Church History: Presbyterian


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Excerpt from the Peoria, City and County, Illinois (1912) by James M. Rice, Volume I, pages 152-161, submitted by Janine Crandell


     The identity of a church may be established or distinguished by, or discovered from its form of government or its system of doctrine. The Presbyterian church has both marks and takes its name from the governmental conception of the church as outlined in the New Testament and exemplified in Jewish worship maintained in the synagogue services. Presbuteros or elder is the "office" that gives the name to the church. Presbyterians have a definite scriptural creed and a constitutionally defined and equitable form of government and a consistent history. Denominationally considered, a Presbyterian church is defined as a church constructed on the Presbyterian polity or form of government whose creed is in harmony with the consensus of the Reform church. That consensus lies in the confessional agreement in five fundamental features: First, the supremacy of the Holy Scriptures as the only rule of faith, doctrine and duty; second, election by free grace; third, atonement by the blood of Christ; fourth, justification of faith alone; and fifth, the doctrine of the sacraments.
     The polity of the Presbyterian church is defined by a written constitution, by the terms of which the government of the church is administered by chosen representatives of the people. This polity clearly distinguishes three great principles: First, the parity of official equality of the clergy; second, representative government by the people; and third, the unity of the body of Christ.
     The soul requirement for admission to membership in this church is an open, honest confession of allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord and Master. No creedal test or obligation is met at the door of the Presbyterian church by one who would enter. That door of entrance is as wide as the gate of Heaven and as narrow as Jesus' declaration makes it, "No man cometh unto the Father but by me."
     The Presbyterian church stands today, as of yore, for important Christian principles essential to the formation of sturdy character, vital to Christian citizenship--two things for which the world has real need. It is also a church most catholic, most fraternal in its spirit, most cordial and courteous in its attitude toward and treatment of other communions of the Lord's people. It cultivates an irenic spirit and temper and extends to the Christian world the right hand of fellowship by reason of its equmenic creed, and with confident hope prays for and seeks to anticipate the reunion of Christendom.
     Having been reared in this faith, early settlers coming from the south or east and across the seas brought with them to this region their religious habits and fond desires to enjoy after their wont divine services and to rear their children in the Presbyterian faith. Accordingly, they founded churches in every community where they found any considerable number of people of like religious training with themselves. This favored generation has small appreciation of what it owes to the early settlers, who as Christians maintained their integrity, worshiped God, planted churches, created and left over and handed down to their descendants a rich religious legacy for which they endured privations and made sacrifices in this, then new country, in order that they might provide houses of worship, estated ministry, and gospel privileges for themselves, their neighbors and their children.
     In the following sketch it is purposed to trace the early history and later developments of what may be called the pioneer churches and to give a brief statement concerning the organization and growth of the later churches established in Peoria county. Some of these early churches answer perfectly to that description of the patriarchs who "served their generation and fell on sleep," for a changing and complex population. Removals by death and immigration have depleted to exhaustion some churches that early in their history flourished and gave religious tone and moral vitality to the communities in which they were planted.
     The task of one who essays to write of the early churches of Peoria county is made difficult by reason of the fact that the early records kept of the organization of the churches and their subsequent transactions were very few and scant in the first place, and many of them through lapse of time have been lost or destroyed. It is a great pity that they were not made more complete or had been better preserved and that resort for data need not be made to such civil records as may be found for incidental reference, in order to present a historical narration. The attempt is here made to describe the main items of interest and importance connected with each congregation.
     The earliest Presbyterian church planted in the county of Peoria, whose history remains unbroken from its beginning till now, is the Princess Grove, or Princeville church, founded August 16, 1834. At the organization of this church under the leadership of the Rev. Robert Stewart and Theron Baldwin, we find such names enrolled as White, Morrow, Garrison, Peet, Miller, as charter members; indicating that they were of English and Scotch blood. We see them living through the dangers of the Black Hawk war of the two years before, guarding their flocks and herds from coyotes, wolves, lynxes and wild cats, while building their huts of logs cut from the grove, and then having raised small crops of wheat or corn, hauling it to Chicago and on their return trip bringing back with their ox team, shingles and finishing lumber for their church house, for we are told that they built the first house of worship from stone gathered near by and sawed walnut siding by hand from the trees of the grove and hewed the dimension timbers and erected the building by volunteer labor.
     These were days of devoted self-denial on the part of both ministers and people. The Princeville pulpit was occupied in the early days by Rev. C. W. Babbit, George D. Sill, Robert Breese, and Robert Campbell, all able, consecrated men, and they have had their successors of like attainments and consecration, who have proved themselves by their service to Christ and the church. To this church such men as Dr. Robert Henry, George Rowcliff, Lemuel Auten, B. H. Weir have devoted themselves in the ruling eldership, serving in an unstinted and loyal way the church of their love. This church celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary, and the historical sermon preached by the present pastor, the Rev. Max B. Wiles, is replete with interesting reminiscences and may be found in the "Princeville Telephone" of August 19, 1909.
     The first Protestant church founded in Peoria was what is now known as the First Presbyterian church. It owed its existence largely to the devotion and determination of one Samuel Lowry, who was its earliest ruling elder, with considerable emphasis on the adjective. But neither his rugged faith nor unflinching adherence to what he saw fit to call "principle" are to be spoken of lightly. That he was intensely human, an active member of the church militant, there is no doubt, and from his appearance as shown in a daguerreotype one might conclude that had he lived a little earlier, he would not have been an unequal antagonist of the rather famous, or infamous, Claverhouse, but making due allowance for his fighting spirit, when it is known that it was his privilege to have been born on Londonderry battlefield, much might be said to his credit. Mr. Lowry, co­operating with the Rev. John Birch, gathered in Peoria a congregation and on the 22d of December, 1834, the First church was organized by Mr. Birch, as "The Ohio Missionary," in Mr. Lowry's home, and it was in all probability the last church organized by this devoted and heroic soldier of the Cross, for he perished on Delavan prairie the night of the awful Friday, December 16, 1836, when the temperature fell rapidly without warning and he was overtaken by the storm while making his way on horseback to his appointment in Peoria, and was found next day frozen to death.
     Succeeding him, came the Rev. Isaac Kellar from Hagerstown, Maryland, who served and brought faithfully in this church—encountered the opposition of the world—the flesh, and Elder Lowry. But all the mistakes made that became steps leading up or down to unhappy contentions over church property—litigation in the church courts—could not have been all on one side, and it is quite possible that Samuel Lowry was about half right and half wrong, the other contending parties dividing the burden with him in about the same proportion. However, time, changing circumstances, and the coming of new people affected changes in the church life, and out of controversy and division, and by the dissolution of a sporadic organization, the First church persisting came to inherit "all the rights and privileges to the title appertaining," and is therefore the "First Church in Peoria" with its Presbyterian complexion, historically and continuously since 1834 to the present.
     The Rev. Isaac Kellar was first in the succession of such able, scholarly and worthy pastors as Addison Coffey, Robert Johnston, Jonathan Edwards—all of whom "wrought nobly in the work of the Master," and have been called to meet their reward. Surviving in this succession are John H. Morron, Jesse C. Bruce, Newell D. Hillis, Thomas A. McCurdy, Chauncey T. Edwards and Hugh Jack, each of whom has contributed his particular part in building this Zion, having had the earnest cooperation of the people of the First church, who have always had "a mind to work," and from their ranks have furnished such able men and women as Christian workers as the Weises, the Griswolds, McCoys, Powells, Reynolds, Schneblys, Batchelders, Johnstons, Louckes, Mcllvaines, McKinneys, Fishers, and others whose names are in the Book of Life. [Note: There has been little change to the exterior of the structure and it is still serving the community over a hundred years later]
     The First church has been the mother of churches. Through her activity from her membership the Second, Calvary, Grace, Arcadia and Westminster churches of Peoria and the Pottstown church were formed, each in succession being developed from a mission Sabbath school established and conducted by active and devoted men and women from the First church. This church has given to the Presbyterian ministry eight of her sons, namely: John V. C. Nellis, James M. Batchelder, Wellington E. Loucks, Charles M. and Herbert H. Fisher, Charles E. and Chauncey T. Edwards and A. W. McCurdy, who all have done, and the surviving members of this band are still doing faithful and fruitful work for and in the church in which they were reared and to which they have devoted their lives.
     Places of worship occupied by this church were first, the county court house, a small and insignificant building; then the First church building in Peoria county at the corner of Adams and Jackson streets; then a frame building on Fulton street, between Adams and Jefferson; the brick building now standing at the corner of Main and Madison; and the present commodious structure on Hamilton boulevard and Crescent avenue.
     This church celebrated its seventy-fifth or "Diamond Anniversary," December, 1909, with attractive, appropriate and impressive services, participated in or contributed to by all the former living pastors, and with greetings from the children of the church unable to be present, a full account of which may be found in a booklet called the "Diamond Anniversary" of the First Presbyterian church, Peoria, Illinois, and which may be consulted at the Peoria library.
     It appears that from 1849 to 1854 a number of churches were formed in the county, namely: La Marsh, Rochester, Orange Prairie, West Jersey, etc., all of which served a good purpose, flourished for a time and because of the incoming of the railroads and the shifting of the population to the new towns erected on these highways, were abandoned and became physically and legally extinct.
     An early church was that of Brunswick, organized by the Classis of the Reformed Dutch church, September 19, 1840, and was then known as the Protestant Dutch church of Copperas. After the establishment of the Brunswick postoffice, the name of the church was changed to Brunswick and in 1844 the church was admitted to Presbytery, and is still connected therewith and maintains stated services and a Sabbath school.
     The location is beautiful for situation, commanding a view of some of the best farms in Peoria county and magnificent scenery for miles around in either direction. Among the early workers and later laborers in this old church are to be found the names of the Ramseys, Wellses, Fahnestock, Erford, Love, Graham, Wilson and Eslinger, and it has had as its ministers the Revs. Sill, Fraser, Marquis, McFarland, Ferguson, Johnston, Scott, McMillan, Keiry, Mullen and Smith.
     The influence of the church on the community life was for years very marked and its fragrance lingers still. On the east slope between the highway and the church lies one of the most-cared-for country cemeteries and in it sleeps the dust of former pastors of the church and members of the Brunswick flock. Once a year the Cemetery Association of Brunswick holds a reunion, at which the ancient traditions are discussed and the holy memories of the things done by the fathers and mothers are revived and the fund replenished, and service of grateful love goes on in care bestowed on the grounds that enclose those beds of green, beneath which rest the mortal part of those who "served till set of sun" and entered into the "rest that remaineth."

Brunswick Community Church
Picture taken on Dec. 8, 2004

     After Brunswick comes the Salem church, organized in 1849 by Revs. S. C. McCune and William McCandlish, William Stewart and James H. Patterson, were its first elders, and their successors have been such men as John L. Clark, R. W. Francis, C. H. Northrup. This church has been ministered to by the Revs. McFarland, Hanna, Cameron, Marquis, Johnston, Scott, McMillan, Flemming, Keiry, Mullen and Smith. In the removal of the church to Hanna City, and the building of a new and attractive house of worship, steps were taken to change the name to the Hanna City church, by which name with Presbyterial and legal sanction that church has become the successor of all the historical and ecclesiastical rights and prerogatives of the old Salem church.
     Since its removal to Hanna City the church has taken on new life and activity and gives good promise of ministering successfully to the spiritual and social needs of its community.
     The Prospect church was organized by the Revs. Addison, Coffee and R. F. Breese in 1850, its first ruling elder being Joseph Yates. "The Prospectors" who knew the meaning of the family altar and the worth of worship came from West Virginia, near Wheeling, and were of that thrifty sort who made farming a business and a success, and they built their first "church house" on a hill in the year 1854, near what is now Prospect cemetery on "a parcel of ground" belonging to Adam Yates. In that building they worshipped until the church was removed to Dunlap, one mile east, after the completion of the Peoria and Rock Island railroad, where they dedicated the present building in 1877.
     Prospect church has been served by the following ministers in succession, viz.: Revs. Hervey, Turbit, F. F. Smith, Cairns, Simpson, Gardiner, Winn, Cooke, Nevius, H. Smith, Townsend, Randall, Thomas, Jones, Campbell, and the present, the Benjamin of the band, L. H. McCormick.
     Serving as ruling elders we have such names as Yates, White, Dunlap, Hervey, Jones, Berry, Hitchcock, Harker, Gray, and of noble women not a few, Kelly, Parks, Dunlap, and such church workers as the Keadys, Parks and others. Prospect gave also of her sons to the Presbyterian ministry—George Dunlap, Thomas C. Winn, William Jones and Frank F. Brown.
     Prospect celebrated its Jubilee in 1900 with fitting services, and a souvenir of the occasion may be found in the homes of many of the older members. (Jubilee report)


     French Grove church was organized in October, 1851, by the minister who performed the same services for Prospect. Its early ruling elders were William Reed, and George S. Pursell, and after them came the Alwards, McDonald, Warner, Moore, Coe, Todd, Slocum, McRill, McCune and the Reeds, either as elders or as church workers—devoted, self-sacrificing and efficient.
     The ministers serving the French church were the Revs. McFarland, Fraser, Smith, Carruthers, Boyd, Hillman, McClelland, Butter, Jones, Sturm, McCluer and others. The days of its early history were days of prosperity and for years it gave out an increasing and helpful influence to its community that made for its moral and spiritual betterment, but removals westward and heavenward, coupled with the changing racial and religious character of the population have depleted this old church, which still stands a silent reminder of the better things, while near by in the beautiful little cemetery, so well kept and cared for, repose the mortal remains of former ministers, elders and members of the French Grove church.
     Among the churches planted in the county, flourishing for a time but now extinct, are New Scotland, Brimfield, Valley Ridge, and Elba Center, which were in their time once the soul and life of their communities.


     Upon the petition of parties for the most part connected with the First church, and evidently with the concurrence of the pastor and session of that church, the Presbytery organized the Second church of Peoria, December 7, 1853, with a membership of twenty-eight, and John L. Griswold and John C. Grier were elected elders. The Rev. Robert P. Farris was their first minister. Contrary to the usual order here, the Second church was first and the Sabbath second, in point of organization. The first house of worship erected by this congregation was built on the present site, corner of Madison and Jackson streets [now Spalding Street] and dedicated in 1855, and here Mr. Farris was installed. He continued to serve the Second church until failing health compelled him to relinquish the charge in 1858 and the remainder of the life of this devoted servant of Christ and the church, was spent in educational and editorial work, largely in connection with the publications of the Presbyterian church in the United States (Southern Presbyterian), of which body he was from its beginning till his death, the permanent clerk of its general assembly and once or twice its moderator.
     The Rev. Samuel Hibben came next, succeeding Dr. Farris in 1859 and was installed pastor December 4th, the sermon on that occasion being preached by that stalwart and versatile scholar and eloquent biblical preacher, the famous Nathan L. Rice, then professor of theology in the Seminary of the Northwest (now McCormick). Under his leadership the church prospered, for Mr. Hibben was an exceptional man and minister, scholarly and saintly, modest and frank, gentle and faithful. Here he married Miss Elizabeth Grier, the daughter of that worthy elder, John C. Grier, a man thrice honored by the Presbytery of Peoria with a commission to the general assembly. To this worthy couple was born a son, John Grier Hibben, president of Princeton University. Declining health led Mr. Hibben to resign his charge and in the hope of recruiting it by outdoor life, he accepted the chaplaincy of the Fourth Illinois Cavalry, but he continued to decline and returned to Peoria, where he died in 1862. His successor was the Rev. W. E. McLaren, afterwards bishop of the Episcopal church, who was installed pastor May 8, 1864, and remained in this pastorate upwards of two years.
     The Rev. Henry Van Dyke Nevius, succeeded Bishop McLaren, in 1867, and served this charge until 1872. He was a preacher of power and a man of God. Of him one has written, "Few men were better equipped mentally for their work and hence he was a workman that needed not to be ashamed; few men lived more in sympathy with God's word and Son--hence his spiritual power." After him the Rev. William L. Green came to this pastorate and remained until 1875. Mr. Green, like his predecessors, was a well furnished man, of strong mental calibre, clear in his conceptions of related truth, versatile and virile in his statement of it.
     He was followed by the Rev. Lewis O. Thompson, who was pastor from 1876 to 1882. Mr. Thompson was an able man, a painstaking scholar--a historian of no mean ability, who did the church great and good service in many ways through his books, "Nineteen Christian Centuries," "The Prayer Meeting," etc. He met a tragic death by drowning at Henry, where he was pastor of the First Presbyterian church.
     The Rev. Thomas X. Orr came to this pastorate and served for ten years, when impaired health led him to seek rest for a season. During his administration the present unique, churchly and commodious house of worship was erected. Since his retirement from the pastorate of the Second church, Dr. Orr has resided in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where his services are continually called for, he being always an acceptable preacher, a genuine man, genial, kindly, obliging, "a man greatly beloved."
     Dr. Orr was succeeded for a brief time by the Rev. Samuel M. Moore, a large man in many ways and whose pastorate, though brief, was not unmarked with interest.
     The present pastor the Rev. Arthur M. Little, Ph. D. D. D., came on in the apostolic succession, being installed in May, 1900, and after twelve years of service continues to hold the affection of his people of the Second church and is named among the progressive men of the city.
     This church has been served through the over half century of its life by such able men and church workers as the Griers, the McCoys, the Ruggs, the Clarkes, the McCullochs, the Rices, and by noble women, not a few, whose names are set down in the "Impartial Record," kept at present from mortal eyes.
     This church celebrated with appropriate services its semi-centennial in 1903. The "Semi-Centennial" of the Second church of Peoria, a pamphlet attractively arranged, contains matter of special interest to all connected with this congregation and to any others who would know just in what manner the Second church has been used of God, for the good of men, and it may be found in the homes of the members of the Second church and should be also found in our city library.

The above 1906 postcard is the second building of the Second
Presbyterian Church, built in 1889.  It still stands at Madison
and Spalding Street.  In 1937, First Congregational Church and the
Second Presbyterian merged together to form the First Federal Church.



     The Elmwood church was organized June 5, 1856, with fourteen members. John Rodgers served as its first elder. Its first church building was purchased from the Congregational church and removed from its then country site to the town of Elmwood. During the ministry of the Rev. William H. Mason the present building was erected at a cost of something over $6,000, and in architectural effect and adaptability for its purposes it is a model.
     Among the men who have served in the eldership of this church we find the names of J. B. Stewart, N. B. Love, S. M. Coe, Castor Patterson, and after them the present efficient elders. The ministers serving Elmwood church have been J. A. Marquis, J. H. Smith, J. R. Reasoner, Wilson, Duncan, and the present scholarly and able pastor, the Rev. Benjamin Y. George. Messrs. Reasoner, Mason and George each served the church for a period of upwards of ten years. The present incumbent has served faithfully and acceptably since 1895 in this pastorate.


     The Limestone church was founded in 1859 with fifteen members, with John Cameron and William Jones as ruling elders. It has had as its ministers such men as Dr. T. G. Scott and John Fleming, and is at present served by one of the younger men of the Presbytery, the Rev. H. L. Todd. Names appearing among its ruling elders are C. Greenwood, William Cameron and William Taylor.
     This church has stood as a beacon on a hill, a perpetual invitation to worship the Lord God Almighty, and a constant reminder that "It is not the whole of Life to live, nor all of Death to die."


     Calvary church was organized in 1867 and had as its first minister the Rev. John Weston, D. D., who after years of service was called to other fields, and again recalled to the pastorate at Calvary church. Its successful pastor, whole-souled, kind-hearted and helpful preacher, the flexible, sympathetic and generous friend of every member of the flock, passed from the scene of labor to his eternal reward while still pastor of Calvary church. Dr. Weston has had follow him in this pastorate such men as Dr. A. Z. McGogney, Andrew Christy Brown, D. D., and after the latter's death, for a time, Dr. A. L. Howard. The church is now ministered to by the resourceful, active and modest Alexander Lewis.
     Its eldership has been adorned by such men as that efficient Sabbath school worker. William R. Reynolds, William Schroeder, William Guyer, A. Waterhouse, T. J. Love, Peter Hulsibus, James McGill, and the younger men who now constitute the present efficient session. [Note: The first church was on Walnut and Washington; the second on First and Fisher which was dedicated in 1879. In 1958, the congregation merged with Arcadia Avenue Presbyterian at this site. Then the Morning Star Baptist moved there.]


     Grace church was organized in 1868, with George H. Mcllvaine and Theodore Higbie ruling elders. Among the devoted workers in this church from the beginning of the enterprise we find the names of Bush, Lyons, Linsey, Baldwin, Coe, Voorhees, Angier, Andrews, Isele, and Eakin.
     Grace church has had among its ministers Levi C. Littell, Dr. Farris, A. F. Erwin, and the sainted James Alvin Sankey, whose successor, Rev. Walter M. Elliott, gives promise of doing a great and good work in its congregation and the city of Peoria. [Note: the church, located at Madison and Wayne, was built around 1873. It was originally named Grace church and then renamed Grace Presbyterian in 1883. The church was destroyed by fire in 1890 and replaced by a brick building at the same corner. The church moved to Knoxville and Forrest Hill in 1957.]


     This church was organized September 29, 1887, by a committee of Presbytery, composed of Revs. I. A. Cornelison, Rev. A. F. Irwin and Elder David McKinney. The organization started with fifty-nine members and elected Henry Marmine and Ireneus E. White, elders. Mr. White has remained in continuous service ever since and has rendered the church devoted and self-sacrificing service in almost every capacity, in which one might serve his church. The church has been ministered to by the Revs. Andrew Christy Brown, D. D., C. W. Whorrall, George A. Phlug, W. W. Tait, D. W. McMillan, W. E. Edmonds, but is at present without a pastor. The church has always maintained an interesting and growing Sabbath school and has been of great help to many in its vicinity. Being situated in a growing part of the city, it has a mission to perform in that neighborhood, ministering moral and spiritual help and comfort to the coming generation.


     The Arcadia Avenue church was organized October 6, 1896, with twenty-three members, with Isaac Kellar and Robert E. Lauren, elders.
     This church grew out of a flourishing mission Sabbath school instituted and conducted largely by members of the First church, and in 1897 called as its pastor, the Rev. James Benson, who has continued to serve the church with signal ability and devotion. The harmony of mind and action in this congregation is witnessed by the beautiful and serviceable building at the corner of Arcadia and Bigelow, by the flourishing condition of both Sabbath school and church and last but by no means least, the growing liberality of the members shown in the increased offerings to the boards of the church and in general benevolence. Situated as it is, in a beautiful and growing residential district of the city and meeting as it does the religious needs of its vicinity, Arcadia church may be expected to grow in influence as well as in numbers and continue to be an important factor in the moral and social life of the city. [Note: A fire destroyed this church in 1945 and a new church was dedicated in 1948.]


     Out of Westminster chapel and the Sabbath school meeting there grew Westminster church. It was organized by the Presbytery June 1, 1897, with twenty-four members, who elected Messrs. P. W. Petrie, Theodore Higbie and C. R. Kuhn, elders. The Rev. William Parsons, the first pastor, has been followed by Revs. J. B. Farrell, Theodore H. Allen, D. D., and the present minister the Rev. Clinton J. Greene, a young man, who enters upon the work in Westminster under circumstances that augur success. While still in the active service of this church, Dr. Allen was suddenly called to higher service in the Church Triumphant, leaving behind a precious legacy to his children, in a life of devoted service, even that of "a good minister of Jesus Christ." With a splendidly equipped and beautiful house of worship, situated on the West Bluff on Moss avenue, with a growing Sabbath school and a devoted membership, Westminster should "make good" to its constituency and do excellent work for God and men.


Westminster Presbyterian Church on 1420 Moss Avenue
The building burned on January 21, 1985, and was
rededicated at the same site on April 2, 1989.
Postcard circa 1923


     The first of these was the meeting of the general assembly in the First church Peoria, in 1863, amid the stirring and critical scenes of the civil strife. This meeting was presided over by that justly celebrated, scholarly and devoted pioneer missionary to India, John Hunter Morrison, D. D., of the Presbytery of Lodiana. The assembly listened to stirring debate and united in earnest prayer over the questions that were uppermost in both the civil and religious life of the country and besought the God of our fathers for his special favor in those trying times and that he would most graciously bring an early end to the awful strife and send peace and prosperity throughout all our borders. In many respects this was a most remarkable assembly and a recital of some of its deliberations and conclusions might properly be made here did space admit or judicious selection of matter out of such a mass of good things were an easy task.
     The second, that of administration, which after an overture sent up to the general assembly from the Presbytery of Peoria, relative to the erection of the standing committees of the general assembly, was adopted and known as "The Peoria Plan."


     To that worthy Presbyterian elder, James Montgomery Rice, whose connection as editor-in-chief of this history of the county of Peoria, and whose sudden departure for "Home" has left this part of it to less capable hands to finish that task, together with the justly esteemed Isaac A. Cornelison, D. D., pertains the honor of the conceiving and inaugurating the above named plan. It may be said that the plan was made necessary because of the large number and importance of the standing committees of the general assembly, which the new moderator was called upon to appoint immediately after taking the chair, and being neither ubiquitous nor infallible, could not by any possibility have personal acquaintance with or knowledge of the fitness of all commissioners for the tasks to be assigned them; and besides, it was thought the principle of representation began to be threatened because too much power was found reposing in the hands of one or two officers of the general assembly.
     To avoid the danger lurking in this symptom of centralization of power; to avoid being "managed;" to reconquer from custom the right to govern themselves out of the hands of "Ecclesiastical Bosses," this plan was devised and provides a method at once simple, just and clear for the selection of the standing committees of the general assembly so that all sections and interests of the church may be fairly represented.
     In brief, the plan conserves the fundamental principle of Presbyterian church government, viz.: an equitable distribution of administrative power. To this end the church is geographically divided and grouped by Presbyteries or Synods into twenty districts, there being twenty-two standing committees consisting of twenty-two members each—the commissioners from the whole church make up twenty-two electing sections, which are numbered consecutively in the order in which the standing committees are numbered. The commissioners constituting an electing section assigned to it from a certain given territory assemble at the sitting of the general assembly, elect their own chairman and secretary, vote directly for moderator, and choose either a minister or an elder, as may be its province; to each one of the standing committees, from their own number such persons as may be thought best fitted for the discharge of the respective duties required of them.
     The plan briefly stated is that the odd numbered sections in odd numbered years elect a minister to the odd numbered committees, and an elder for the even numbered committees. The even numbered sections elect the other committeemen and in even numbered years the committees are reversed and the sections elect reversely. This gives each district a member, either an elder or a minister, on each standing committee, each year, and to every committee its proper number of members.
     This plan adopted after lengthened discussion and amendment became what is known as standing rule No. 5, and since its adoption the standing committees of the general assembly have been named by the commissioners themselves, assembled in their electing sections and with general satisfaction to the church.

"Women, who labored with us"

     Much credit for the many achievements wrought in these regions, by the church is justly due to the piety, presistence and devotion of the women, who have ''manned" the various aid and missionary societies in the churches of Peoria county.
     They have in many localities, through the drouth of summer and the biting cold of winter, maintained local religious interest, kept up the church services, repaired the house of worship and at the same time have been large factors in promoting the work of the church in other fields and in other lands.
     By mutual counsel, by interchange of religious ideas, by social intercourse, by consecrated womanly ways, by practical efforts to relieve distress among the unfortunate and the ill-circumstances, they have succeeded in setting forward the kingdom of Christ.
     In their planning and their doing, they have furnished a stimulating example to the "Presbyterian Brotherhood," a men's organization, for which there is great and pressing need as well as large room.


     It is a peculiar mark—one of the signal glories of the Presbyterian church— part of her heritage from John Calvin, that she has favored and fostered liberal learning and wherever she has gone on her mission to men, she has planted the school and the college as well as the church and sought to provide every educational advantage for her constituency.
     She has believed in popular and progressive education. She has never sought to supplant but rather to supplement the early training of our common school, with the higher and more advanced forms of education.
     The early Peoria county Presbyterians were not remiss in this particular. In the early 'fifties, they planted academies at Brunswick and Princeville, projected Peoria University in 1857. Here on the Bluff they began the erection of a brick building, which when all ready for the roof, was wrecked by a tornado in 1858. Because of the general financial depression prevailing throughout the country at that time, the stress of which fell heavily on the west, the refinancing of the project was too heavy a burden for the limited means of its promoters, the local enterprise was therefore abandoned and the attention and the means of the church were turned to the larger institutions, like Knox College and which ever since have had a fair share of the patronage and financial support of Peoria county Presbyterians. In the west as in the east, Presbyterians have sought to bind together thorough scholarship and practical religion, that thus they might do their share in the development of the moral and religious character of men and make as large a contribution as possible to humanity's uplift. That in this undertaking they have made a creditable showing, is witnessed by deeds of loving and notable service to men and a loyal allegiance to Jesus Christ, the changeless, eternal Head of the church.


Backward Glance: Church Clash Over Slavery Issue
(written by Janine Crandell & published in the Jubilee Advocate in 2005)

    It is not a moral dilemma for us today when regarding the pros and cons of slavery. We understand clearly the concept of “all men are created equal”. But back in 1843, the people of Peoria were deeply divided.
     The Main Street Presbyterian Church, later known as the First Congregational Church, was at the center of the controversy. One of Peoria’s earliest churches, it was founded on December 28, 1834. Some of its founding members were Moses and Lucy Pettengill and Dr. Enoch and Charlotte Cross. At the time of the church’s first roll call of thirteen people, Peoria was just a small village of 20 to 25 log cabins and 8 to 10 frame houses scattered in a small area at the foot of a beautiful bluff. Moses Pettengill and Dr. Enoch Cross were elected the first elders of the church and during the next nine years, the church prospered.
     Then a singular incident on February 13, 1843, made tempers flare and caused lines to be drawn. A notice was published in the Peoria Champion, calling for people to attend the first meeting of Peoria’s Anti-Slavery Society which was to be held at the Main Street Presbyterian Church. This location was the only place in town where the meeting was allowed to take place. The leaders of the church, including Moses Pettengill, were abolitionists. Mr. Pettengill was said to be a tall and angular man and his facial features bore a strong resemblance to Lincoln. For years, people mistook him for Lincoln and said they “looked enough alike to be brothers”. It only seemed natural that the Pettingills help form an anti-slavery organization and attend its first meeting considering they often hid slaves at their home (where the Civic Center now stands) until safe passage was arranged for the next station on the Underground Railroad.
     However, before the historic meeting took place, a mass meeting of “respectable citizens” met at the court-house and a long list of resolutions was issued denouncing the abolition meeting. In spite of this outburst, Moses Pettengill, the pastor, Reverend William Allen, and 18 other people met in the church that cold winter’s night in 1843.
     Their meeting was interrupted by about 200 citizens who forced themselves into the church and broke up the proceeding. Seeing that the situation was volatile, Mr. Pettengill and his group disbanded for the night. Violence perpetuated by the mob did occur that night, including running the preacher’s buggy into the lake. Afterwards, about 400 Peorians, a good portion of the town’s population, met at the court-house and adopted a resolution that they would boycott any newspaper which published reports of any abolition meeting.
     In response to this turn of events, the Peoria Democratic Press wrote: “We think the spirit manifested on this occasion showed the determination of the citizens of Peoria that its fair name shall not be tarnished by a public organization of a nest of Negro stealers.”
Scathing comments did not deter the members of this church nor alter their stance against slavery. That the church suffered greatly for their anti-slavery views is apparent from the records. Their membership dwindled down to a precious few and what was once a self-supporting church, now had to depend on the Home Missionary Society for support.
     With perseverance, the anti-slavery sentiment prevailed in Peoria. It’s interesting to note that the first church bell in Peoria which hung in the First Congregational Church (lineal descendant of the Main Street Presbyterian Church) rang every time there was news of a Union victory in the Civil War.

Main Street Presbyterian Church built in 1835

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Updated March 21, 2005