Illinois News

First Presbyterian Church in Nauvoo closes after 165 years

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Aug. 9, 2020 12:01 am

NAUVOO, Ill. — Barb Schafer remembers the First Presbyterian Church of her childhood as always busy with activities from youth groups to meals prepared by women.

Generations of her family attended the church, where her grandmother played the organ for more than 60 years before passing the job down to Schafer's mom and aunt.

"You grew up feeling like you were in your own home," Schafer said. "A lot of families in church have been friends for years and years and years."

But as the congregation dwindled over the years, the remaining members came to the difficult decision to close the doors.

"Our feeling was we could have gone along. We could keep doing it every Sunday, but we felt like there was a better use for our money than just paying the bills," said Schafer, who is the clerk of session, similar to church secretary, for the congregation and an elder. "We made a decision to go ahead and close it."

After 165 years, the church held its last service in June.

"A lot of times when churches close, lots of animosity and bad feelings come up. We didn't have any of that. We'd seen it coming for a couple of years and decided it was time," Schafer said. "This was the 165-year anniversary. It seemed somewhat fitting to do it, but it is difficult."

An open house is planned for 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

"We're just going to open the doors and let people come through one last time. Some people have never been in there from the community," said Lou Ann Metternich, who with her husband joined First Presbyterian, his home church, in the early 1990s.

"We want to give everybody the opportunity to come back and see it, to see what there is to auction," Schafer said. "We also hope people come and share what they remember. It definitely will be a bittersweet day."

An online auction, with services donated by Sullivan Auctioneers of Hamilton, is scheduled at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 15. The building and lot will be sold separately from the stained-glass windows and the building's contents.

Church members know there's some potential interest in the building at 190 N. Page.

"It's in a residential district. Somebody could turn it into a home," Metternich said. "We want to let the building go to somebody who can use it."

Auction proceeds will be donated to several local nonprofit organizations, continuing the church's support for the community, which has included giving $12,000 in scholarships to Warsaw High School students since 2015.

Mark Anderson, the last of the 25 pastors and lay speakers to serve the congregation, said, "I was very, very proud of the congregation and their recognizing this was the way God wanted them to go … writing the last chapter with grace, dignity and style and planting a few seeds on the way out." said

Schafer said, "It's a good way to end our legacy by giving to others. Hopefully other people can benefit from what we had."

Giving to others long has been a mission for the church, organized March 18, 1855, with nine charter members. The congregation's first pastor, the Rev. Waldenmeyer, who served until 1874, married Joseph Smith III and Emma Griswold. He was the son of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his wife, Emma.

After the German Presbyterian church organized in Nauvoo in 1869, the German and English churches united and held services alternately in each language until 1903, when all services were held in English.

"The present church building was built in 1873 at a cost of $700 with the mortgage paid off in 1876," according to a church history. "Part of the structure was built with bricks from the home of John D. Lee, who later was involved in the Mountain Meadows Massacre."

The church building was remodeled in 1914, at a cost of $1,503, when a storm destroyed the steeple, and additional updates to the building have been made over the years including a handicap access with ramp and replacing the front entrance.

The Women's Home Missionary Society organized on April 5, 1895, with a public supper fundraiser in the Nauvoo City Hall offering three meats, potato salad, slaw, pickles, bread and butter and coffee for 10 cents per person. Later known as Nauvoo Presbyterian Women, the group began a church library, started the praise service and organized the Christmas Tea program.

First Presbyterian became known for "The motto 'where old fashioned friendliness still survives' is actively practiced and just as evident today as it has been over the past 165 years," the church history said.

The church will be remembered for its work with the God's Portion Sale, starting in 1950, its own annual Harvest Social and for many of its pastors, including Mary Hutson Boyer, who served the church for 47 years.

"Mary Hutson, our minister for many years, was the first woman lay minister in the state of Illinois in the Presbyterian church. It was quite a big deal at that time," Schafer said. "She was a phenomenal lady, way (ahead of) her time. She worked really well with our congregation and made us very successful."

For Schafer, her church memories focus on the close ties within the congregation.

"The way I see our church being remembered is through family," she said. "You have your church family. Everybody has a church family, but it's almost like blood relatives. That's the biggest thing I want to say."


Things to Do