A minister lives close to god in a towering church steeple | Space | Chicago Reader

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A minister lives close to god in a towering church steeple

From his residence in the Chicago Temple steeple, Reverend Philip Blackwell gets breathtaking skyline views.



Inside the Gothic steeple of the Chicago Temple, which boasts the world's tallest church spire soaring 568 feet above the corner of Washington and Clark, Philip Blackwell lives happily with his wife, Sally. The sky-high parsonage is just one of the perks of being the Loop Methodist congregation's senior minister.

"My commute to work is straight downhill on an elevator," Blackwell said during a recent tour. "Takes about 40 seconds." The main sanctuary is at ground level. "So I usually say I live above the shop," the genial, silver-haired reverend says. "My dad was born in England to a drapery family who lived above the shop. So I'm carrying on the tradition."

Looking out the windows of the octagonal steeple and off the edges of the patio on the east side, Blackwell gets a panorama of the downtown skyline. From his dining room table he has a bird's-eye view of City Hall's rooftop garden. The living room furniture is mostly passed down from Sally's parents, who acquired the pieces in Ohio Amish country from a craftsman working in the Danish modern style. "Much better than the furnishings I brought out of seminary!" Blackwell says.

Every 15 minutes, "Westminster Quarters" rings from speakers attached to the building. "You don't have to wear a watch up here," Blackwell says with a chuckle. The tower above his residence, accessible via a cramped private elevator, used to contain bells before it was converted into the stained-glass-covered Sky Chapel in 1952 as a gift from the Walgreen family in memory of the drugstore chain's founder, Charles.

After 45 years in the ministry (13 of them at the Chicago Temple), Blackwell will retire on June 30. The 70-year-old and his wife are moving to a cabin off of a lake in Wisconsin. The reverend says he'll miss the view, yes, but also the energy of living in the middle of Chicago. "Up here, I feel called to pay attention to the city," he says. "I'm not above it."

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