Though the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Philip began as a storefront mission in 1893, today, September 27, is the official birthday of St. Philip. (From what I can gather, the official paperwork was signed on 27 September, A.D. 1894.) St. Philip’s beginning occurred during a fascinating time in American history. 1893 saw the operation of the great Chicago “World’s Fair” or “Columbian Exposition” (May 1, 1893–October 30, 1893), but during the Exposition’s first week of operation, the economic “Panic of 1893” would begin.
This panic was marked by the collapse of railroad overbuilding and shaky railroad financing which set off a series of bank failures. Compounding market overbuilding and the railroad bubble, was a run on the gold supply (relative to silver) . . . Until the Great Depression, the Panic of ’93 was considered the worst depression the United States had ever experienced. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panic_of_1893)
Because of the Exposition, the Panic of 1893 was muted at first in Chicago, but the city got a foretaste of trouble to come when, the night before the Exposition’s close, Mayor Carter Harrison was assassinated by a disgruntled job-seeker. In 1894 the economic panic led to one of the most significant labor disputes in American history, the “Pullman Rail Strike,” and the city was further rocked by the the fiery destruction in July of many of the Exposition’s buildings.
The strike was over by the fall of 1894, and the city had lost much of her Exposition’s “White City,” but it was very much a city “on the move,” a bustling, battling “boxing ring” (as a historian I heard describe it) of ethnic enclaves, masses of people striving in ways both sacred and profane, to secure a better future for themselves and their children. Indeed, it may well be that—considering these things—Chicago is the most thoroughly “American” of cities.
Amidst the grand historic events and movements that were happening in Chicago, at an otherwise nondescript storefront on the corner of Seeley and Lawrence Avenues, a small group of Lutherans formally signed the paperwork that made them a recognized congregation. They had taken the name of “Saint Philip,” the Apostle of Jesus known best for boldly proclaiming to his friend, Nathaniel, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathaniel then asked Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” and Philip replied, “Come and see.” (See John 1.43-46)
For 117 years this is what The Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Philip has done. We are now in the midst of circumstances with certain analogs to our beginnings. This modern confluence of circumstances and anniversaries has the people of St. Philip remembering their beginnings and renewing their commitment to the mission that Philip began with a simple yet profound proclamation and invitation.