Organized religion plays a major role in the culture of our Northern Illinois/Southern Wisconsin region. We enjoy highlighting places of worship, one in the country and one in the city, in each issue.
“Religion is to do right. It is to love, it is to serve, it is to think, it is to be humble.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Country Church: St. Augustine Church
Est. 1844 • County Highway W, New Diggings, Wis., (608) 744-3438, (608) 854-2396
In 1830, newly ordained Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, a 23-year-old Italian immigrant, was sent to minister to pioneers in the untamed Midwest, in an area stretching from west of Lake Huron to the Mississippi River.
Mazzuchelli came to Wisconsin in 1835, and by the time he arrived in New Diggings in 1844, he had already founded St. Raphael’s in Dubuque, Iowa, St. Michael’s in Galena, Ill., and St. Matthew’s in Shullsburg, Wis., among others. In all, Mazzuchelli founded 36 parishes in the tri-state area, designing and building 24 of their churches in the process.
St. Augustine, Wisconsin’s oldest wooden church, is the only one of the 24 that remains exactly as Mazzuchelli constructed it. “There are no additions or changes at all, to the footprint or structure,” says George W. Burns, a member of The Mazzuchelli Assembly 4th Degree Knights of Columbus. In 2007, that group began a $500,000 restoration of the structure, with funds raised from private donations. It was completed in 2010.
When the church was first built, the 1×8 exterior planks were scored to mimic stone. When they were painted, sand was added, to create a stone-like texture, in a process called rustification. That process was replicated for the restoration, using the original planks.
On the interior, four layers of carpeting were removed and an exact replica laid of the carpet installed by Mazzuchelli. In his living quarters, three layers of wallpaper were removed, and a replica of the original wallpaper put up.
The Mazzuchelli Assembly 4th Degree Knights of Columbus further preserve the legacy of their namesake, by opening and staffing the church every Sunday, May 31 through Sept. 31, from 1 to 4 p.m., to give tours and tell the story of this dynamo pioneer missionary. Tours also can be arranged by appointment. ❚
City Church: Rockford First
Est. 1834 • 5950 Spring Creek Road, Rockford Ill. • (815) 877-8000
The clerk at the information center in the main lobby of this multi-media megachurch can direct visitors to any of a host of offerings under one roof. Stuart’s Coffee Company is an in-house café offering gourmet beverages and pastries; Stuart’s Coffee and Books has resources on a variety of topics. Interactive kiosks allow individuals to join any of dozens of “Life Groups” – weekly Bible-study gatherings based on commonalities such as family size, age or gender.
The church provides activities and spiritual exploration for every age group. During Sunday services, AkolooLand is preschool chapel for children age birth through kindergarten, and KidsLife is geared for grades first through fifth. During the week, specific gatherings and events are provided, in separate venues, for kids in junior high and high school and young adults ages 18-30.
The church began as First Assembly of God, in 1935, at 804 N. 2nd St. A larger building, accommodating 1,200, was constructed at the current location in 1971, and it opened Christian Life Schools in 1973 as well as Christian Life Retirement Center in 1981. In 1986, a building expansion brought the seating up to 3,650. The church owned WQFL Christian radio station for 30 years and sold it in 2009.
Today, Pastor Jeremy Deweerdt leads the Main Sunday service at 10:30 a.m., with attendance averaging 2,000 each week. A mid-week service for senior adults is held each Wednesday at 11 a.m. Additionally, Rockford First televises Deweerdt’s teachings on all three local television stations, two local radio stations and through podcasts. ❚