Organized religion plays a major role in the settling of Illinois and continues to influence the culture of our region. We highlight two places of worship, one in the country and one in the city.
“Even the merest gesture is holy if it is filled with faith.”
Country Church: Emerald Grove Congregational Church UCC • Est. 1846
8127 U.S. 14, Janesville, Wis., (608) 755-0410
he first settlers to this area came in Spring 1844 and found everything so green and bright that they named it Emerald Grove. Those wishing to attend worship services had to traverse 10 miles of prairie and timber to the church in Milton, a trip made longer and more arduous in winter, and it was decided to form a church in Emerald Grove.
The founders organized a charter on Saturday, Dec. 5, and held their first service the next day, in the kitchen of Mr. and Mrs. Erastus Dean. They met in each other’s homes until late 1847, and then worship services were held in the new stone school. By the time the first church was built, in 1855, Emerald Grove had a tavern, post office, blacksmith shop, schoolhouse, two stores and 15 homes, and the congregation numbered 117.
A new church was built in 1888. The old one was moved behind it and used for Youth and Ladies Aid meetings. It was condemned and sold in 1936. The church’s 50th anniversary was celebrated on the same days of the week, Dec. 5-6, 1896. The present church was built in 1934, following a fire that destroyed the 1888 structure.
City Church: Temple Sholom • Est. 1912
510 E. 10th St., Sterling, Ill., (815) 625-2599, templesholomsterling.com
hile Jews have lived in Whiteside County since the 1890s, it was 1906 before Abraham Shacoff, a tailor from Sterling, organized the first high holiday worship services for those in the area.
The first Jewish synagogue, called the Independent Order of B’rith Abraham, opened at 317 E. Third St. in 1912, led by Rabbi Barnett Kaplan. In addition to conducting services, Kaplan was also a shochet for Orthodox members, which means he was trained in slaughtering and cleaning animals and fowl according to the Hebrew ritual that makes their meat kosher. When children came of age, Kaplan came to their homes to instruct and prepare them for their Bhat and Bar Mitsvahs.
By 1931, the Jewish population had shrunk so significantly that the synagogue was closed and sold. In 1937, the spread of Nazism and Palestinian control over the Holy Land spurred local Jewish families to reorganize. Informal social events held in members’ homes led to formation of a chapter of the Zionist Organization of America, and worship services were held in facilities lent by local civic groups.
The temple came to its current location in 1945, when church member Dave Manfield purchased the old Sterling Steam Bakery building and donated it to the congregation. Known as the Manfield Hebrew Center, the synagogue’s congregation grew significantly in the years following WWII, swelling to as high as 75 families, who came from neighboring communities such as Freeport, Dixon and Morrison.
Today’s congregation consists of 31 families that come from within a 50-mile radius. Services are held monthly at 7:30 p.m. on the second Friday, officiated by one of a team of six rabbis and song leaders.
The congregation became the Emerald Grove Congregational United Church of Christ in 1957, when the Congregational and Evangelical Reform churches merged. Today’s membership is led by Pastor Mike Ligman. Sunday School is held at 9:30 a.m., followed by worship services at 10:45 a.m.