Organized religion played a major role in the settling of Illinois and continues to influence the culture of our region. We highlight places of worship, one in the country and one in the city.
Free Methodist Church • Est. 1891
934 N. Seminary Ave., Woodstock, (815) 338-3180, woodstockfmc.net
Mrs. Fannie Thompson hosted the first meeting of the Woodstock Class, an independent church group, in her home on Oct. 19, 1891. It took a year for the group to fund and construct a brick church on the corner of Judd and Jefferson streets. The Rev. Peter Newcomer led the charter worship service.
In 1904, the church moved to a new building on the corner of McHenry and Seminary avenues to better serve the residents of the recently incorporated Woodstock Children’s Home and Sunset Manor, now known as Hearthstone Communities. The current complex, still owned by Free Methodist, includes the Hearthstone Early Learning Center and Senior Living on a 14-acre campus. Both centers provide faith-based care.
The congregation quickly surpassed the capacity of its first building and by the 1950s, membership had grown so much that its eight Sunday school classes had to be held in private homes. The church began planning its current location a few blocks north on Seminary Avenue. Under the leadership of the Rev. Eustice Kirkpatrick, the church raised funds to purchase property and began construction in 1958. The final structure was dedicated on Nov. 22, 1959. An education wing was added seven years later. Through a major renovation dubbed “the Nehemiah Project,” which lasted from 2007 to 2010, the church was updated with new windows, air conditioning and landscaping.
Free Methodist is led by the Rev. David E. Cooper, senior pastor. Services are held Sundays at 10:30 a.m., with Sunday School preceding it at 9:30 a.m.
Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva • Est. 1842
110 S. Second St., Geneva, (630) 232-2350, uusg.org
When Augustus Conant, his wife Betsy and 19 others first gathered in 1842, they formed the First Christian Congregation of Geneva. Together, these members of the New England Unitarianism liberal Christian tradition wrote a covenant that continues to be shared, although slightly revised, at every worship service today.
The church was led by the Rev. Conant for the first 15 years. During this time, the group purchased the original building on Second Street, which was expanded in 1855. New pews and stained glass windows, purchased from the remains of a church burned in the Chicago fire, were installed in 1879 and remain intact today. The church’s parsonage, called Pioneer House, was built in 1893 and currently houses staff offices, meeting rooms and classrooms. Despite a few renovations, the New England-style meetinghouse still displays its original charm and decor. According to the Central Geneva Historic District, the church is the oldest existing church in the city.
During the 1880s, the majority of the congregation took on philosophies of transcendentalism and the Free Religious Movement. The Geneva church was, in time, renamed the Unitarian Society of Geneva, and its covenant revised to uphold the belief that individuals should develop their own spiritual lives free of a group-defined doctrine of God. The new covenant discluded specific Christian references. The church cycled through 14 ministers, including four women, before the Rev. Dr. Charles Lyttle arrived in 1926. He served until 1964. During this time, Lyttle witnessed a clash between theists and humanists, which led him to write a doxology that combines both ideologies and is still sung at every worship. The Rev. Dr. Lindsay Bates took over in 1978, and now leads a congregation of liberal Christians, theists, humanists, naturalists and people of other persuasions.
Under the guidance of the Rev. Bates, senior minister, and the Rev. Scott Talbot Lewis, assistant minister, the church holds service on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. From June to mid-September, an additional Sunday service is held at 10 a.m.