Religious diversity is a cornerstone of metro-east history

Parishioners attend mass at St. Peter's Cathedral.
Parishioners attend mass at St. Peter's Cathedral.

People tend to think of the metro-east as a Catholic area. The church is strong here but there is a wide range of religions in the area and an even bigger supply of religious opinions.

There are more than eight pages of church listings in the AT&T Real Yellow Pages in the Belleville area directory. There are 80 subheads of denominations -- 14 alone for Baptists.

There are listings for Presbyterian, Presbyterian in America, Presbyterian USA, Divine Science, United Church of Christ, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Catholic Byzantine, Christ Catholic, six different Churches of God, Pentecostal, non-denominational, Assembly of God, Islamic, Baha'i, Jehovah's Witness, Unitarian and Latter Day Saints, among others.

Religions aren't confined to the traditional ones everyone is familiar with. Spiritualist, Pagans, Celtics and Wiccans also exist in the metro-east. Anyone can start a church, and many have.

Long before Europeans settled the continent, native Americans had their own types of worship.

The Mississippians built the mound community that spread all throughout the metro-east and had influence across much of what now is the Midwestern United States.

The community had pretty much disappeared by 1500 A.D. They may have worshiped the sun. Evidence of it is in the remains of buildings that were erected atop the great mound named Monk's Mound -- not because of the natives but because a colony of monks later lived there.

Woodhenge is the reconstructed remains of a circle of wooden poles that might have acted as an early astronomical device, indicating the seasons by where the sun rose.

Then came the Catholics and, not long behind them, the Protestants.

Catholic missionary Jacques Marquette and French Canadian explorer Louis Jolliet came through the area along the Mississippi River in 1739. Marquette founded the Immaculate Conception Mission along the Illinois River near what is now Starved Rock State Park and left what would become a strong Catholic heritage.

From the Holy Family Parish in Cahokia and its log church dating from 1699 to brand-new churches in Fairview Heights and O'Fallon-Shiloh, Catholics and other religions have been a strong presence in the metro-east.

In January 1862, the Belleville Advocate, in response to a Chicago Journal article calling Belleville a beautiful little village, responded with pride that Belleville wasn't so little. It had a dozen churches, at least that many hotels and eight breweries.

Church charities have supported and helped the poor and needy. Church organizations have sponsored sports and other recreational activities. Churches have started schools and hospitals that are important parts of metro-east communities.

Musicians and choirs are a strong tradition in churches. From traditional church music sung without accompaniment to modern combos with brass, drums and guitars, music is a big attraction.

Churches are making big efforts to reach out to people of all ages, with contemporary and traditional worship services. Many have Web sites and, these days, you can even get your sermons online.

And lest we forget one of the largest religions in the world, the area is home to a learning center on Old Collinsville Road south of Frank Scott Parkway East -- the Masjid & Islamic Education Center of Belleville which serves a sizable population of Muslims. More than 60 families regularly attend the mosque for everything from social activities to daily prayer.

This section offers snapshots of some of the religions that played major roles in our history.

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