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Mokena church turns 150 ... and counting

Kim Siegers music director St. John's United Church Christ Mokenplays pipe organ church's sanctuary Wednesday August 15 2012. The church

Kim Siegers, music director at St. John's United Church of Christ in Mokena, plays the pipe organ in the church's sanctuary Wednesday, August 15, 2012. The church is celebrating its 150th year. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 21, 2012 1:05PM



As St. John’s United Church of Christ marks its sesquicentennial year, members not only have reflected on their service to the community as one of the oldest churches in Mokena, but have found ways — often in multiples of 150 — to celebrate and strengthen that service.

The theme of the yearlong anniversary celebration is “Revisit, reconnect and rediscover.”

“It’s not just a year of looking back, but moving forward,” said Pastor David Alfeld-Johnson, the 18th pastor to serve St. John’s. “We want to celebrate, but we have to have one eye forward. That will challenge us.”

Physically, the church has undergone numerous changes, but it has not wavered from its spiritual mission of spreading the Gospel in word and deed.

It has grown with the Mokena community since the original church building was dedicated on Sept. 20, 1862. The current structure, built in 1923, features a powerful pipe organ and stained glass windows. Bells still summon people to worship, and there’s an occasional bat in the belfry.

There have been many milestones to mark the passage of time. The first service in English took place in 1907, supplementing and eventually replacing German; an education wing was added in 1960, a preschool was started in 1980, and a community center was built in 2000, all in response to the changing needs of the community.

The church, at 11100 W. Second St., has been shaped by its past. Its legacy has been, and will continue to be, all about being active in the community, members said.

‘More than a building’

The roots of the church and of its members run deep.

Dave Kropp, 79, said he’s been going to St. John’s since before he was born. His great-grandfather, the Rev. Carl Schaub, was the longest-serving pastor there, during a time of growth, from 1873 to 1906, and his grandfather, the Rev. William Kreis, soon followed, serving as pastor from 1917 to 1925.

“The fact that we needed to build bigger facilities, the education wing and the community center, shows how much this congregation is rooted here,” Kropp said.

“It’s been like home to me for so many years. I’ve grown with the church in the same way the church has grown,” said Kay Stanek, a lifelong member and current church council president. “We are eager to have the church and the community get together. It’s more than a building; it’s the people.”

“I like the family feeling at St. John’s. It is a very warm, friendly, compassionate group of people,” said Chris Maluta, a preschool teacher for 23 years.

Ever-evolving

They all laughed as they considered how St. John’s has managed to keep up with the times.

The property initially was home to four different churches — so close together they could hear each other singing. The horse-tying rack eventually gave way to a paved parking lot, and shared outdoor toilets were replaced by indoor facilities.

There are now two Sunday services — one traditional, one contemporary — even though some old-timers were leery of introducing drums in church.

There has been a men’s club, women’s circle, couples club and youth groups. The church has sponsored bowling leagues, Scout troops, mission trips and Relay for Life teams.

Now, in celebration of their 150 years, the congregation have engaged in 150 hours of continual prayer, are collecting 150 different items monthly for the local food pantry, and hope to draw 150 pints of blood in three blood drives.

The celebration kicked off with a special worship service and brunch in March, attended by 400 past and present members. All of its annual events — the church picnic in September, the Crop Hunger Walk in October, and the popular community turkey dinner in November — will carry an anniversary theme as well.

As they celebrate their history, they eagerly look forward to the future.

“The last 150 years are a testament to the people before me,” Alfeld-Johnson said. “We have a responsibility of carrying out what comes next.”

“People are very committed to seeing that we go on,” Stanek said.

“We are blessed,” Kropp said.

“We truly are,” Stanek said.



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