Rabbi Wendi Geffen of North Shore Congregation Israel speaks at the dedication service for Stone Temple Baptist Church.
Members of Chicago's Jewish community were on hand Sunday, Aug. 28 as the congregation at Stone Temple Baptist Church celebrated the designation of its building as a Chicago historic landmark.
The Church, led by longtime Jewish Community Relations Council partner Bishop Derrick Fitzpatrick, officiated a special service featuring remarks from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Rep. Danny Davis, JCRC Chair David T. Brown, and Rabbi Wendi Geffen of North Shore Congregation Israel.
"This building is a sacred place, with a remarkable history, and we share your pride as you receive this special recognition from the City of Chicago," Brown told worshippers and guests at the ceremony. "The granting of historical landmark status is not the end of the story for this building, but the beginning. It serves as a continued call to action to all of us who enter its doors -- to ensure that the important work that has been done here continues."
Founded as the First Romanian Congregation synagogue, the building was part of an area known as "Chicago's Jerusalem" because of a large number of Jewish residents. It later became the home to Reverend J. M. Stone's Baptist congregation in 1954. In the 1960s, it was one of the few churches to host Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for a series of sermons, even as city administrators threatened to cut off funding from daycare and school programs for letting him speak there.
Speakers at the ceremony recognized the vision of both King and the church's founding pastor, whose grandson now leads the congregation.
Geffen gave the keynote speech, drawing parallels between God opening Hagar's eyes to the well she could not see before her and the idea that we must recognize both the continued injustice in our midst as well as the resources available to us to help address it.
Following the service, the church hosted its annual community festival, where JUF-affiliated agency Sinai Health System offered health screenings, and JCRC led a voter registration drive.
"The relationship that has been forged between the Jewish and African-American communities here in North Lawndale is powerful," Bishop Fitzpatrick said, "and we have the potential to do even greater things going forward."