Organized religion played a major role in the settling of Illinois and continues to influence the culture of our region. Discover places of worship, one in the country and one in the city.
“ … No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus.
His personality pulsates in ever word. No myth is filled with such life.” — Albert Einstein
Country Church: Willow Creek Presbyterian Church • Est. 1842
7300 Belvidere Road, Harlem Township, Ill. (815) 885-3455
The Scottish settlers who founded Willow Creek Presbyterian Church came from the Kintyre peninsula of Argylshire, Scotland. John Greenlee arrived in 1836 and, by 1841, 17 families who were formerly his Scottish neighbors, joined him. At first, they worshipped together in a multi-purpose log building.
In 1849, a brick building replaced the log church. By 1858, a frame addition was added and, in 1877, the present building was erected at a cost of about $12,600.
In the early days, musical instruments were kept out of the church; hymns were sung under the leadership of a “precentor,” who set the pitch and “lined out” the hymn.
Also in the early days, the Lord’s Supper was a closely guarded ritual. Before partaking, one had to meet with the Session; if found qualified, one was given a token to exchange for the elements.
Originally, the church was financed by pew rents, until the Presbytery insisted on changing to a pledge system in the 1900s. Ongoing resistance to receiving an offering for the worldly matter of supporting the church led to a tradition of using velvet bags on the end of poles to collect four offering envelopes per year. The congregation’s offering sticks are now in the church at Midway Village Museum.
Today, members of Scottish descent are outnumbered by people whose roots are elsewhere. The congregation is led by the Rev. Judith March Hardie. Sunday services are at 9 a.m., with worship services at 10:30 a.m.
City Church: Maywood Evangelical Free Church • Est. 1952
3621 Samuelson Road, Rockford, Ill. (815) 874-6806
The roots of this church stretch back to World War 2, when war-related factory workers lived in affordable housing at the corner of Harrison Avenue and 20th Street, called the Victory Homes.
Two men from First Evangelical Free Church, the Rev. Elmer Johnson and Gunnar Johnson, conducted tent revival meetings to reach these young working families with the gospel.
In 1952, First Evangelical Free voted to construct a chapel on land donated by Marvin Palmquist and Nils Olson at Pershing Road and 16th Street, an area called Silver Hill, which overlooks southeast Rockford. By 1956, the church was organized as the Silver Hill Evangelical Free Church.
By 1973, church growth was stagnant and the congregation was faced with two options: close or merge with Alpine Evangelical Free Church on East State Street. Instead, member Don Wernberg offered the church five acres of land off Samuelson Road that his father had set aside to one day build an Evangelical Free Church. The Silver Hill church and parsonage were sold, and for a time members worshipped in the Howard Johnson on 11th Street, jokingly calling themselves the “HoJo Evangelical Free Church.”
Four adjacent acres were purchased, and a new church was built; the first service of Maywood Evangelical Free Church, 3621 Samuelson Road, was held on Palm Sunday of 1975. Attendance doubled within five years, beginning a pattern of growth that continues today. Current membership is about 650.
In 2007, Maywood broke ground for the Andrew G. Patten Center for Leadership Development, a multi-purpose facility for conferences, training seminars, athletic events and worship services. Andy Patten was a lifelong church member and U.S. Marine who died in battle in Iraq in 2005.
Maywood is led by pastors John Strubhar, Gary Kniseley, C. David Currie and Ben Tyler. Sunday services are at 8 and 10:45 a.m.