“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy.” – Romans 12:14
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.
Country Synagogue: McHenry County Jewish Congregation, Est. 1979
8617 Ridgefield Road, Crystal Lake, (815) 455-1810, mcjc-online.org
McHenry County Jewish Congregation (MCJC) is a conservative synagogue that offers religious education for K-12 and adult education programs. The “Little Shul on the Prairie,” as it’s affectionately known, is McHenry County’s only conservative synagogue, situated among the cornfields in a 100-year-old school house.
Begun in 1979, its congregation is now made up of members from Woodstock and Crystal Lake, nearby communities like Marengo, Spring Grove, Cary and Algonquin, and as far away as the northwest suburbs. Located on the back roads of Crystal Lake, with farmland as its backyard, MCJC is affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Though conservative in affiliation, services are egalitarian, and MCJC welcomes people of all experiences, including interfaith families and those returning to the faith.
Religious Jewish instruction is available for children from kindergarten through 12th grade, taught by congregants who participate in Continuing Jewish Education Classes offered by Chicago’s Board of Jewish Education and Community Foundation for Jewish Education. Bar and Bat Mitzvah studies, group and individual, are offered, as are adult study groups and youth programs. A gift shop, open Sunday mornings and by appointment, carries gifts and religious items like jewelry, menorahs and mezuzahs.
Currently, Rabbi Maralee Gordon leads a congregation of about 100 families. Services are held on Friday at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday at 9 a.m. ❚
City Church: First Congregational Church of Elgin, Est. 1836
256 E. Chicago St., Elgin, (847) 741-4045, fcc-elgin.org
The First Congregational Church (FCC), the first church established in the city, marked its 175th anniversary in May 2011. For its first three years, services were held in the log cabin of Elgin’s founder, James T. Gifford. In Davidson Park, a boulder with a memorial plaque now marks the site.
In 1839, the congregation of about 46 joined forces – and finances – with a group of Baptists, to build Union Chapel on the corner of DuPage and Lincoln streets. In 1843, the Congregationalists sold their interest to the Baptists, then constructed and moved into a new worship space on the corner of Fulton and Villa streets. That building was enlarged in 1869, when membership reached more than 300. It was later occupied by Bethlehem Lutheran Church and torn down in the 1950s.
In 1889, FCC moved to its present location, at Chicago and Center streets. The distinctive red brick building is noted for its ornate stained glass windows trimmed with stone, especially the Rose window which faces Chicago Street.
In addition to being its first church, FCC is important to Elgin because its founder is largely responsible for the nickname, “City of Churches.” Gifford wanted Elgin to have a strong faith base, and offered a free lot to any congregation that built there. Today, Elgin is home to more than 100 congregations, representing more than 15 denominations.
This year, the Illinois State Historical Society certified FCC as an “Illinois Sesquicentennial Church,” and it was included in the 30th annual Gifford Park Association historic house walk.
Affiliated with the United Church of Christ, its current congregation of 615 active members is led by Dr. Paris Donehoo, Senior Pastor, with an average weekly attendance of about 165.
Services are held on Sunday at 10:15 a.m., and Sunday School meets from 10:30-11:30 a.m. ❚