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History of the Minonk Presbyterian Church

The First Presbyterian Church of Minonk, Illinois was organized May 3rd 1857 by Rev. H. H. Hays D. D. and consisted of the following persons - Samuel Work, Francis Lockwood, I. C. Raymond, Thomas Reeder, Mrs. Elizabeth Reeder, William D. McCord, Mrs. Margaret McSparran, Archibald McSparran, Miss Priscilla McSparran, Miss Mary Jane McSparran, George Danforth and Mrs. Mary Danforth by certificate and Lucius Clark by examination - twelve in all. George Danforth and Wm. D. McCord were elected elders. The church was in due time taken under the care of the Presbytery of Peoria, then a part of the "New School Branch" of the Presbyterian Church. This church, although in a state containing a population of more than a million, was at its organization emphatically a pioneer enterprise. The then little village of Minonk was located on the I.C.R.R. nearly in the center of a vast unbroken prairie, the railroad at that time, ran for forty-four miles through this prairie without passing a single tree of natural growth.
Text prepared by Donna Rae Eilts

The prairie had only just begun to be dotted with the humble shanties of the pioneers. The village contained less than one hundred inhabitants. Scarcely two years had elapsed since Samuel Work, the first agent of the railroad and one of the first settlers, made his bachelor home and his office in a building of rough pine boards seven miles from any house. The original members of the church were mostly strangers to each other and came from widely separated lands, as Ireland, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania, but the strangers to each other and in a strange land, they so loved a common Savior and the church of their fathers that they at once came together and resolved to organize a Presbyterian Church. The spirit that actuated them in the movement is well expressed in the covenant adopted at the organization, "To seek the glory of God by maintaining gospel ordinances, cultivating Christian fellowship, and laboring for the salvation of our fellow men." For the first year of its existence, the church was without a minister. It was occasionally visited and ministered to by the Rev. Kent of Galena and Rev. L. H. Loss of Chicago. In April 1858, the Rev. John M. Brown was called to take charge of the church as "stated supply," in the autumn of the same year, he was installed Pastor. His ministry of the church lasted until April 1864 - six years. The first religious services of the church were held in private houses. In the summer of 1858, a schoolhouse was completed and occupied on Sabbath mornings for worship, likewise also, was transferred the Sabbath School which had been in existence a year and was conducted upon the union plan.

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The members of the Presbyterian Church, the only organized church in the community and comprising three fourths of the active religious element, entered heartily into this Sabbath School work. Among its first officers and teachers were Samuel Work, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Reeder and Wm. D. McCord. At this time the work of the church was very much embarrassed and made much more difficult from its members being widely separated, only one resided in the village, the others living on farms from one and a half miles to six miles distant. Another great embarrassment was the poverty of the people. With one or two exceptions they were largely in debt for their farms outside of their own labor. Added to this there was for two years a disheartening failure of crops. So reduced did some of the members of the church become that it was with extreme difficulty they could procure the necessities of life or clothe themselves so that they could decently come to the house of God. Yet, not withstanding these embarrassments, they came up nobly to the support of their Pastor. The first year they paid one half of the salary, the whole being $400.00. The remainder; was furnished by the American Home Mission Society. The sum paid by the church was yearly increased until in 1862, the church and entire community were exhausted by the heavy drafts of men and means made upon them by the great civil war. Another striking fact in this early history of the church was the maintenance of the weekly prayer meetings from the autumn of 1858 to the spring of 1864. The prayer meeting was never omitted except in a few instances when a severe storm made attendance impossible. This, considering the distance of most of the members from the village, was very remarkable. During the spring and summer of 1858, the church enjoyed preaching every Sabbath morning. The Pastor preaching in the afternoon alternately in a school house five miles east of Minonk and another seven miles west. In the latter part of the summer a claim was presented by another denomination for the use of the schoolhouse in the village every fourth Sabbath in the morning.

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The matter being referred to the school directors, they decided that four denominations would use the schoolhouse for religious worship, each one Sabbath per month. Being thus without a place of worship three fourths of the time, the alternative was presented to the church of dismissing their pastor or building a house of worship of their own. Though few in numbers, heartened by poverty and burdened with debt they manfully resolved to "arise and build." Amid the ridicule of oppressors and the misgivings of some friends, a subscription was started and a little over $200 in money and material secured, of this sum $120 in money was received. A pledge for $225 was secured from the Church Erection Committee of the General Assembly with the condition that this sum should complete the house free from debt. With these resources the pastor and people went to work and with their own hands built a plain little house 24x30 feet in size. One member of the church, Elder Robert Poage, worked over thirty days and a part of the time walked one and a half miles to and from his work each day. At this time he was nearly 60 years of age. By such self-sacrifice, and perseverance the house was completed. The whole cost was about $800. The aid received from other denominations was ten dollars in material from a member of the Methodist church and one day's work from a member of the Baptist church. Up to the year 1864, while the church enjoyed no great revival, there was a steady growth, during this period thirteen were received by examination and thirty six by certificate, making, including original members, sixty-one in all. Of this number, four were dismissed, five died and four suspended, leaving forty-eight. When we remember that this period embraces the early struggles of the church for existence, fore-trying cases of discipline, and more than all the rest, the terrible depression incident to our civil war, we see great cause for praise and thanksgiving to God. Among the incidents worthy of record during this early period of the churches' history are the following: When the first house of worship was erected in the autumn of 1858 on ground now near the center of the city, we were compelled to plow around it to prevent the prairie fires from burning it down.

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Robert Poage was elected an elder in 1858 and Isaac Clegg in 1861. The Pastor and five members of the church, Wm. D. McCord, Alfred Poage, W. H. Ferrin, Charles Robinson and Joseph Knowles, were in the Union army and saw actual and severe service during the Civil War. In addition there were six members of the congregation also in the army and did good service. Of these twelve sent by the Church to the field not one was ever known to desert his post or flinch from his duty and they were engaged in some of the most terrific battles of the war. Of this number, one, Joseph Clegg, was mortally wounded at Vicksburg on the 18th of May 1863, one, Alfred Poage was many months a prisoner and, two, Alfred Poage and Joseph Knowles contracted diseases that materially shortened their lives." Affectionately submitted by the first Pastor of the Church. John M. Brown, Hays City, Kansas, July 2nd 1876.
(At the afternoon services on September 12, 1982 - the 125th Anniversary of the Presbyterian Church, Minonk, Ill., the following was read. The early history, as written by Rev. Brown was read first and then the remainder, was written by Dorothy Folkerts).
Rev. Ormsby was the second pastor. He was employed as stated supply for one year on August 1, 1864. In January of 1865, according to the old minutes, "a glorious revival was enjoyed to some extent" and on March 5th 15 young converts were received by profession. From notes from the diary of Presley Martin, (the grandfather of Melvin Tucker of Minonk and Mrs. Leta Smith of Flanagan) Mr. Martin stated that this revival lasted 28 days. Mr. Martin joined the church on April 9, 1865 and later became an elder of this church.

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Evidently, the congregation thought Rev. Ormsby was worthy of becoming an elected Pastor after such a great revival and he was installed as pastor on September 27 of the same year. Another revival was held in February and March in 1866, for about five weeks, and this resulted in 30 young converts being received in church membership and several by letter. It was resolved at that time, to build a new House of Worship. It was to be 40 feet by 68 feet without a basement and Gothic in its general style. It was completed and dedicated on February 8, 1867. It had a seating capacity of 300 and cost $7,000.

Discipline was a factor at this early time. Minutes show that in 1869, the church were wanting to bring a man to trial for using shamefully abusive language to a member of the congregation. The case was later dropped as the witness had moved to Kentucky and it was too far away to get his statement.

Rev. E. Thompson followed in 1872 and Rev. M. G. Thomas in 1875.

Rev. Marquis came in 1879. He was determined in his zeal for missions and the Missionary Society was organized during his stay. He found his wife here - Miss Adelaide Bell.

He, was followed by Rev. Flint, Rev. Wadsworth, and Rev. McVay; each staying a year or two. In 1890, Rev. L. B. Dye became the pastor. During his stay the church was remodeled in 1891. A bell-tower (no bell), a spacious parlor and entrance hall were added to the front and a complete change of the main body of the church was made. A news clipping describes it vividly and noted the handsome new carpet, which "ORNAMENTS" the floor. Rev. Dye was the grandfather of Miss Ellen McBride of this city.

Following Rev. Dye was Rev. F. H. Cushing. He was only here a year, and never did preach many times as he became ill and passed away that same year. A supply pastor, Rev. McGaw served most of the year.

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Rev. W. S. Morrow came in 1895. His wife proposed and initiated the first Chrysanthemum Show sponsored by the Missionary Society, which was a means of meeting their budget. This became an annual event and was first held in homes, later the Modern Woodman Hall and the Woodford Hotel and in later years in the new church basement.

Rev. Lawrence came in 1901 and stayed for two years. It was during this time that the present pipe organ was purchased from a church in Bloomington for $2,150.

In 1903, Rev. Cooper became the pastor. During, his stay, a new manse was built as a memorial to Mrs. Lydia Edwards Bell by Mr. and Mrs. B. M. Stoddard. From what I found in a 1907 newspaper clipping, "the first manse was built by Rev. Ormsby, the second pastor. When he left, he sold it to Uncle Joe Brown, who disposed of it to the Presbyterians for a manse." Rev. Marquis was back for the dedication on New Year's Eve and told of the old manse - "the old manse had been enlarged by the addition of a wing, and at a later period another wing had been added, and after it had two wings the old manse flew away." A plaque that hung on the hallway of the manse is in the historical display in the Sunday Schoolroom downstairs along with a description of the dedication.

Rev. Tidball came in 1908 and stayed for 10 years. This is the longest stay of any minister. The present church building was erected at a total cost of a little over $31,000 and was dedicated in June of 1917. It is interesting to note that the small window at the back of this present church - with the dove - came from the old church. Since the present church stands on the same lot that the second church stood, it was necessary to remove part of the old church in order to build the new one. Since the old church stood next to the sidewalk in front, 24 feet of the old building was left standing and used during the building of the new one. The back of the building, with the organ intact, was removed to another place on the lot. Both parts were enclosed from the elements. When the new church was built, the organ was removed and placed in our present building as we see it today.

According to a church bulletin dated April 18, 1915, "A new Ford automobile had been added to the equipment of the church for the use of the pastor. It was a gift of Mr. Stoddard. Rev. Tidball was the pastor at that time.

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Rev. Charles Donaldson came in 1918. He organized the first Daily Vacation Bible School with other churches in town. Rev. Murdoch followed in 1926. Then, in 1929, Rev. Mosbacher came. It was during his stay, that this church celebrated the 75th anniversary.

Rev. Martin came in 1934, followed by Rev. James E. Walker, then Rev. W. H. Kettlitz. This was during World War II and he left to become a Chaplin in the navy. He was given a leave of absence, but he soon resigned, feeling we should have a full-time pastor.

Rev. Campbell came in 1943 and stayed until 1948. During his stay, we celebrated the 90th Anniversary of the church. Many of us can recall the capacity crowd at the evening services to hear Dr. John Holland of Chicago. The lights went out when the loudspeaker system became too great for the fuses!!!

Rev. Breckenridge came in 1949 and left in 1955. Rev. John Dirksen came in the fall of 1955 and left in the fall of 1960. During his stay we purchased the present manse (the old one was torn down) and we celebrated our 100 years of ministry in Minonk.

Rev. Bogren came in 1961 and we became a yoked parish with the Wenona church at that time. Rev. Bogren left in the spring of 1968. Rev. Frank Wimp then followed and stayed a year. Rev. Walter Rockenstein was only with us for five months in 1971 because he decided to return to teaching at the University of West Virginia. Rev. Grier Hills came in the fall of 1971 and in the summer of 1976, he left. Since that time, Rev. James Whitehurst has been filling our pulpit each Sunday.

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A Short History of the First Presbyterian Church of Minonk, Illinois By Mrs. J. W. Van Doren Written for the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Celebration 1857-1932 October 2nd to November 13th 1932
The pioneer church of Minonk, Ill., was the First Presbyterian Church, which was organized May 3rd 1857. Eight years before the town was organized, when but a few business houses and homes existed, the first religious services held in the community, were conducted by Rev. Frost, a Presbyterian evangelist. Rev. Frost, was traveling through the country in 1856 and stopped at the present site of Minonk and preached to the people. All came together regardless of sect or opinion and "heard the word gladly." During this same summer a Sunday school was organized by A. H. Danforth, who acted as superintendent and who received a hearty support from the people.
The following year, at a meeting of Samuel Work, the first settler in the community, Thomas Reeder and William McCord, it was agreed that a Christian church be organized and accordingly, the third day of May 1857, was chosen for effecting such an organization. Rev. H. H. Hays acted as moderator, and after an able sermon on "Faith," taking his text from Hebrews 11:1; the organization of the church took place. The Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. was adopted and eleven people, in good and regular standing in the evangelical churches, subscribed as members of this organization and were as follows: Samuel Work, Thomas Reeder, Elizabeth Reeder, William D. McCord, George Danforth, Mary Danforth, Frances Lockwood, I C. Raymond, Archibald McSparran, Margaret McSparran and Priscilla McSparran. At a subsequent meeting George Danforth and William McCord were elected and ordained as ruling elders, with William McCord as clerk.

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These eleven charter members were mostly strangers to each other having come from widely separated places such as Ireland, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. But though they were strangers to each other and in a strange land, they so loved a common Saviour and the church of their fathers, that they gladly joined fellowship in a true spirit of worship. In due time the church was taken under the care of the Peoria Presbytery, then a part of the New School Branch of the Presbyterian Church. Some time later it was transferred to the Bloomington Presbytery and once again, years afterward, it was transferred to the Ottawa Presbytery of which it is now a part. The newly formed church set itself to the task of securing a pastor. The Rev. J. M. Brown was called to take charge as a stated supply and later was installed as pastor. The first services were held in private houses; then in the new schoolhouse, which had been built in the summer of 1858, and by the fall of the year, in the first church building of the community. It was a plain little house 24x30 feet in size, fully adequate for the numbers, but built with a wonderful spirit of devotion and sacrifice. Amid the ridicule of opponents and misgivings of some friends a subscription was started and a little over two hundred dollars in money and materials was secured. The Board of Church Erection pledged two hundred and twenty-five dollars more, with the condition that the building should be completed free of debt. The people went to work with a spirit of great determination and courage.

Only one member of the church resided in the small village of about two hundred people, the others living on farms widely separated, ranging from one and one-half to six miles distant. With one or two exceptions, they were largely in debt for their farms and in addition to this, for two years they had experienced disheartening crop failures. So impoverished did some of the members of the church become, that it was with extreme difficulty that they were able to procure the necessities of life, or to clothe themselves decently to come to the House of God.

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The members themselves built that first church. One man, Elder Robert Poage, worked over thirty days walking a mile and a half each day to work, notwithstanding the fact that he was nearly 60 years of age. It was in this spirit that the church was completed, costing approximately $800. During the seven years pastorate of Rev. Brown the membership grew from the eleven charter members to a church of seventy-two members. Two additional elders then composed the ruling body of the church. The salary of the first pastor was $400.00 a year, and the first year the church paid half of it while the American Missionary Society paid the other half. The sum paid by the church increased yearly until 1862, when the entire community was exhausted by heavy drafts of men and means made upon it by the great Civil War. The pastor and five members of the church, viz., Wm. McCord, Alfred Poage, H. K. Ferrin, Charles Robinson and Joseph Knowles were in the Union Army and saw actual and severe service. Six other members were also drafted into the army, and of these twelve men sent by the church to the war, not one was ever known to desert or flinch from duty. One, Joseph Clegg, was mortally wounded at Vicksburg; Alfred Poage was many months a prisoner, and together with Joseph Knowles, contracted diseases, which shortened their lives. The second pastor, Rev. M. P. Ormsby served the church from 1865 to 1870. During his pastorate a new church was built, the first one being inadequate to serve the increased number of the congregation. The second church was much more pretentious, costing $7,000.00, with a seating capacity of 300 people. It was built in 1867. At this time three more elders were added making a total of seven.

Rev. E. Thompson was pastor from 1872 to 1875. Rev. M. G. Thomas was pastor from 1875 to 1877. These five years were uneventful other than the changing conditions in membership, including trying times of church discipline.

From 1877 the pulpit was vacant for about two years, during which time Mr. Wm. Marquis and others from the McCormick Seminary served as supplies. In 1879 Rev. W. S. Marquis was installed as pastor and continued for a term of five years. In the autumn of his first year as pastor, he proposed that a Woman's Missionary Society be organized but the women demurred because of indebtedness on the church, and would not think of sending money to missions under the circumstances.

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Rev. Marquis was very determined in his zeal for missions and said that they would set to work at once to pay off the indebtedness, which was accomplished that year. In the fall of 1880 he again proposed to organize the Missionary Society. This proposal was unanimously accepted and embraced by practically all the women of the church. The Society began to function immediately, and ever since has been a strong asset to the church in its missionary enterprises and also has been a great spiritual force and aid to the pastor. To this organization Rev. Marquis felt that he could always turn for sympathy, prayer, and help in carrying on the work of the gospel, in calling on strangers, and in the whole-hearted support of the mid-week service and Bible School. Rev. Marquis; was succeeded by Rev. J. F. Flint who remained for one year and following him Rev. G. W. Wadsworth served for two years. Then Rev. McVay became pastor for one year and in 1890 Rev. L. B. Dye was installed. The following year the church building was completely remodeled. A bell-tower, a spacious parlor and entrance hall were added to the front, eight large memorial windows of art glass, besides numerous small ones were inserted, and a complete change of the main body of the church was made. A spacious aisle led from the entrance hall diagonally to the pulpit in the northeast corner of the building; the choir room was placed in the center of the east side; and the church was freshly painted both inside and out. At the rededication services, which took place in 1892, one of the largest assemblages ever gathered together in Minonk was in attendance. Rev. Dye read the dedicatory service and Rev. W. S. Marquis delivered a very eloquent and inspiring sermon. The music which greatly added to the service of praise and thanksgiving, was furnished by Miss Lena Martin as organist and a choir consisting of Mesdames Kleinhen and Brightman, the Misses Laura Martin, May Mitchell, Minnie Lohnes and Minnie Simater, Messrs. Stoddard, Kleinhen and Beebe, and were accompanied by F. H. Goodrich on the cornet, W. F. Priebe on the clarinet and James Munnis on the violin. At this time a deficit of $702.00 was quickly raised.

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Rev. Dye resigned as pastor in 1893 and was succeeded by Rev. F. H. Cushing, a young man just finishing his course at the McCormick Seminary. His health was seriously endangered and during the summer months of his only year as pastor, Rev. A. G. McGaw, a commissioner of the Foreign Field, acted as a supply in his stead. Rev. Cushing passed away that year and Rev. W. S. Morrow was given a call. During his six years as pastor the work of the church was carried on with no outstanding event. Credit goes to Mrs. Morrow for proposing and initiating the first Chrysanthemum Show ever held by the church. The Missionary Society sponsored it as a means to help meet their budget. For several years it was held in the homes and was looked forward to as one of the outstanding social events of the year. Later on it was taken over by the Aid Society.

Rev. G. A. Lawrence was pastor from 1901 to 1903. During this time a marked occasion was the purchasing and dedicating of a pipe organ.

This year we celebrate its thirtieth anniversary. This addition to the church was made possible by the generous gift of a thousand dollars from the organist Miss Zadel Stoddard and the other half of the cost by subscriptions of the members. The dedication took place November 30, 1902, with special services both morning and evening. Bertram S. Webber, organist of the Immanuel Baptist Church of Chicago, presided at both services and; the choir was assisted by Miss Alice Kenner, soloist, also of Chicago. The opening organ concert was given to the public the Friday night preceding the dedication. The organist at that time was Mr. Carl C. Christensen of Peoria, IL, assisted by Miss Alice Kenner and choir.

Rev. L. F. Cooper was the pastor from 1903 to 1908. Two events of special importance took place during this time. In 1907 Mr. and Mrs. B. M. Stoddard presented to the trustees of the church a gift of $4,000 to be used in the erection of a manse as a memorial to her mother, Lydia Edwards Bell. With the assistance of the church and Aid Society it was completed in 1907 and the Cooper family enjoyed living in it the first year.

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On November 10, 1907 the church celebrated fifty years of its existence with appropriate programs both morning and evening and also during the Sunday school hour. Again Rev. W. S. Marquis was called to deliver the sermon. During the fifty years, twelve different pastors had come and gone, each one leaving a rich heritage for the future of the church. In 1908 Rev. Cooper and Rev. J. M. Tidball, of Hamlet, Ill., agreed to exchange places, which was acceptable to both congregations. Rev. Tidball has the distinction of having served the church for a longer term of years than any other pastor, being with the church ten years. During this time the church made great strides both spiritually and materially through the untiring efforts of the pastor. Rev. Tidball, together with Mrs. Tidball, aided greatly in the service of music. His efforts and assistance in the Anti-Saloon League were also of great note. The outstanding achievement during his stay was the erection of the present beautiful building. It was made possible through the generous gift of Mr. B. M. Stoddard who offered to furnish half of the cost. The total cost amounted to a little over thirty-one thousand dollars. After months of toil and sacrifice the building was dedicated on June 10, 1917. The dedicatory sermon; was delivered by Rev. W. S. Marquis who took for his subject "God's Covenant with Jacob at Bethel" from verses found in Genesis 28. Miss Louise Goodrich presided at the organ and the choir consisting of Mesdames Tidball, Snedden, Snyder, Van Doren, Niman and Wilcox, and Messrs. MacKay, Loomis, Snedden, Kettelhut and Tidball, furnished exceptional music. At both the morning and evening services, offerings and pledges were received amounting to $400.00. An indebtedness of $960.00 remained but was erased the following year. In the evening a sacred concert was given by the regular choir, a ladies chorus and the junior choir, assisted by Miss Georgia Nettles at the piano and John Snedden on the violin. Large congregations attended both morning and evening and at the latter service some were forced to stand. A spirit of great thanksgiving and praise was manifest at these dedication services for this present edifice, which is one of outstanding simplicity and artistic beauty.

In April 1918, Rev. Tidball resigned his pastorate to accept a call in Dixon, Ill., and Rev. C. W. Donaldson was chosen from a number of candidates and began his pastorate June 16, 1918. He was ordained and installed September 25, with impressive services.

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During this period of the World War, the church responded to the call of service to country and had as representatives, George Onnen, Earl Bowman, Rowland Tucker, William Tucker, Roy Smith, William C. Barth, Edward Hinrichs, Elmer Marshall and Arthur Siebens. The last named volunteered in Y.M.C.A. work.

After seven years as pastor, Rev. Donaldson resigned to take up work at Huron, Ohio. During his stay in Minonk, Rev. Donaldson labored zealously and unceasingly in his plans of organization and systematic records in all departments of the church. He also participated in many activities outside the church. He also wrote the constitution and bylaws of the Ministerial Association, was active in the organizing of the first Daily Vacation Bible School and aided with a Teacher's Training Class in co-operation with the other churches of the town.

For a period of four months the church was without a regular pastor and in January 1926, Rev. J. C. Murdoch made his initial appearance as pastor, being duly installed the following April.

His stay was short, but though his ministry was brief, his many able and inspiring sermons, his wonderful faith and good cheer, together with the splendid assistance of Mrs. Murdoch, will ever be remembered with feelings of praise. Rev. Murdoch resigned in September 1928, to take up his work in Sparta, Ill.

Another incident credited to Mr. Murdoch's favor, was the introduction of a former classmate to our congregation and one whom we were very persistent in securing as his successor. Mr. M. W. Mosbacher finally yielded to our wishes and agreed to take the work with us beginning March 1, 1929, and is at this time our highly esteemed and beloved pastor.

No history of our church would be complete without making mention of the splendid work and various activities of all organizations within the church. Without their faithful service and co-operation the church would suffer a decided loss.

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The Bible School with its graded system and high ideals of religious instruction, the Ladies' Aid Society with its ever ready helping hand and assistance in promoting social activities, the Young People's Societies where much experience and religious responsibilities are acquired, the faithful and inspiration help of the choir, not only at the regular services but also with many fine concerts on special occasions, all are contributing factors in the great service of our church.

These are the outstanding historical facts and records of our church for seventy-five years, but it is impossible to measure the spirituality and far-reaching influence upon its members as well as upon the entire community during this time. Far above the historical and material side, the light of this organization shines as a power for good and uplifting influences upon the hearts and lives of the countless numbers whom it has served. The church is the habitation of God's people, but the body is the temple of the living God, "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone," to whom be glory forever.