First United Methodist Church of Elgin has been proudly celebrating its 175th anniversary this year -- a milestone that puts it in rather elite company among Fox Valley churches. It is an occasion organizers have used to reflect on the church's proud past, and also to showcase the current vitality which they say leaves it well poised for a long future.
According to church records and early newspaper accounts, the church's roots can be traced to what is probably Elgin's first sermon which was one preached by a Methodist minister in 1835. The following summer, the Rev. William Royal, a Methodist circuit rider, "established an appointment and formed a class" near Hoosier Grove four miles west of Elgin.
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What: First United Methodist Church of Elgin's 175th anniversary service
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: 216 E. Highland Ave.
Info: (847) 741-0038.
Church records indicate the individuals who were part of this group formed the nucleus for the Elgin congregation. They included Joseph and Mrs. Russell, Joseph Russell Jr., George Hammers, Rebecca Hammers and Elizabeth Hammers.
In 1837, the Rev. Washington Wilcox was appointed the head of the "Elgin Circuit" -- a shared position that in effect made him the first pastor of the First United Methodist Church.
"It was these circuit riders or itinerant pastors that laid the groundwork for the early Methodist churches in the area," noted Carleton Rogers Jr., son of the church's longtime pastor. "A circuit rider is a prominent part of our church's 175th logo."
In its early days, the congregation met in individual homes as well as tent gatherings. In 1838 -- only three years after Elgin's founding -- the congregation constructed a small wooden structure on the northwest corner of Highland and Center streets. Located on the same site as the church's current building, this 24-foot-by-32- foot structure was known as the "Buttermilk Church" -- a name it was given because it was painted with buttermilk.
By the late 1840s, the congregation had grown so large members sat outside and listened to the service from their wagons. To meet the needs of the growing congregation, a new church, "Centenary Church," -- so named for the 100th anniversary of Methodism in the United States -- was erected in 1864.
The new two-steepled church cost $30,000. By the turn of the century, membership was nearing 500, and 10 years later topped 800. It was evident a new structure would eventually be needed.
In 1923 the congregation demolished its second edifice and embarked on plans to build its new structure at the current site. Church records say this new building was considered one of the most beautiful in Illinois and cost more than $355,000. It contained more than 100 rooms -- a number that members say has now been reduced because of the combining of some rooms.
The church also boasted an impressive Austin pipe organ. This instrument has been upgraded to become totally digital and includes a state-of-the-art MIDI system.
The new edifice was originally planned to have a brick exterior, but member David C. Cook, head of the world renowned D.C. Cook Publishing Co., agreed to pay the cost to upgrade to Bedford Limestone. This was not the first time that Cook had paid for church construction costs. In 1916, he underwrote the expense of a Sunday school addition to the previous building.
The 1950s brought many changes for First United Methodist Church. Carleton Rogers, who would remain as the pastor for the next 34 years, came on board while the church's first radio broadcast of a Sunday service began. This is an outreach program that continues today.
The church also became a home for "The Storm Cellar" -- a popular destination in the church's commodious basement for teens in the 1950s and 1960s. In the years ahead, the church also launched the popular Mistletoe Mart -- an annual sale of crafts, baked goods, and a luncheon serving as a kickoff to the holiday season.
First United Methodist Church continues its service to the community by serving as a meeting place for groups and organizations, according to church publications.
First United Methodist Church began its 175th anniversary celebration with an Interfaith Service earlier in the year. On Nov. 3, 2012 there will be "Celebration Market" reminiscent of the Mistletoe Mart.
The church will hold a 175th anniversary service at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, featuring greetings from the Elgin district superintendent the Rev. Oscar Carrasco, the Cathedral Choir, and remarks by Elgin Mayor David Kaptain.
"The Early Days," a special message from the Rev. Washington Wilcox, the first appointed preacher, will take the audience back in time to the church's beginnings.
"First United Methodist is proud to be one of the most historic and well known sites in Elgin ... and celebrate this anniversary," said Carleton Rogers of the planning committee. For more information, visit fumcelgin.org or call (847) 741-0038.