Throughout most of the 1800s, American Protestants emphasized the importance of individual faith and action. In the 1880s, however, the social gospel movement gained momentum. According to this new ideology, all humanity formed one living being, a social organism. This movement led Protestants to emphasize communal over individual salvation.
Emblematic of the social gospel movement is Hull House, a settlement house founded by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Star on the Near West Side of Chicago in 1889. Mission churches like Erie House's own Holland Presbyterian Church were also in line with this movement. While settlement houses sought to remove distinction between faiths, practicing what Addams referred to as ‘Christian humanitarianism', mission churches considered Sunday services an important aspect in their work.
In 1870, Reverend Emanuel Van Orden founded the Holland Presbyterian Church at the corner of Erie and Noble Streets on Chicago's Near West Side. Dutch and Scandinavian immigrants at this church struggled with a new language, a new city, and dirty, crowded living conditions. With services in different languages and social groups that created community, many found a sanctuary in the "Little Dutch Church."
While several congregations maintained an interest in the activities of this small church, the Third Presbyterian Church of Chicago formally adopted the mission in 1882. Located at the intersection of Ashland and Ogden Avenues, just blocks away from the Holland Presbyterian, the congregants of the Third Presbyterian generally lived in much better conditions than the people of West Town. Many contributed time and effort to the mission church, which provided the community with food, clothing and education programs.
Erie Chapel stands at what is now 1347 W. Erie St., occupying the same space as the current Erie Neighborhood House.
Challenged by the small space and the growing need for its programs, in 1886, the mission church was renamed Erie Chapel and moved to the new site, 1347 W. Erie Street, the current location of Erie Neighborhood House. This new building allowed room for more activities, including the Erie Kindergarten, which opened in 1893.
In the early 1900s, tens of thousands of immigrants, primarily Italian Catholics, streamed into West Town. As these new immigrants sought affordable housing and employment, many members of the older immigrant groups moved out of the community. Facing a declining congregation, the Third Presbyterian Church closed. Instead of dissolving Erie Chapel, however, the Presbytery of Chicago assumed responsibility of the mission church, bringing its vast network of support to the small organization.
Chicago's Presbyterian community included some of the city's wealthiest and most influential residents. Many were politicians and business owners, who, moved by the idea of communal salvation, shared their resources with Erie Chapel via the Presbytery of Chicago.