Organized religion played a major role in the settling of Illinois and continues to impact our region in many ways. We enjoy highlighting places of worship and their work both at home and abroad.
Holy Trinity Episcopal Church • Est. 1857
217 E. Hurlbut Ave., Belvidere, (815) 544-2635, trinitybelvidere.org
There was no Episcopal congregation when early settlers along the Kishwaukee River received their first Episcopal visitation in 1842. As the area grew, so did interest in a lasting congregation, and in 1857, the Rev. Edmund B. Tuttle was listed as rector for a new church.
Trinity Church’s Gothic Revival structure was consecrated in 1858, and its membership continued to grow until the Civil War. Hard times fell upon the group, and following the economic collapse in the Panic of 1873, the church was closed down. It remained shuttered for 20 years, until it was reopened and remodeled in the 1890s.
Since then, the historic structure has been revived, damaged by fire and remodeled numerous times, including extensive repairs in the 1980s.
Today, congregants remain deeply involved in their community through projects like Coat Closet, which collects and distributes coats to those in need. The church also assists Habitat for Humanity in fundraising, and a retired architect helps with drawings for housing projects. Members support the Boone County Homeless Project by collecting hygiene products and Meals on Wheels by delivering to the community through the Boone County Council on Aging.
The church sanctuary remains temporarily closed due to COVID-19, although recorded sermons are shared online at facebook.com/HTECBelvidereIL.
First Congregational Church of Beloit • Est. 1838
801 Bushnell St., Beloit, Wis., (608) 362-4821, firstcon.org
First Congregational Church of Beloit is among the oldest churches in our region, established in 1838, one decade before Wisconsin attained statehood. It was started by members of the New England Emigrating Company, which sought to “unite and sustain science and religion and all the adjuncts that contribute to happiness, thrift and the elevation of society.” Church members also chartered Beloit Seminary, from which Beloit College evolved.
The original membership numbered 24 people, who met alternately in a schoolhouse and their homes until 1844, when they erected a building that seated 400.
Within 15 years, the congregation had outgrown its space and laid the cornerstone for a beautiful stone church that was dedicated in 1862, as the Civil War raged. It seated 1,200 people and was a major work of renowned architect Lucas Bradley of Racine, Wis., who used both the Greek Revival and Romanesque Revival styles. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
Then, on a stormy night in August 1998, the church was struck by lightning and burned to the ground; damage was estimated at $3.5 million. The pipe organ alone was valued at $1 million.
“A congregation, however, is not a building, but rather the people who make it up,” states the church website. The church reopened in 2001 with 60-foot vaulted ceilings and a spectacular new pipe organ.
The congregation participates in local, national and international mission work. Among the groups it supports are Caritas, Hands of Faith, Faith Works, Friends of Paul’s Computer Institute, Beloit Regional Hospice, Salvation Army, Sparrow’s Nest, Project 16:49, Argentina Mission and NACCC Shared Ministry Missions.
It hosts an Al-Anon group, the Society for Learning Unlimited and interfaith worship services, and presents Music Maxima, under the direction of Max Yount, the church music director who formerly chaired the Beloit College Department of Music.
Livestreamed services are led by the Rev. Joy Baumgartner, senior minister, and the Rev. Gene Van Galder, assistant minister, Sundays at 10 a.m.