A private tour of Ravenswood Fellowship United Methodist Church involving many wooden beams, a fan-shaped organ, and a sobering discussion of internment camps

Earlier today an errand brought us to Ravenswood, on Chicago’s North Side, and since I’m the sort of lady who carries a copy of AIA Guide to Chicago in her backpack, HOB and I found ourselves ogling architecture in this pleasing, European-feeling community.


Here’s a tip, useful for travelling at home and abroad: visit off-the-beaten-path destinations and walk slowly around them, looking curious (extra points for carrying a guidebook.)  There’s a good chance you’ll catch the attention of a local who’ll be bursting with pride to show you around.  This is precisely what happened this morning at Ravenswood Fellowship United Methodist Church.   “Can we answer any questions about the church?” a lovely couple interrupted their weed-pulling chores to ask us.  And soon enough the doors were unlocked and the man, Mr. M, was giving us a private tour.


Ah—the interior—an 1890’s delight of mixed, but somehow companionable, styles.


The church’s ceiling is crisscrossed with an English Gothic-wooden timbers.


The decorative timber trusses are carved or painted.


“When I first saw the organ, I knew it was fate that brought us to the church” explained Mr. M.  “It looks just like a Japanese fan!”

Mr. M told us a bit of the church’s history while we admired it’s beautiful arch-enclosed organ.  The present church is a merger of two formerly separate congregations; the previously existing Ravenswood UMC and another North Side congregation of Japanese-Americans who had moved to Chicago post WWII after being forced to live in internment camps.


Mrs. M told us the windows were designed by Healy & Millet, whose glass artistry many of us Chicagoans cherish inside the Chicago Cultural Center.  The windows, along with some of the decorative exterior details, such as the arches over the doors, have a Louis Sullivan vibe.


I was charmed by the flame-hand carvings on the sides of the pews.


The church is celebrating it’s 125th anniversary this weekend and is certainly in tip-top shape to observe this milestone.

Once outside the church we continued to chat with Mr. and Mrs. M while they trimmed the hedges.  The M’s matter-of-fact accounts of confinement in Japanese interment camps during WWII were equal parts sobering and commendable.  Somehow, neither of them seem to hold a grudge against those who forced them, documented U.S. citizens, to lose their home and farms and to live as prisoners despite having committed no crime.  Mrs. M explained that she had a strong family, and that her parents shielded their children from psychological harm by pretending they were in sort of long term YMCA camping retreat.  Mr. M claimed to be grateful that the camps removed him from a life a agriculture, bringing him to Chicago where eventually he studied dentistry on the GI bill.  (Just consider this: the man was forced into imprisonment for being of Japanese decent and then went on to serve his country in the military!)

That’s the thing about traveling at home—you’re not going to be discovering Chartres Cathedral, but stand around looking curious and you just may find yourself charmed by friendly neighbors who want to flaunt their beautiful architecture and tell you surprising histories of their building that you never would have guessed had you just rushed by about your business, eyes glued to a smart phone.


How we got to Ravenswood Fellowship United Methodist Church: on foot

Where we slept: at home.  Price: mortgage, assessments and utilities.  Recommended: highly.





  1. I’m glad you cover local tourism and shared this lovely church with us. Your conversation with Mr. and Mrs. M. sounds like it was a worthwhile experience. Have you ever read Guterson’s “Snow Falling on Cedars”? It’s an amazing book that contains heartbreaking accounts of what many Japanese-Americans may have suffered during World War II. Recommended: highly.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Cheryl–I have read “Snow Falling on Cedars” and it truly is heartbreaking and actually quite enraging. It’s admirable that this couple were so accepting—I’d still be nursing a giant grudge!


  2. You’re so right about looking off the beaten track…and how people are keen to show your their local treasures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been known to sweet-talk a nun info unlocking secret staircases to hidden medieval frescoes.


      1. Speaking of nuns unlocking staircases, there was a particular church in Rome, I think Trastavere, where I wanted to see frescoes or something in a choir loft, and I was on the lookout for a nun. But the building was closed. Going back in December–if I can remember, maybe I’ll try again.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Was it Santa Cecelia in Trastevere, Claudia? There are some remarkable Cavallini frescoes in there.

    I’m so jealous that you’re going to Rome this winter–I’ll look forward to your posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reminding me! Yes, I’m sure it was St. Cecilia. I seem to remember reading about this church and its frescoes somewhere, maybe in Rick Steve’s. So far I just have plane tickets and places to stay–now to make plans. Rome, Assisi and Florence.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oooh–lots of great art to see on your trip!


  4. Betty Morita AKA "Mrs. M" · · Reply

    One year later and someone has just sent me the link to your Blog re.: Ravenswood Fellowship United Methodist Church. Just wanted to thank you for your kind and gracious words and photos of our beloved RFUMC. As for the JA internment, it was nothing like the Nazi holocaust . We are American citizens, there is no other country in the world where we would have the same freedoms, opportunities and privileges. Our faith preaches forgiveness and we have done so and made the most out of all the freedoms, opportunities and privieges we have inherited. Best wishes. Mrs. M

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment Mrs. M! I hope you and Mr. M are well and celebrating the 126th anniversary of your beautiful church. All the best, WOB


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