An Illinois meetinghouse honors its past and looks to its future.
(© Jim Frazier)
There’s nothing ornate about the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva, Illinois, a small, classic New England-style meetinghouse devoid of religious symbols. But there is a lot of history. The church was gathered in 1842 as the First Christian Congregation of Geneva, and though it has undergone several extensions, renovations, and restorations since then, it maintains firm ties to its past.
Describing the space, the Rev. Dr. Lindsay Bates said it essentially looks just as it did in 1879, when the pews and painted glass windows featuring harvest themes were installed. Both were purchased from a church that had burned in the Great Chicago Fire.
“You’re sitting in history every time you’re sitting in that room,” Bates said.
The congregation still recites the church’s original 1842 Covenant at every worship service, which reads, in part: “[W]e have associated ourselves together—not as agreeing in opinion, not as having attained universal truth in belief or perfection in character, but as seekers after truth and goodness.”
The sanctuary comfortably seats about 85 to 90 people, but Bates said they can squeeze in up to 150 when necessary. The holiday pageant brings in a big crowd, including non-UU family members of the participants.
Because the sanctuary is so small, the congregation holds two services on Sundays. Children are with them for the first part of every service. “We want them to grow up knowing it is their church,” said Bates, “and they won’t do that if they aren’t welcome in the sanctuary.”
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Sonja L. Cohen is deputy managing editor of UU World and a lifelong Unitarian Universalist.
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