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.
“I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings.”
–William Sloan Coffin Jr.
Country Church: Van Brocklin United Methodist Church • Est. 1846
3582 S. Bolton Road, Freeport, (815) 235-1101
The first settlers in Florence Township were Conrad Van Brocklin and his family, who came from New York in March 1836. Methodist services were held in Freeport and a few larger settlements by a preacher who rode a 500-mile circuit. The first public services in the community that came to be known as Van Brocklin began around 1846, conducted by ministers of various denominations in an old log schoolhouse east of the present church.
Van Brocklin’s wife was instrumental in organizing the congregation. In 1852, the first Methodist minister began to hold regular services for the Methodists in the community and Van Brocklin Church was formed. It became one of five churches in an official circuit in 1860. Still, the congregation had no official worship space.
Finally, in 1865, on land donated by Van Brocklin and another resident, construction of a church began and was completed in 1866. Van Brocklin became a station church – a single congregation – in 1879; in 1881, the church was remodeled and enlarged, adding a 20-foot room to the east end, with a partial basement serving as a furnace room and lecture space. A parsonage was also built at this time.
In 1937, the full basement was completed and the church and parsonage wired for electricity. The congregation celebrated its centennial with a banquet, special service and special guest speakers, one of whom was Ivy Goodsell, granddaughter of the Van Brocklins. In 1943, Van Brocklin lost its station status and was placed on a circuit with Shannon.
In 1959, when Bolton Road was rerouted and a new bridge was built over Yellow Creek, the church entrance was changed, the parking lot rearranged, a new stairway built to the dining room and the parsonage sold.
In 1961, water was piped into the church and restrooms were installed. In 1965, the present parish consisting of Pearl City, Kent, Willow and Van Brocklin was formed. New pews were installed in 1966, and the subfloor and carpet replaced. Gifts of a baptismal font, altar paraments and a new piano were dedicated in 1975.
Today, The Rev. Kathleen Brinkmeier, pastor, leads an average group of 21 in worship at 9 a.m. on Sunday.
City Church: St. John’s United Church of Christ • Est. 1862
1724 14th St., Monroe, Wis., (608) 325-2165, stjohnsmonroe.org
The seeds of this church were first planted in New Glarus and its Swiss Reformed Church. One of its founders, J. Jacob Tschudy, who came from the canton of Glarus in Switzerland, was also one of the founders of St. John’s Church.
A dozen families of Swiss and German descent formed the original congregation, which first met in the home of Andreas Lanz. St. John’s was officially constituted and its first church dedicated in August 1862, on the present church site, when members held their first service and witnessed their first baptism.
St. John’s first resident pastor was Rev. Hagemann, who served for five years and helped to build the first parsonage.
A larger church was built and dedicated in October 1873, and a Sunday school building added in 1883. Also in that year three bells, imported from Switzerland, each weighing 2,000 pounds, were installed. In the mid-1890s, a hot-air furnace was installed in the church and a two-story addition built onto the parsonage.
In 1895, Rev. Shuh became pastor and served for 43 years. He helped to organize the Youth Fellowship, which paid to have the church wired for electricity. The church was enlarged with a sizable wing in 1897 and a hand pump organ was installed. In 1923, the present sanctuary was completed.
In the late 1930s, the German Evangelical and the German/Swiss Reformed churches merged, and remained an Evangelical Reformed Church until 1957. That’s when that denomination merged with the Congregational Christian Churches to form the United Church of Christ.
Several renovations and additions were made in the subsequent years, including the installation in 1985 of stained glass windows designed by a Janesville artist. In 2012, St. John’s celebrated its 150th anniversary.
Today’s congregation, numbering close to 1,900, is led by Senior Pastor The Rev. Todd Hackman. On Sunday, a half-hour service is offered at 8 a.m. and a traditional service at 9 a.m.