Church turns 180s to celebrate past, prepare for future


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Posted Online: July 07, 2013, 12:27 am
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By Leon Lagerstam, llagerstam@qconline.com
ROCK ISLAND -- If it keeps turning "180s," Two Rivers United Methodist Church might wind up where it started -- a force to be reckoned with, according to one of its pastors.

The church, once known as First United Methodist Church, turns 180 years old this year, and plans to make a 180-degree turn in terms of a worship service and its sanctuary. It also has its eyes on people moving into 180 new loft apartments in Rock Island's downtown, as folks who may be looking for a church home.

Two Rivers has adopted a "Celebrate 180" theme to mark its history and look to the future. A special event will be held sometime in October. A Sept. 7 "Taste of Rock Island" event also may give people a sneak peak on its remodeling efforts.

"The congregation is in the midst of a renovation and has invested considerable resources to it, about a quarter of a million dollars," Rev. Leslie Thomas said. "The last renovation was in the 1960s, so it's time."

Downtown Rock Island is in the midst of its own revitalization, "and we want to be part of that," she said.

Church renovations will allow the congregation to add a "Celebrate 180" contemporary-style worship to its offerings, Rev. Thomas said, adding that traditional parts will remain."We're not tearing down the building or anything like that."

"And we're definitely keeping parts of it, such as our cross, angels on the altar, and windows" church member Sherry Prather said. But renovations will make it more comfortable for people and more handicapped accessible, she said.

"We're trying make the church more open in order to increase our opportunities to reach people who don't know Jesus," Rev. Thomas said.

"A lot of people know us only as their polling place," she said. "Otherwise, they drive by and see a place with some of its windows boarded up. We're fixing all that."

Her kids say the church looks like a castle, she said.

Original blocks date back to the 1800s, Rev. Thomas said. The stone church was dedicated in 1890, according to historical documents Ms. Prather provided.

Interest people have in older buildings and architectural styles may work to the church's advantage, Rev. Thomas said.The church is the oldest, and the only mainline denomination in the downtown area, she said.

Yet, what people are looking for in a church has changed, Ms. Prather said. "We want to become what people need and want to be seen as a viable option. God hasn't changed. But people are looking for different, contemporary ways to worship Him."

"We have three main foci -- worship, small groups, and service," Rev. Thomas said. A service aspect attracts younger people, she said.

"The average age of our members is 72," she said. "The average age of people around us is 38. So we know we can't live in the past, but have to look to the future."

Other plans include implementation of some requests by people who have been served food every Saturday at its meal site for more than a decade. Homeless people have asked for a laundry and place to shower, and Two Rivers Methodist is looking into it, she said.

Rev. Thomas is a "plant pastor" of this Celebrate 180 effort, while the Rev. Steve Kettelkamp remains a "plant pastor" of the traditional program.

Rev. Kettelkamp plans to retire after another year, "but I hope to be here for quite some time," Rev. Thomas said.

Her husband, Thomas Thomas, is the Rock Island city manager, which is what brought her to the Quad-Cities, and into position to help renew the church, something she called a "Two Rivers' birthing."

Renovations aren't easy and require a lot of labor, but she credited her congregation for "stepping up to the plate."

For members who were born, baptized, confirmed, married, and had funerals of loved ones at the church, "this is something that doesn't come all that easy for some to accept," Rev. Thomas said. "It is hard, and I'm to inspire them with my passion for Christ and a love for God."

A packed house last Sunday listened to her message titled "I need you to survive," she said."I was told this church was a force to be reckoned with, and I want to see that again."

The Illinois Great Rivers Conference has committed $100,000 toward the renovations, as well as additional money over the next three years, so counting the church's budget, it represents a $350,000 investment, she said, and a 180 turn.



Time line information

--1833: Organized as a mission church, renamed in 1836 as First Methodist Episcopal Church at Spencer cabin
--1844: Built first church
--1856: Built second church 
--1889: Built present stone church, dedicating it 1990
--1939: Changed name to First Methodist Church 
--1964: Bought Camp Milan from Central Illinois Conference for $1
--2008: Changed name to Two Rivers United Methodist Church.

Source: Church records












 



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