A History Ever Unfolding
The church thrives today, due to the vision, dedication, and hard work of many 19th and 20th century men, women, and children.
The Early Years: 1839-1889
On February 6, 1839, seven founding members gathered at the home of Christopher Walkup. They named their congregation the Presbyterian Church of Virginia, McHenry County, Illinois, because the earliest settlers in the area were from Western Virginia. The first minister was Rev. Lemul Hall. He lived in Geneva, Wisconsin (about twenty miles north) and rode out to the new congregation bi-weekly.
A late nineteenth century church historian wrote this about the first church members: “The settler from the East, with his energy, enterprise, and economical habits, and the settler from the South with his kind, open-hearted, hospitality, exerted the one upon the other an influence that was mutually beneficial.”
Around 1847 a 30’X36′ church was built near Mr. Walkup’s house. Soon thereafter, a good brick school house was erected nearby.
In 1872, the people of Ridgefield began to feel the need of a new and more suitable house of worship. This new church was 36’X56′, cost $6,000, and is the same sanctuary that is seen today. When the church was finished in 1874, a parsonage was constructed costing $2,500.
A terrific hailstorm broke out all the windows on the west side of the church, on May 9, 1889. After installing new windows, the building was re-roofed, and other improvements completed.
On Sunday, February 9, 1890 a memorial service was held to celebrate the first fifty years. During the service, President Roberts of Lake Forest University preached a sermon on ‘Gideon’s Battle Cry’, a history of the church was read, and also read were letters from quite a number of the first ministers of the Church.
The Development Years: 1889-1939
During this time period, the Reverend Hale organized a men’s chorus called The Dairymen’s Glee Club. The Ridgefield Church has seemed to have an advantage over most other churches located in small towns or in the country, in generally having persons of musical ability who were willing to give their time and efforts to the work of the church.
The young people in the church started a social club. They had entertainments and lunches and raised one-half enough funds to purchase a large bell for the church, the other half being raised by subscription in the community… The same bell tolls today calling people to worship.
Twice, high winds tore the taller steeple from the left side of the sanctuary. After the second incident in 1906, the steeple was never replaced.
Two programs became strongly established: the Sunday school and the Ladies Aid Society. Through fund-raising efforts, the Ladies Aid Society improved the church in many ways. Their accomplishments were duly noted by the church historian who wrote, …some of the work done includes enlarging the pulpit platform of the church in 1902, building a board sidewalk to the school house and in the front of the church, installing a large stained glass window in the church front (even today on sunny days, it dazzles), also building a kitchen onto the church in 1910.
The Dynamic Years: 1939-1999
Although the 100th anniversary of the church was reached on February 6, 1939, the cool, sunny spring day of April 30th was chosen to commemorate it in order to increase member and guest participation. Honored guest was 90 year-old Mr. Walkup – the oldest church member and grandson of church founder, Christopher Walkup. Christopher Walkup’s house was the site of the first worship service 100 years before. The attendees ate an old-fashioned basket lunch and marveled at a huge centennial cake, topped with a replica of the church.
In 1939, church membership was 42. Sunday school attendance was 14.
In the early 1950s, hard times hit the church. The Ladies Aid Society couldn’t afford to pay the oil heating bill. During some winters, members worshipped downstairs, because heating costs for the sanctuary were prohibitive. To help alleviate financial woes, the Lord’s Acre project began. Barley, corn, and hay were planted on 85 acres. As many as 30 farmers working with tractors running on donated gasoline planted donated seed. The money raised from the sale of the crops was added to the church treasury.
The 1960s were a period of growth with a spirit of renewal, reflecting the growth of the surrounding area, as unprecedented building brought the arrival of folks with more ties to Chicago-area businesses than to farming. Church membership reached 207, and nursery care was set up for children under three. The church’s name was changed to Ridgefield Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church (RCLPC) to reflect the larger community served. The little town of Ridgefield didn’t grow into the mini-metropolis that early settlers had expected. Crystal Lake was the church’s mailing address and closest medium-sized town.
Rev. Dr. Douglas R. Loving commenced his work at RCLPC in 1971. Rev. Dr. Loving was an innovator, always introducing fresh ideas to his congregation….His leadership was instrumental in bringing the congregation to its 150th year (and beyond) with a vision of the future.
A Crystal Lake radio station, WIVS, began monthly broadcasts of Sunday morning worship in 1970 and continued that practice until 1980.
In 1977 to increase meeting space, the Fellowship Hall building was constructed to the west of the sanctuary.
In the 1970s and 1980s, several mission projects were launched:
- In 1972, a struggling church in Augusta, Georgia became the focus of financial help and the recipient of tons of clothing.
- In 1980, Rev. Dr. Loving and twenty church members flew to Samalut, Egypt to meet with Rev. Gendi Ibrahim Rizk, a minister from the Coptic Evangelical Church. While there, they saw the obstacles facing Christians worshipping in an overwhelmingly Moslem country. The Egypt mission remains a very important church commitment to this day.
- In the early ’80s, the Xiongs, a Laotian refugee family was assisted by church members in establishing a home, learning a new language, finding employment.
- Help and support were sent to the inner city ministry of Hattie Williams’s Shalom Community in Chicago.
- Many local mission projects have benefited from the efforts of RCLPC members. Some of them are: Pleasant Valley Farm, FISH, Meals on Wheels, Faith in Action, prison ministry, Illinois Migrant Council, Turning Point for abused families, and Home of the Sparrow Interfaith Shelter. An important service to the community founded by RCLPC members was the Crystal Lake Food Pantry.
- In 1983, the youth of RCLPC took their first mission trip to Colorado to help renovate facilities at a Presbyterian summer camp. Over the years youth mission trips have assisted in the building of homes for low-income families in various states.
The Youth and Adult education programs were expanded in enrollment size and in the variety of programs offered. Spiritual education was and always will be fundamentally important.
On Feb. 8, 1989, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the church, worshipers were invited to wear clothing reminiscent of the church’s early years. A number of period outfits were sprinkled among the congregation, and the Rev. Dr. Loving preached his sesquicentennial sermon in a frock coat one of the first pastors might have worn.
In 1990, new classrooms were built behind the church, offices were remodeled, and other structural changes were completed.
As stated before, music has continually been an integral part of the church. Three choirs were created during this period. The senior choir composed of adult members, sang every Sunday, and performed special music programs at Easter and Christmas. … Instrumentation is frequently employed with anything from guitars, flutes, and trumpets to tambourines, maracas, and wooden blocks to add just the right sound. The two children’s choirs – the Cherub choir and Sounds of Joy – each shared their new and special talents with the congregation. Overseeing all the music activities of RCLPC was music director, Hazel Dunn, who had been involved in the music ministry from 1975 to June 2000. Following Hazel’s retirement, music director Sherri Dees shared her many talents with the Adult Choir and the Church for more than 20 years.
The Vision 2000 program was financed by a fund drive within the church at which the response was overwhelming. Among the many projects completed under the program were a completely rebuilt kitchen, extensive repairs to the church steeple and the facade of the church, and a new walkway and steps leading into the church building. In addition, a “starter” fund was established to initially pay the expense of employing an associate pastor.
As part of the Vision 2000 program a search committee for an additional pastor was established. Following an exhaustive solicitation and review of applicants, the committee recommended Won Ho Kim, who was both ordained and called as associate pastor in 1999. The Reverend Kim was particularly active in working with the youth of the church and became involved in the new contemporary service initiated in the fall of 2000.
As a major project undertaken as a part of the Vision 2000 program, the church instituted a third worship service, contemporary in nature.
Today – an exciting challenge faces the church – planning for the future. Church membership steadily rises. To manage growth, two major projects were begun. First, RCLPC helped start a new Presbyterian congregation south of Crystal Lake. And second, in 1997 future planning was formally activated through the Vision 2000 conference – a structured reflection by members about the road ahead.
With its rich history as the oldest continuous congregation in McHenry County, RCLPC looks forward to satisfying the spiritual needs of its 21st century congregation. Download and read more from this Tribune Article dated February 8, 2000: Mighty House of God Tribune Article Feb 8, 2000
Some passages are from A Sesquicentennial History – the official history of the Ridgefield Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church
In 2002, Doug Loving retired after 31 years as pastor. Ridgefield-Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church finds itself still imbued with energy, enterprise and economy, and with the Lord’s help will remain kind, open-hearted and hospitable.
Special thanks to Joan Black and Mary Lloyd Jamison, church historians, for their work on the time period, 1939-1999.