Organized religion played a major role in the settling of our region and continues to influence its culture. We enjoy highlighting places of worship, one in the country and one in the city, in each issue.
First Evangelical Lutheran Church • Est. 1853
627 Taylor St., Pecatonica, Ill., (815) 239-2390, firstluthpec.org
This congregation was founded when Swedish settlers began worshipping in a small tool shed next to the Salisbury grain elevator in Pecatonica, Ill. In its early days, the congregation called itself the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church and was a part of the Augustana Synod. Services were held in Swedish until 1923, when it became First Evangelical Lutheran and began holding all services in English.
Members have worshipped in the same place since 1881, though they’ve made numerous renovations along the way. The building was completely re-bricked in 1923; stained glass windows were restored in the 1970s and a two-floor addition, with a fellowship hall, classroom and office space, was completed in 1984.
Aside from worshipping, church members serve their community and others in need around the world. In 2018, they provided the Pecatonica Food Pantry with 250 containers of fruit and fruit juice. Later that year, the congregation supplied over 200 school kits for students around the world.
Members continue to serve by hosting blood drives, supporting local Girl Scouts and other mission work.
Pastor Nord Swanstrom leads worship services online and in-person Sundays at 9 a.m. Past sermons are also available on the church’s Facebook page.
New Zion Baptist Church • Est. 1917
1905 Mound Ave., Beloit, (608) 362-2010, newzionbeloit.com
A group of African-Americans founded this church in 1917 after migrating to Beloit from the South. The church has had just six pastors in its history.
The Rev. Shed Barksdale accepted the first pastoral position for a congregation that gathered mostly outdoors and at members’ homes.
In the mid-1920s, the church established itself inside a former “ice house” that was moved to Merrill Avenue. In 1929, the Rev. Ogiss Dillon took the helm and led several improvements to the old structure. A few years before his death in 1957, he oversaw the building of a brand-new structure. Growing membership allowed the church to pay off the mortgage within a decade. The church again moved in the 1980s to better accommodate its growth.
Today, New Zion’s 500-plus members seek to make a difference in the Greater Beloit area through evangelism and outreach services, including efforts to strengthen and build community relationships with fellowship and ministry workshops, leadership council meetings and Vacation Bible School.
The church also plans to expand its Freedom School for youths age 6-18. The Freedom School Program provides after-school studies while encouraging educational achievement and positive attitudes toward learning.
Senior Pastor James M. Ivy, who’s been at the church since 2005, leads in-person worship on Sundays at 10 a.m.