The roots Shiloh United Methodist Church run far and deep. They are interwoven not only through the history the greater United Methodist Church and St. Clair County, but also the state of Illinois and the nation.
“The history is really interesting. It’s not everyday you find this kind of rich history,” said Denise Augustine, the church member who is chairing archival and anniversary presentation for the church’s 210th birthday. “We have six Revolutionary War patriots buried in our cemetery. I think that speaks for itself.”
It all started an 11-day revival meeting in April 1807 at Three Springs, also referred to as Shiloh Grove. The assembly inspired construction of the log Shiloh meeting house on the site, 11 years before Illinois would become a state.
“When William McKendree, the first American-born Methodist bishop and founder of McKendree University (in Lebanon) delivered his prophetic blessing at the founding of our church in 1807, he had faith that this church would live long and accomplish great good, and that’s just what Shiloh UMC has done,” said Ken Hutchens, Shiloh UMC pastor.
The 18-by-22-foot log meeting would end up being the first of many homes to the longest-organized United Methodist church in the state of Illinois. One of the area’s first settlers, Capt. Joseph Ogle, who migrated with his family to St. Clair County over two centuries ago, played a vital role as a church leader.
“Essentially, he was the first Methodist in the state before it joined the Union,” Hutchens said of the American Revolutionary War patriot.
The church would eventually lend its its name to the village and township that would form around it. (The village of Shiloh was previously referred to as Three Springs before it was officially founded in 1847, and then incorporated as a village in 1905.)
Still today, there is a path that leads from behind the modern day church into the woods where the three fresh water springs played host to revival meetings, travelers and circuit riders.
“The springs were known for their acoustics back then, making them perfect for preachers to hold revival services,” Hutchens said. “A couple years back, we had a Boy Scout do a project to help turn the path into wooden-and-gravel graded steps, leading down to the area where there are a couple of picnic tables.”
Three members of the church went on to play significant roles in state government in the effort to prevent Illinois from becoming a slave state.
A stone house of worship built in 1819, but was poorly constructed. A brick church was built 1840.
“Ulysses S. Grant later swore in troops (in the 1840 church) as apart of Illinois’ preparation to participate in the Civil War,” Hutchens said.
In 1865, the church held a memorial service following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. It was “largely attended,” Augustine said.
The 1840 church later burned down. The church’s fourth edition, built in 1875, still stands today. Sounds from the steeple bell, cast by J.G. Stuckstede Co. in St. Louis, Mo., at a cost of $6,700 as part of the 1875 addition, still reverberate today.
Growth & renewal
Church membership has had its ups and downs, ranging from five in the 1930s during the Great Depression to 25 in the 1990s, Augustine said. But the congregation has persevered.
“It hasn’t stopped us yet. The church always seems to find a way to survive, whether it’s from help of other churches or prayer circles,” she said.
Today, a typical Sunday finds more than 300 in the pews for worship services.
Augustine joined the church in the early 2000s, who described the church as “the most loving place around.”
“The folks really take care of one another here. There’s a lot of retired and active military members who attend, and in the military, we are already a family, and I just sense that a lot of the military bring that into the congregation,” said Augustine, a retired military nurse.
She said one example of the congregation’s togetherness is when she sends alert reminders for the church’s 24-hour pray vigils, which held for fellow members in need, like cancer patients or those suffering a loss.
“I’m always amazed by it. That’s what keeps me there. It’s like a family,” she said.
In 2001, the church spent $2 million on renovations. They the addition where the current worship area, a gathering space, Three Springs Preschool, youth rooms and counseling areas. Gary Karasek, local community artist and U Studios Inc. owner, quarterbacked the project.
“He did a fantastic job, like with the stained glass windows in the sanctuary and combining elements of the old with the new,” Hutchens said.
Hutchens said the 20,000-square-feet addition was recently renovated again to include a café with a coffee bar for pre- and post-service gathering with refreshments, as well as many tables, chairs and couches for seating for all types. And there’s more to come.
“We’re in the process of doing these (digital) kiosks that will be sign up for different activities and ministries and for the children,” Hutchens said.
Time to celebrate
What: The public is invited for an open house celebrating the parish’s 210th anniversary. A ribbon cutting ceremony to commemorate the Protestant church’s history and its future at the church with refreshments provided during an acoustic concert, along with an historical display. The event is open to the public.
When: 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 10
Where: 210 S. Main St., Shiloh
For More Information: Call 618-632-6913 or visit shiloh-umc.org online
What: The church will host its annual Fall Festival which will include a trunk-or-treat, hayrides, free food and drinks, competitions like a chilli cook-off. The event is open to the public.
When: Sunday, Oct. 22
Where: 210 S. Main St., Shiloh