This week’s eNewsletter Feature
was written by Hannah McConnell,
FPCE director of worship and music.

Dear friends,

In Matthew 22, Jesus famously offers the inspiring (and daunting) summary of the greatest commandment: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” And as we hear the passage again, year after year, we wonder anew: in Chicago, in 2022, when the city is still so wide and the needs are still so great, what does loving our neighbor even mean? 

A few weekends ago, a First Pres team of 10 volunteer hosts and five organists offered an answer in a low-key but high-impact way: by simply opening our beloved worship home, our church Sanctuary, to our neighbors, and being present there for all those who Christ called to enter in – 412 souls in all, loved by God.

For 12 hours over the weekend of October 15-16, we were one of 150 sites across Chicago who flung wide our doors through the Chicago Architecture Center’s “Open House Chicago.” (We were the only site in all of Chicagoland, however, that had an organist on hand offering hymns, demos, and even some requests [!] over every minute of the Open House weekend – at least to our knowledge! 

Our First Pres hosts had so many stories to share after those hours spent welcoming their neighbors. Some guests loved to come in and chat up a storm, while some lingered in a pew, soaking up the organ music, the light filtering through the stained glass, a quiet moment to meditate.

Betsey Newenhuyse shared how a father brought his family first to enjoy interacting with the organist, but later took a moment to show his three sons the Old and New Testaments in the pew Bibles. Carol Smith told the story of a guest from the Swedish Lutheran tradition who shared her love of hymns and her lament that she missed hearing them regularly these days.

We learned that, to a person, all our guests were fascinated by the stained glass windows and the organ. Robert McConnell shared the story of a woman who opened up while visiting the organ, requesting a favorite hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross.”

Stephanie Keene noted that several of the guests had just moved into the new apartment building behind the nearby Holiday Inn and may be looking for a church home. I invited a gentleman and his partner to come back for Crofton Coleman’s concert in the Sanctuary this past Sunday and was delighted to see and greet them there again. 

Were there any conversions? Did we get a 0.25% return on new church members? Will we meet our budget 10 years from now because of a random millionaire who visited Open House? We don’t know, of course, but we can say with certainty that was never the goal.

From listening to what our neighbors said, and what they did, we can say for certain that God was at work, planting seeds of love and joy into our neighbors’ hearts through our hosts and organists humbly being present that weekend. We will probably never know the outcomes or produce of those seeds, but we continue to walk alongside God as he sows and, that weekend, in our house, held his bag of seeds for us to spread. We know that God sowed, and that God will know an increase. 

With exceptional gratitude to our amazing First Pres hosts Anne Van Heukelem, Betsey Newenhuyse, Carol Smith, Gordon and Marge Stromberg, Paul Haase, Peg Forbes, Richard Bell, Stephanie Keene, Susan Anderson and to our generous and gifted organists Andrea Handley, Elizabeth Brown, Rebecca Chu, Robert McConnell, and Yoon Jung Hee. Thank you for loving our neighbors, and for welcoming them into our church home in the name of Jesus Christ. 

Hoping to see YOU this weekend,

Hannah McConnell
First Pres Organist & Worship Director

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