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.
“Religions are many and diverse, but reason and goodness are one.” –Elbert Hubbard
Country Church: Dutchtown Church Of The Brethren • Est. 1855
25257 Dutchtown Road, Milledgeville, Ill., (815) 225-7812, dutchtownchurch.net
The roots of the Brethren denomination can be traced back to the Believers’ Church, founded in Schwarzenau, Germany, in 1708. Because of persecution, virtually the entire group migrated to North American in 1719. Church of the Brethren is one of five branches, all with active churches in the region.
Church founders Christian Long and Henry Myers and their families came from Maryland in the early 1850s, settling near Emmerts Mill. They attended the Arnolds Grove Brethren Church for two years, until new churches were built to handle increased membership, and Dutchtown was chosen as a location.
First services were held in 1855, in a house built by Myers on a tract of land he bought near Otter Creek. Shortly after, members bought land on a knoll where a school stood, and once it was moved a mile west, the church building was erected. Lumber was hauled to the site, and rock was taken from a nearby quarry; most of the labor was completed by church members. As is usual for the Brethren, the building had two entrances, one for men and one for women. It had a full basement with a large fireplace for cooking meat for Love Feasts. It had no pulpit but a long table facing the congregation, where the lay ministers sat.
Sunday School was organized in 1878, and a parsonage built in town in 1916 for a full-time pastor. The church was remodeled in 1915, and in 1995, the kitchen was modernized and seating in the sanctuary expanded to 215. The fellowship hall was also enlarged, and a schoolroom and nursery was added, along with a second floor. Many members are laid to rest in the cemetery next to the church.
Today’s congregation is led by Pastor Rick Koch; Sunday service is held at 9:30 a.m., followed by Sunday School at 10:30 a.m.
City Church: First Congregational United Church of Christ • Est. 1839
715 Wisconsin St., Lake Geneva, Wis., (262) 248-3568, lakegenevachurchucc.org
The growth of this church parallels the growth of the town it serves.
The Geneva Lake area was first settled in 1836, by two different pairs of pioneers, who each staked claims by building homes and putting water races along the lake. A year-long dispute ensued, with both sides bringing in reinforcements. After many public arguments, gang fist fights and destruction of buildings, a settlement was finally reached in 1837. The first saw mill and hotel were in operation by 1838, and in 1839, the 13 founders of this congregation came together as the First Presbyterian Church.
During its early years, the church received partial support from the Home Missionary Society, and grew steadily. The first church building, made of oak at a cost of $250, was built in 1841. By then, Lake Geneva was prospering, with two hotels, two general stores, mills, cabins and houses. Membership swelled, and construction of a larger wooden church was completed in 1853, for $2,500. The original members were both Presbyterian and Congregational, but incoming members were mostly Congregational. In 1883, its members voted to switch affiliation, and the church was renamed First Congregational Church.
The cornerstone for the current church was laid in 1897, and the building was dedicated 1898, complete with a pipe organ and a Seth Thomas clock with chimes. Stained windows were added over the years, many as memorials to Lake Geneva pioneers. In 1957, a denominational merger saw the name changed to First Congregational United Church of Christ.
Today, The Rev. Charlene Hinckley, pastor, leads a membership of 93. Sunday service is held weekly at 10 a.m., with nursery care if needed. The church has bell, children’s and adult choirs. The congregation will celebrate its 175th anniversary in 2014.