Newest Willow Creek campus opens in Huntley

Updated 4/18/2011 2:55 PM

In a season that celebrates life, hope and fresh growth, it's fitting that a new church will open its doors for the first time on Easter Sunday.

If you like to be at services on Easter but don't have a church to call home, maybe you'd like to slip in this weekend at brand-new Willow Creek Huntley.


And for the many Huntley-area residents who've been traveling to Crystal Lake or South Barrington to worship with Willow Creek, this has been a long time coming.

The Huntley High School Performing Arts Center, 13719 Harmony Road, becomes the nondenominational megachurch's seventh campus. Besides the South Barrington property that houses the mother church, as well as Casa de Luz, a Spanish-speaking congregation, Willow Creek Community Church has regional congregations in downtown Chicago, West Chicago, Crystal Lake and Northfield.

And now in Huntley, which launches with the blessing of fantastic name recognition. The Rev. Bill Hybels established Willow Creek in 1975 in a Palatine theater, but that inauspicious start evolved into a 155-acre central campus and a weekly attendance of 23,000, ranking it in the top handful of the largest churches in the country.

Huntley is the first regional campus launched from a sister rather than the mother church, said Dawn Szweda, communications director for Willow Creek McHenry County. The Crystal Lake campus, which has a robust weekly attendance of about 1,200, is providing staff and resources to get Huntley off the ground.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service

"With young families moving into all the new homes, and then Sun City, it's a great demographic," Szweda said.

She said Willow Creek is intentionally aiming to build a multigenerational congregation in Huntley and considers the Sun City retirement community to be "a gift."

But that's not the whole story of why Willow is expanding westward, said the Rev. Marcus Bieschke, interim campus pastor along with the Rev. Dave Smith. Both are on staff at Crystal Lake.

"You might think Willow is coming to Huntley because it's an incredible city along the Golden Corridor that is enjoying incredible growth," Bieschke said. "That's not it. Beyond its great location and growth are thousands of people with fantastic questions about meaning, life and God.

"Willow believes to its core that people matter to God," he said. "So we're eager to provide a safe place where people can authentically wrestle with their deepest questions and begin an adventurous journey of faith."


Like other satellite campuses, Huntley will enjoy contemporary worship with a live band, but sermons will be delivered by videocast. Willow Creek features guest preachers quite often, but for Easter Sunday, Hybels will be in the pulpit.

Services are at 9 and 10:30 a.m. Sunday, April 24, but after this weekend, worship is at 10:30 a.m. only -- for now. Szweda said the early service will be returned if the numbers warrant.

In two pre-launch services already held, the 650-seat auditorium was half-filled, and I'm guessing it won't be long before that 9 a.m. worship is needed.

Stations of the Cross: If your idea of Good Friday involves a Stations of the Cross depiction, as it does for many in the Roman Catholic church worldwide, you have at least two to choose from in the Fox Valley -- one Catholic and one not.

One traditional and one not. One a dramatization; the other, an art exhibit.

"Living Stations of the Cross" will be presented at St. Peter Catholic Church, 1891 Kaneville Road, Geneva, at 7 p.m. Friday, April 22. The tableau-style drama is staged by parishioners portraying characters at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

"In essence, we're all at some different point in our lives those characters that Jesus met (on the road to Golgotha)," said Roxanne Sronkoski, who codirects with Lynn Wilson. "For instance, in the fifth station of the cross, Jesus meets Simon of Cyrene ... after his encounter with Jesus, he was a changed man.

"That's just one of the instances of how each character was changed. We make a decision whether we're going to carry our crosses in our daily lives or whether we turn away."

With music, monologue and narration, the program is based on a meditation titled "Journey of Decision: A Way of the Cross," by Sarah A. O'Malley and Robert D. Eimer. There is no charge for the one-hour presentation.

"It is riveting," said Rama Canney, who said she's been in the audience for Stations of the Cross the past eight years.

"I cannot help but feel deeply the whole purpose of the season of Lent," Canney said. "It kind of culminates in that production for me. I think of my own part in Christ's walk to Calvary, of my own shortcomings. I cry every year, and yet, it's such a simple performance. I'm not exactly sure why it's so powerful, but it is."

At Elgin's Church in the Word, 430 Airport Road, the Redefined Student Ministry will host an art show representing 14 stations of the cross at 7 p.m. Friday, April 22.

A short worship service begins at 8 p.m., with worship music, drama, a video and communion.

"We have a lot of kids in the ministry who are interested in art," said Lex Wisniewski, student ministry leader. "We like to use it as a tool to show them how art has always had a profound effect on the world. We try to teach them and give them opportunities to use their artistic interests to share their faith and share the gospel wherever they have influence."

Junior high and high school students are creating pieces to represent each station. Last year, Wisniewski said, they painted, molded clay, shot photos, wrote a song and built projects.

"The first year, they were like, 'that sounds really cool,' but they didn't grow up Catholic, so they didn't have a paradigm for it," Wisniewski said.

"But they just tried it and ran with it, and it turned out really cool."

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


Get articles sent to your inbox.