The man in the skyscraper church

Sky Chapel

By Alyk Russell Kenlan
Medill Reports

“An unexpected raise! #blessed,” the Rev. Dr. Myron McCoy, 64, told his congregation during a recent service. “You don’t want one?” he teased.  From the tallest church in the world, he delivers messages of inclusivity and diversity every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.

The pastor’s journey to the 23-story Chicago Temple started almost two centuries ago, when his ancestors founded a Methodist church in Maryland. He grew up in New Jersey and spent many of his boyhood summers around that church. “One part of my family, even in the 1800s, was free,” McCoy said. Influenced by his ancestral legacy, McCoy has wanted to be a preacher as long as he can remember.

In January, the Methodist Church announced it is will be splitting into separate conservative and progressive denominations. Primarily over its position on gay marriage. McCoy, who has opposed policies that exclude any identity, described it as an “amiable divorce.” He said he hopes his parish can expand as a center of inclusion and diversity.

McCoy has been the Chicago Temple’s senior pastor for six years. (Courtesy of the Chicago Temple)

Although Methodist themselves, McCoy’s parents did not encourage him to be a preacher. “My parents were looking at doctors and lawyers and growing up to make money,” he said. Initially, his mom and dad won out. McCoy received a bachelor’s degree in government from Ohio Wesleyan University. Then he moved to Chicago to work as a manager at Ryerson Steel and to take MBA classes in the evenings.

During that time in his early 20s he started teaching Sunday school and became associate pastor for St. Mark’s church on the Southside of Chicago. “I found a church home,” McCoy said. “I discovered [church work] actually being more my call than what I was doing.” He left the corporate world to attend Garrett Seminary at Northwestern University.

A painting of a dark-skinned Jesus surrounded by people of many ethnicities hung in McCoy’s office. “I had a concept of Jesus being a little darker hue, but with all the children of the world,” McCoy said. “When communion is served, the variety of people amazes me.” From his African-styled robe to his congregation and striped socks, the pastor has lived a colorful life.

The painting was a gift from McCoy’s father-in-law. (ARK/MEDILL)

An Apple Watch peeked out from McCoy’s shirt cuff. At home, he used Facebook’s video calling product, Portal, to stay in touch with his three adult children. The reverend defied the idea that church is an overly traditional vestige, separate from the modern world of tech giants and big data. McCoy is a tech-savvy preacher — he opened sermon in February, titled #blessed, with a full history of the hashtag.

McCoy’s coworkers describe him as astute. Jonnie Miklos, 67, the administrator for the Chicago Temple since 2012, said she adores working with him. “He knows if you’ve had a haircut, he knows if you’ve stayed out too late,” she said. “He has a capacity to remember last year or two years ago to this day, and couples all of that with good humor.”

McCoy only hesitated when asked about his free time. “That’s a concern,” he said. He spent much of his career facing sort of adversity — being younger than his peers, financial struggle in his church — and had to work more to compensate. Spending time with his wife and three kids is important, but there was not much time for personal enjoyment. “I would go with [my family] to the movies, but I’d sleep in the movies.”

The pastor expects that the Chicago Temple is his final stop before retirement. “I can’t rest on any laurels because the world is changing so fast — we have to be open to reinvent ourselves in order to continue living.” McCoy doesn’t expect to retire anytime soon. Though he has many accomplishments already, he couldn’t identify one he found most meaningful. “I don’t think God is through with me yet,” he said. “So I don’t want to put my finger on it.”

Photo at top: The chapel at the top of the building’s spire. Free tours are available Tuesday through Saturday (Courtesy of the Chicago Temple)