Batavia church proud of its 175-year history

Updated 3/1/2011 5:13 PM

In 1835, when villages were beginning to dot the Illinois prairie and the U.S. public debt dipped to naught for the only time in history, a small band of worshipers met in a log cabin near Aurora.

Five families gathered that hot August day, birthing a church that has persisted long past the prairie and a zero national debt.


This is the 175th year for the Congregational Church of Batavia, which just may be the oldest church around.

"We argue that it's the first church in Kane County," said Leigh Tracy, who serves on the church's Heritage Ministry Team. "There's some controversy."

That's because another church, Big Woods Congregational, Naperville, also traces its roots back to Thompson Paxton's cabin.

When the pioneer families moved on, they moved in different directions, and the group that became Big Woods eventually was planted in DuPage County.

"I think it's fair to say that our church and the Big Woods congregation were the first church in Kane County," Tracy said. "We kid them all the time. Which is the mother church and which is the sister? But we really share the honor."

The Batavians celebrated the anniversary with special services on Aug. 8. They'll party again this Sunday, Sept. 12, at both the 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. services and at a banquet that evening at Fox Valley Country Club, North Aurora.

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The church's three- and four-generational families - about 25 on the roster - will be recognized on Sunday morning. But the theme, "Unto All Generations," is a double-entendre, said longtime Pastor David Foxgrover.

"The phrase also refers to our calling to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed 'unto all generations,'" he said, "to every age group, for as long as God desires."

Tracy compiled a list of the church's marriages, baptisms, confirmations, and funerals over the past 25 years, identified about 75 quarter-century members - including himself - and updated the church history from the 150th anniversary in 1985. The new history will be distributed at the banquet.

Congregational Church of Batavia still meets at 21 S. Batavia Ave. in the magnificent, New England-style building constructed in 1856, although it, too, has been updated a few times. What hasn't changed is its calling.


"The people who founded this church were committed to proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus, and that is our calling as well," Foxgrover said. "Our focus is not 'our church,' but following Christ. As long as we do that, God will continue to use us."

House of Prayer: Did you know there's a local, interdenominational ministry praying regularly for the City of Elgin?

People who love to pray come together at Elgin House of Prayer to ask for God's blessing on area pastors, policemen, and school principals. They intercede for gang members and against violence, for the homeless, for children, for government officials and others in the Fox Valley, the nation, and the world.

Prayer and worship are lifted up 30 hours a week during the summer, 40 at other times of year. But founder and executive director Sheila Straka has always seen this as a 24/7 ministry and believes that day is still to come.

"We are working to establish as much prayer as possible for the City of Elgin," Straka said. "We want to be a corporate prayer place where the whole body (all Christians) can come together."

Elgin House of Prayer is one arm of Light & Life Ministries, which also runs a dance academy and a training center where people can learn, for example, how to pray more effectively or become better prayer leaders.

Straka said the EHOP staff and prayer volunteers don't want to compete with Christian churches but support them instead.

One Elgin clergyman who sees House of Prayer as a blessing to the community is Pastor Mark Ahrens of New Covenant Fellowship. Ahrens leads worship at EHOP for an hour every Friday morning with a guitar in his hands and family by his side.

His sons David, 14, and Titus, 12, are able musicians on guitar and drums, and granddaughter Jessica Patrick, 8, helps with vocals.

Ahrens appreciates EHOP because "it's one of the few places that Christians from various church backgrounds can come together and pray for the city at large," he said.

"You walk in the door and you're no longer a Methodist or a Baptist or a Pentecostal," Ahrens said. "I'm particularly fond of that 'let's-get-beyond-the-nametag and pray together.'"

EHOP is located at 270 E. Chicago St. in The Eagle's Nest, a name given to the historic building by its owner, Family Life Church, to reflect the variety of tenant ministries making their home there.

"Prayer can be enjoyable," Straka said. "God said that his house of prayer, there would be joy in his house. Sometimes people think of prayer as being dull and a burden.

"We don't."

Rummage sale: Those faithful volunteers at Fox Valley Presbyterian Church, 227 East Side Dr., Geneva, will host their 15th annual rummage Sale this weekend from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, Sept. 10, and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Sept. 11.

I've not attended, but this event reputedly is a large one, with sale items organized in several different rooms. Proceeds will benefit Living Waters for the World and help provide a clean-water system for a school in Guatemala.

Clean up: Speaking of clean water, the community is welcome to join Immanuel Lutheran Church of East Dundee in picking up trash along the Fox River's east bank this Saturday morning, Sept. 11.

Volunteers are invited to gather for a continental breakfast at 7:30 a.m. in the church parking lot, corner of Rt. 72 and Van Buren St., before heading to the river for the two-hour project. Interested? Call the church office at (847) 428-4477.

Comings and goings: Welcome to Joe Janda, a recent graduate of Concordia University in Mequon, Wis., who was recently installed as lay minister at Trinity Lutheran Church of Huntley.

And best wishes to the Rev. Joseph F. Kulak, who has retired from Elgin's St. Laurence Church after 15 years in the pulpit.

• "In the Spirit" covers churches and synagogues in the Fox Valley area; contact to submit information or ideas for upcoming columns.