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175th Anniversary of First United Methodist Church, Elgin

175th Anniversary First church of Elgin - Forward In Faith

175th Anniversary First church of Elgin - Forward In Faith

175th Anniversary of First United Methodist Church
Past through Present
It is one of the most historic and well-known sites in Elgin. Atop Holy Hill, the First United Methodist Church on Highland Avenue has become a landmark in this city’s rich history, its intricate iron steeple rising high above the Elgin skyline. This year, First United Methodist Church will celebrate 175 years as a congregation.

A year-long celebration is planned that will include events that bring the church back to its early roots. To begin the anniversary observance, First Church will hold an Interfaith Service on February 19th at 11:00 am. Guest speakers will include Reverend Olin Sletto, from Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Father Geoffrey Wirth, from St. Thomas More Catholic Church, Rabbi Jonathan Kohn, from Congregational Kneseth Israel, as well as welcoming remarks from David Kaptain, mayor of Elgin. Music will be provided by First Church’s Cathedral Choir and Celebration Ringers. A fellowship reception and refreshments will follow the service.

On March 14th at 6:00 pm, the church will hold a Lenten program and pot luck supper. Both this and the Interfaith Service mark a visit to the past as both events were a long-standing tradition at First Church and in the community.
In terms of tradition, First Church’s history goes back as far as the city itself. While the Giffords were making their home along the banks of the Fox River, traveling Methodist preachers, known as Circuit Riders, were making their way into the area to start up religious classes in this newly developing area. A circuit was the geographical area that a particular preacher covered, and due to rapidly increasing membership, it wasn’t long before the Fox Valley had a circuit of its own.
On December 12, 1836, the first Methodist sermon was preached in Elgin by Reverend Washington Wilcox. Several months later, in 1837, Reverend Wilcox was officially appointed as the head of the Elgin Circuit and thereby became the first minister of First United Methodist Church.

In the early days groups gathered at member’s homes or in tents, but by 1839, membership had grown to the point that a building of worship was clearly needed. On the site of the current church, a 24×32 foot structure was built, known as “The Buttermilk Church” due to the fact that the building was painted with buttermilk.

However, it wasn’t long before this structure was unable to meet the growing demand. In 1849, the congregation had grown so large that members would surround the church in their wagons and listen to the sermon from outside. In 1864, a larger structure was built, known as the “Centenary Church”, in honor of 100 years of American Methodism. At a cost of $30,000, the church was unlike any that Elgin had previously known, considered by many to be “pretentious and expensive” because of the two large steeples that dominated the landscape.

It was at about this time that a new resident of Elgin had begun attending regular services. While Mr. E.D. Cook enjoyed Sunday worship, he found the choir lacking and suggested that each member pay 25 cents for the privilege of singing in the choir. This enabled enough funds to be raised to hire a suitable choir director and the church flourished further.

By 1920, membership had grown to over 1000, thereby requiring yet another structure to serve its congregation’s needs. The Centenary Church was demolished and a new building was erected on the same site. Originally planned to be built of brick, Dr. David C. Cook suggested that the exterior be made of Bedford stone and agreed to cover the cost differential himself. On November 30, 1924, the building that currently sits at 216 East Highland Avenue was dedicated.

The 1950’s brought many more changes to First Church. In 1950, Carlton C. Rogers accepted an appointment that would last 34 years, making him the longest serving minister in the history of the church. In 1951, the Sunday service was first broadcast on Elgin’s WRMN Radio, a service that continues to this day.
In the years that followed, First Church made another mark in the community with the annual Mistletoe Mart. This collection of crafts, baked good, rummage sale items, and luncheon became an immensely popular tradition in Elgin that almost seemed to kick off the holiday season.

Throughout the years, First Church has been a strong and pivotal part of the Elgin community. The church has served the community and congregation through a Civil War, two World Wars, The Great Depression, fires, tornados, floods, unpredictable economies, and the ever changing face of the community in which it resides. Its congregation includes not only life-long members, but those whose families have been a part of the church of several generations.

Today First Church continues its service to the community by opening its facilities as a meeting place for groups and organizations, participating in the PADS program and food pantries, and hosting weekly Soup Kettle evenings. Its awareness and service to those in need has become an important part of the heart of First Church.

“My wife, Terry, and I have been blessed, and we view these blessings as gifts that should be shared”, states Jeff Benchley, one of the coordinators of First Church’s weekly Soup Kettle Ministry. “ What little we do at coordinating Soup Kettle, combined with the efforts of so many volunteers, provides those in need the opportunity to come to a safe place and have a hot meal. If we succeed in bringing one man or woman closer to God by our example, then we are successful.”

Other events scheduled for the anniversary celebration is a choral concert in April that will include guest choirs, as well as organ concerts in May and September with guest organists performing, including First Church’s former organist Ted Gysan. The official 175th Anniversary service will be held on October 14th at 3:00 pm, followed by a dinner. Past ministers of First Church will be in attendance and the service will be broadcast live on WRMN.

That intricate iron steeple atop Holy Hill represents much history, not only for First Church, but also for the city of Elgin. It represents the forging of a faith that has brought people together, and to Christ, for 175 years. With the appointment of Reverend Robert Sathuri as Senior Pastor this past July, and the addition of pastoral assistant, Fabiola Grandon-Mayer, in November, First Church begins a new chapter in its illustrious history. As the congregation looks forward to the future of First Church, this 175th celebration will serve as a reminder of their past. It is because of those who came before them, because of their faith and service, that it is possible for those today to continue the legacy and missions of the First United Methodist Church in Elgin.

All celebration events are open to the public and all are welcomed to attend. Regular church services are held at 9:00 am on Sundays, followed by children and adult study classes. A short worship service and study classes are also available on Wednesday evenings beginning at 6:00 pm, following a free-will offering dinner served at 5:15 pm. Details can be found on First Church’s website http://www.fumcelgin.org/.

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