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'We’re Not Just A Relic:' Chicago’s Oldest Black Church Is Adapting To A Changing City

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Mackenzie Crosson

Tim Larsen is a professor and researcher of Christian thought at Wheaton College and has read about some big challenges facing the Christian community today: younger people are attending church services less, and there’s been a general decline in church attendance overall.

He wondered how these trends are playing out in Chicago’s black church community, which has historically been a driving force in political movements and a center of social life.

“I was wondering if it’s still as vibrant as it always has been or if it’s in decline, if the changing nature of people’s habits is leading people away from the church or if it’s still an important part of the community and its life,” he says.

So he asked Curious City: How is the black church adapting to a changing Chicago?

To find out how one church is doing, Curious City went to Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, home to Chicago’s oldest African American congregation.

More about our questioner

Questioner Tim Larson

Mackenzie Crosson

Tim Larsen grew up in Chicago’s south suburbs and now calls the west suburbs home. He’s currently McManis professor of Christian thought at Wheaton College, and his interest in religious history and thinking has led him to conduct research around the world.

After accompanying Curious City to a Sunday service at Quinn Chapel, Tim says he had to rethink what inspired his original question.

“I kind of had to recalibrate what I think are the quintessential institutions of Chicago,” he says. “Now I think Quinn Chapel is one of them.”

Even though he has heard from various media that younger generations were attending church less, he was surprised to find that this was not the case on this Sunday at Quinn.

“I saw a lot of young people who are very engaged, whose lives clearly are anchored in this church,” he says. “And this church is helping to nurture them and reinforce who they’re becoming.”

Before he came to Curious City, Tim was familiar with the history of the black church as a center of community life, and he was delighted to see that Quinn has maintained this role.

“It’s a very vibrant congregation with every age range present,” he says. “People were very engaged, you could see the social action of the church, the ministries of the church. And it’s almost as old as Chicago itself, this congregation.”

Mackenzie Crosson is the multimedia intern for Curious City. You can reach her at 

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