History, organization and tradition


Centennial Commemorative Sculpture

A church is more than Sunday morning worship and youth activities, more than fellowship groups, and more than a way of reaching out to the community and the world.

Each Church has a unique “feel” about it, from the people who answer the phone and send out the newsletter, to the historical perspective it represents. Each church has traditions, from regular events to rituals, even to such things as the decorations on its walls. Pilgrim Faith has all this and more. Being a church which has grown through mergers, both denominational and local, it has blended many traditions and, in this way, taken on a life of its own.

We would like to share some of this with you, as a way for you to get a better appreciation of what the church stands for and how it operates. Choose from among the topics below to learn more about our organization, history, and traditions.

The history of Pilgrim Faith Church goes back more than 100 years, and actually encompasses the story of several founding churches that merged at different times to result in our current congregation and building. First Congregational Church of Oak Lawn was started in 1891, and grew with the village and the times. In 1955, it moved into the current Pilgrim Faith location with the completion of the new church building. In 1966, it changed its name to reflect its association with the newly formed United Church of Christ, becoming Pilgrim United Church of Christ.

Three years before the founding of First Congregational, in 1888, St. Luke Evangelical Church was formed in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. In 1894, Bethel Congregational Church, later to be known as Brainerd Congregational Church, was formed in the Brainerd area of Chicago. Brainerd and St. Luke’s merged in 1946 to form Faith United Church of Christ in Brainerd – preceding the merger of their parent denominations by about 10 years!

Over the following few decades, both Pilgrim and Faith grew and flourished both in numbers and in community spirit and outreach, supporting missionary programs abroad and involving themselves deeply in their own back yards. Both churches were “happening places,” burgeoning with children and youth and activities that kept them busy from morning to night.

In the late 1960s, the move to the suburbs was on, and so, in 1969, the stage was set for Pilgrim and Faith to merge, a union which began the following year and has continued to this day.

Today’s Pilgrim Faith UCC is a vibrant community church, with an inter-generational membership of about 400, active in Oak Lawn and denominational affairs. The church stands proudly in its present location, built in 1955, and its towering steeple is a fixture along Oak Lawn’s busy 95th Street. And, as always, the doors to Pilgrim Faith are open to anyone, no matter where you are on life’s journey.

Pilgrim Faith is a busy place! As a “congregational” church, everyone gets a chance to participate in the decision-making and day-to-day operation of the church by means of membership on various boards and committees. At the Annual Meeting every January or February, members are elected to serve on these boards for three-year terms, with each board then choosing its own chairperson. These leaders and selected delegates, other elected officers, the pastor and three at-large delegates become the Church Council , which is headed by the moderator , who is elected by the membership at large. Sounds a bit cumbersome, but it works!

  • The Board of Trustees – The trustees produce the church budget, conduct the finance drive to raise the funds, and spend it to meet the needs of the church and to support its activities. Almost everything pertaining to the upkeep of the building and grounds also falls under their umbrella.
  • The Diaconate — They are responsible for all aspects of the worship service, including its content and format, the communion service, ushering, greeting, providing altar flowers and a million other things that come together to make a meaningful and smooth-flowing Sunday morning experience. Together with the church clerk, they also maintain the membership rolls, accepting new members, and, when necessary, transferring or removing existing members.
  • Christian Education Board – Together with the Director of Christian Education, they organize the Sunday School and recruit teachers, provide the curriculum, and plan special events such as the Christmas program. The board also oversees adult Christian education, the elementary, junior high and senior high groups, as well as Vacation Bible School. See the Christian Education section [link] for more information.
  • Music Board – All things musical are the purview of this board, including organizing the choirs and hiring a director and organist. It is responsible for providing music through the singing groups, bell choir and instrumental music on special occasions. See the Music section [link] for more information.Mission Board – Although this board has a separate budget, it works closely with the Board of Trustees to fund our various mission projects, both local and those related to the greater UCC. Pilgrim Faith has a strong dedication to helping those in need, both at home and abroad, and has always been among the top churches in supporting United Church of Christ causes through its giving to the appropriate denominational agencies. See the Missions page for more information.


There are many other ways for individual members to serve and be an active part of this church. Without their volunteer service the Board of Trustees would need to provide many extra dollars just to keep the church in operation, reducing our opportunities for helping others or mounting innovative new programs for our own members. Serving God and the Church “is a big job, but someone’s got to do it”.

Fortunately, we do it with great joy!

needlepointOn June 17, 1979, Pilgrim Faith Church dedicated a very special work or art. Called “A Labor of Love”, it is a nine-panel needlepoint picture, executed by nine very special women of the church, and now hangs proudly on the north wall of the sanctuary. It was designed to commemorate the merger, ten years earlier, of Pilgrim Church of Oak Lawn with Faith United Church of Chicago, and show how magnificently that merger had worked.

The designs were laid out by Kathy Noteboom, and then the needlepointers went to work. It took them a summer and a half to complete the nine panels which make up the entire work. Blocking, stretching, framing and mounting were done mostly by Emerson Cordes, and the cost of the project was underwritten by the Women’s Guild. But the tedious work of stitching (with, no doubt, many needle-pricked fingers) was the gift of Bette Cordes and her co-workers.

01-merger“The Merger”

This central panel states the theme for the entire work. The tree represents the living, growing organization that is Pilgrim Faith Church, reaching out in all directions. The four main roots symbolize the main roots of our common heritages: Congregational, Christian, Evangelical, and Reformed Churches. The panel was done by Bette Cordes.


The panel mounted in the upper left of the work depicts the many and varied activities of our young people. From arts and crafts, music and dance, to kite flying, and to the many mountains to climb in their future — these are shown in the work, executed by Lois Sim.


03-caring“Caring and Sharing in our Community”

The ship, with its sail unfurled, symbolizes the outreach of our congregation into the local community, represented by the structures in the background. Our mission to the community is evidenced in many ways, and the love that goes with it is comes from our collective hearts. Gloria Fieldman did the stitching.


The panel mounted in the upper right includes the traditional symbols of grapes and bread to denote the importance of the Sacrament of Holy Communion in our corporate life. The dove, descending from above, shows God’s peace coming down to us. Stitched by Florence Richardson.


The center left panel’s trumpets and candles shout forth the pleasure we find in all manner of life’s celebrations. Singing, music, art, worship, dance, caring and sharing all go into the joy of celebration for us at Pilgrim Faith Church. Work executed by June Stancik.

06-community“Our Christian Community”

The panel mounted center right shows our steeple aspiring toward God, while the clasped hands represent our members, supporting each other in Christ’s love. Needlepointing by Vera Dale.


07-mission“World Mission”

The blues and greens of this peaceful world and the green branches indicate our church’s desire to take the message of Christ’s love into the whole world, and our growing concern with feeding the hungry and improving the quality of life everywhere on our planet. Done by Doris Raap.


The central panel in the bottom row, with the open Bible in the center indicates the position that the Scriptures play in our Protestant tradition. The cross and the praying figures confirm our feeling that prayer is a necessity in the lives of people everywhere. Needlepointing by Betty Hoyd.

09-education“Christian Education”

The rightmost panel in the bottom row combines the traditional lamp of learning with the Chi Rho symbol to indicate our concern with Christian Education for everyone from toddlers to adults. Worked by Maureen Oftedahl.