rev. F. B. Hyde have occupied the pulpit and acted as pastors. The present pastor is the Rev. Dr. R. A. Torrey. The church has always maintained its early character as an undenominational, evangelical and aggressive congregation. The sittings and other privileges are all free, and the motto selected at the organisation of the church, and still inscribed over the main entrance, is "Welcome to this House of God are strangers and the poor." It has always been dependent upon the offerings of the people for its support, and the expenses are met through the systematic weekly giving of the congregation.

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