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A Brief History
The Moody Church
A trusted place where anyone can connect with God and others.
The Moody Church has long been a haven for the spiritually hungry. People come here to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ, to receive sound Biblical teaching and to fellowship with other Christ-followers through Bible studies, small groups and other church programs. From mature Christians to those who may not yet know Christ as Lord and savior, The Moody Church has always opened its doors to everyone—from all walks of life. The following paragraphs are about our beginnings…
A Church Is Born
The year was 1858. Dwight Lyman Moody, a traveling shoe salesman from Massachusetts, began a Sunday school mission for underprivileged children in Chicago. Moody and ministry partners J.B. Stillson and John Farwell actively recruited children from the streets to attend the school. Class was held every Sunday night in an abandoned saloon (the only place Moody could find for a Sunday school mission) where children would sit on the floor and listen to the teachings of D.L. Moody and his ministry partners.
The Sunday school grew quickly to the point that the saloon was too small to accommodate the children. By 1859, Moody moved the school to North Market Hall in Chicago, a facility that could easily accommodate the 300 children now attending the school, but one that was used for Saturday night parties. Moody assumed most of the school’s responsibilities including teaching the children and on other days during the week, visiting absentee and sick children and inviting parents to attend evening services. At North Market Hall, class was held all day Sunday and every evening.
By 1860, the school had grown to more than 1,000 attendees and parents of the children began to attend. It had become the largest mission of its kind in Chicago, prompting President Lincoln to visit one of its meetings that year. At 24, D.L. Moody permanently retired as a traveling shoe salesman in order to devote his full attention to missions at the Sunday school and the YMCA where he was instrumental in sending workers by the thousands overseas as missionary-like YMCA secretaries.
Around this time, it quickly became apparent that the church needed yet another new building and more types of ministries to accommodate the growing number of attendees. Moody, with school superintendents Farwell and Isaac Burch and others, raised $20,000 to purchase a lot on the corner of Illinois and Wells Streets on Chicago’s poverty-stricken North side.
There, a brick structure was built that included a 1,500-seat auditorium, classrooms, an office and a library. The Illinois Street Church was formally dedicated on December 30, 1864. Signs hung on the outside of the church that read “Ever welcome to this house of God are strangers and the poor.” Moody acted as pastor of the church until 1866 when, although he continued work with the Illinois Street Church, he focused his efforts elsewhere, including missions and serving as YMCA president from 1865 to 1870.
The Great Chicago Fire
On October 8, 1871, following a sermon by Moody on Jesus’ life, the Great Chicago Fire swept the city. The Illinois Street Church burned to the ground. Moody immediately began to raise money to construct a new church and to help those left homeless in the fire. By 1873, a lot was purchased on the corner of Chicago and LaSalle Streets (today, the site of Moody Bible Institute’s women’s dormitory, Houghton Hall). This permanent structure was paid for in part by Moody’s European evangelistic campaign with Ira Sankey. They developed a hymnbook, “Sacred Songs and Solos” (later called “Gospel Hymns and Songs”), which grew out of solos that Sankey, who was the church’s new music minister, and the congregation performed prior to each of Moody’s messages. Eventually, the book sold more than 8 million copies and raised $35,000 for the permanent church structure.
The Chicago Avenue Church, which could hold 10,000 people, was dedicated in June 1876. Attendance was strong and the church’s first missionaries were commissioned.
Although he was involved in other work, Moody continued to be influential in bringing many to the church. In 1897, as a result of Moody’s evangelistic campaigns, church attendance exploded. At one point, the auditorium was filled to capacity while an overflow of 6,000 waited outside.
In 1899, D.L. Moody died in Northfield, Mass., after becoming ill.
The Moody Church in the 20th Century
A.C. Dixon took over as pastor in 1906, and in 1908, the church was formally renamed “The Moody Church.”
In 1909, the church declared its theme “Jubilee Year” in honor of the 50th anniversary since its founding. Meetings were held every evening that November. According to the church’s executive committee, the church prospered spiritually, materially and numerically under Dixon’s leadership. Offerings for the work of the Lord more than doubled, souls were saved every week, and 1,367 members were received into the church. The Moody Church Herald that December said, “Scarcely a day or night passed that souls did not accept Christ as savior.” Dixon resigned in 1911 in order to pastor a church in London.
John Harper, a native of Scotland, accepted the senior pastorate; however, he never became the church’s pastor. He was called to The Moody Church for a series of meetings and in April 1912, was to return to Chicago for an indefinite period of ministry. With his niece and daughter in tow, Harper boarded the Titanic for the trip to the states. Harper’s traveling companions survived; however, Harper perished in the Titanic disaster. E.Y. Woolley, who had been serving as assistant pastor, became acting pastor of the church.
In 1915, the congregation moved to the corners of North Avenue, Clark Street, and LaSalle Street, the present site of the church. In 1925, upon raising $500,000, construction began on the new building that holds nearly 4,000 people. The Moody Church’s permanent home was dedicated on November 8, 1925.
The Moody Church has since grown tremendously in terms of members, ministries, and God’s blessings. In the eight decades since its permanent structure opened, The Moody Church has featured noted evangelists including Gypsy Smith, Billy Graham and Billy Sunday; hosted major evangelical events including the National Sunday School Association Convention; established media ministries to bring its teachings to people all over the world; instituted various programs to reach specific groups of people including youth, singles, women, business men and women, people facing difficult urban problems and others; and began Adult Bible Fellowships for people from all walks of life.
As God wills it, The Moody Church will continue to grow and offer ministries that bring glory to God and which minister to and reach out to others. The Moody Church will continue to be a trusted place where anyone can connect with God and others.