Who We Are
Hyde Park Union Church has a long and distinguished history. The church was organized as the First Baptist Church of Hyde Park in 1874. The founding of the University of Chicago sparked a period of rapid growth in the church as President William Rainey Harper and a long list of early faculty figures joined and took prominent roles in the congregation. In 1904 the church renamed itself Hyde Park Baptist Church and dedicated its current sanctuary in 1906.
In the first half of the twentieth century, during the pastorates of three beloved ministers (Charles Gilkey, Rolland Schloerb, and Norris Tibbetts), Hyde Park Baptist was a leading center of liberal Christianity. In these years the central problems confronting Protestant Christianity involved reconciling traditional Biblical and theological teachings with historical-critical scholarship and defining a moral position for the church that would confront the emerging world problems of modernity. Hyde Park Baptist encouraged greater flexibility in doctrine, increased emphasis on the practical teachings of Jesus, and commitment to the social gospel. Emblematic of this spirit in our church was the decision in 1926 to receive all serious Christians into membership without regard for mode of baptism or other tests of belief.
Christianity faced new challenges in the second half of the twentieth century. The university community of Hyde Park became increasingly and resolutely secular. Many in American culture – including both religious conservatives and secular liberals – asserted that biblical faith was incompatible with progressive social conscience. This tension became especially strong in the 1960s. Our church resisted this false dichotomy and chose to maintain a traditionally biblical ministry alongside its commitment to social justice. In fact, it has long been our position that biblical faith demands this commitment. All of our pastors since 1958, have combined biblical preaching with social activism. In 1963, the church affiliated with the United Church of Christ and changed its name to Hyde Park Union Church.
Under the direction of our current pastor Susan B.W. Johnson (1985-present), we continue to serve as a “teaching congregation” for area seminary students and the University of Chicago, we develop new pastors through our participation in the Lilly Endowment’s Transition into Ministry program, and we take seriously the call to love God and neighbor. We serve our south side urban community through financial management of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Hunger Programs, our work with the Food Pantry and the Hyde Park Transitional Housing Project, our Gilead Ministry at Jackson Park Hospital, and our anti-violence ministry Urban Dolorosa and partnership with Chicago Survivors.
We are affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ. We recognize and practice both infant baptism and believer's baptism. Parents may request baptism or dedication for their infants and young children.