It is fitting that the Stained Glass Coffeehouse is situated inside the Congregational Church in Deerfield. During their heyday in the 1950s and '60s, coffeehouses attracted flocks of acolytes who worshiped at the altar of the troubadour and poet. To true believers, they were sacred places.
Blair Hull, church pastor and Stained Glass Coffeehouse founder, is keeping the coffeehouse tradition alive with its monthly concerts featuring mostly folk singers and singer-songwriters. She used to be a professional musician herself, a fixture on the college coffeehouse circuit in the 1970s as part of a duo.
She has been pastor at Congregational Church for 18 years.
Hull was inspired to open Stained Glass Coffeehouse after a 2006 trip to Ireland. A friend there took her to a concert at a church and a performance by the traditional Irish band Sliabh Notes.
"It was no bigger than our church," Hull said. "I said, 'I could do this.'"
Stained Glass Coffeehouse opened in September of 2006 with a concert by Magpie, a folk music duo celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
The coffeehouse requests a donation of $15 per ticket. Most of the money, Hull said, goes to the musicians, and after coffeehouse expenses, the rest supports not-for-profit endeavors such as the Deerfield Food Pantry. The church is has been cultivating a vegetable garden, its harvest donated to the food pantry.
But Stained Glass Coffeehouse, Hull said, is all about the music.
"When I was a performer, it was common for churches to have coffeehouses," she said. "Over the years, we have become a place where the community feels welcome. We go out of our way to be hospitable."
The modest coffeehouse attracts an impressive roster of performers, many of them local but with national followings. Lee Murdock will bring his annual "Christmas Ship" concert to Stained Glass on Nov. 30 at 7 p.m.
A mix of holiday merriment and maritime, the program includes Murdock's signature piece based on the true story of the Great Lakes ships whose final cargo at the end of the lumber season would be Christmas trees and garlands delivered to port cities. One of these schooners, the Rouse Simmons, sank in 1912, but the captain's widow carried on the Christmas tradition.
Murdock has performed his post-Thanksgiving concert every year since 1992. This will be first time he has performed it on the North Shore in more than a decade.
"It's a good sounding room," Murdock said in a phone interview. "The people who work there are just so excited about the music, and that makes the folk singer feel important and worthy. There is a timeless feel (to the coffeehouse). It's a space that evokes an otherness like the (now shuttered Chicago clubs) Earl of Old Town and Quiet Knight. They were like little worlds of their own."
On Dec. 14, Stained Glass will present a holiday concert starring Small Potatoes, the Chicago-based folk duo of Jacquie Manning and Rich Prezioso.
Jan. 14 will bring the incomparable Megon McDonough. Another Chicago music icon, singer-songwriter Michael Smith, whose classic "The Dutchman" became one of Steve Goodman's signature songs, will follow on Feb. 22.
Recently, the Stained Glass Coffeehouse hosted a concert that was featured on fine arts music station WFMT's venerable concert series, "Folkstage."
"We have a good reputation for being a musician's venue," Hull said. "I've been through this myself so I know what it's like to want to sing to people who want to hear the music. There is no talking."
As a venue for American roots music, the Stained Glass Coffeehouse is carrying on the legacy of folk clubs and coffeehouses that, like the drive-in movie theater, were once plentiful but are now inexorably dwindling in numbers.
"It's hard being a musician," Hull said. "It's hard to make a living, but they still do it. Stained Glass is providing a whole community for people to hear and be about the music. I'm very proud of the coffeehouse and what it has become. It's actually more than I could have imagined."
Stained Glass Coffeehouse is located at 225 Wilmot Road. For more information, call 224-558-9022.
Is your house of worship observing a milestone event? Are there congregants who have done something worthy of recognition? Is there a special program your congregation is hosting that can be shared with the community? Send your Local Faith news and suggestions for this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.