The History of Calvary Baptist Church
In January, 1865, Edgar Lincoln was honorably discharged from the Union Army. Enlisting in the 95th Illinois Infantry in 1862, he, along with many other Boone County farm boys, fought under Grant and Sherman as the North won control of the Mississippi River and defeated the southern armies in the western part of the Confederacy. Edgar had several close calls in battle, but his greatest enemy was disease that continuously ravaged the Union Army in the southern climes.
Meanwhile, back in Boone County, Ellen Moss and her cousins, Fannie and Harriet, had to fill voids left in their respective fathers' farms as many of their brothers marched off to war. Their grandfather, Asa, and Edgar's father, Jedidiah, attended First Baptist Church on the north side of the Kishwaukee River in Belvidere. Old Asa and Jedidiah were some of the earliest settlers in Boone County. During the war, it became increasingly difficult for them to get their large families across the rickety bridges that spanned the Kishwaukee River.
Broken in health, Edgar was honorably discharged. His regiment disbanded near the end of the war in 1865. At First Baptist Church in Belvidere, he joined a growing group of members who desired to start a new church on the south side of the river. First Baptist Church was one of the original churches in Belvidere and enjoyed a large and positive influence in the area. There was much discussion and much hesitation concerning the new church, but eventually sixty-five members were declared members in good standing and given letters of dismissal in order to begin the new church.
On October 26, 1865, South Belvidere Baptist Church officially began services in a small chapel on Logan Avenue. Pastor H.J. Eddy of First Baptist Church of Belvidere graciously participated in the opening services. A local merchant, John Plane, had bought a parcel of land at the corner of State Street and Logan Avenue and had given it to the new church. A beautiful wooden edifice would soon be erected in 1869.
Edgar Lincoln recovered in health and reestablished his farming on the west side of town. His brother, Oscar, had married Fanny Moss in 1864, and Edgar followed suit by marrying her cousin, Ellen, in October of 1866. In 1873, his younger brother, Phineas, would marry Harriet Moss. Three brothers married three cousins. Such were the close-knit communities and churches in Illinois in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
On December 19, 1871, disaster struck. The men of the church had repaired the bell tower after a wind storm had weakened it. They left a fire going to keep the interior plaster from freezing and had stationed a watchman to guard it. The watchman left the building for supper, and the fire quickly got out of control and consumed the entire building along with a residence close to the church. The building was uninsured. This situation would have doomed many young churches, but God had other plans.
Pastor John Fulton and the church clerk, Samuel Wood, challenged the people to rebuild. Inspired by their leadership, the deacons and the people of the church built a new brick edifice which was dedicated to the Lord in 1873. The Mosses, Lincolns, Woods, and many others had put much "sweat equity" into a project God's people would use for church services until 1969.
One of the casualties of the fire was that the church was forced to sell the corner lot at State Street and Logan Avenue in order to help finance the new building. Little did they know that in the coming years the automobile would demand parking space and that the corner would become such a landmark in the city. By 1900, a dry goods shop, a print shop, an attorney's office, and John Plane's hardware store would dominate the corner.
The Lincoln and Moss families were two of the faithful families God used to sustain the church through its first half century of existence. In 1907, Edgar resigned from the deacon board and immediately was made an honorary deacon. When the church observed its 50th anniversary in 1915, Edgar and Ellen were honored for their service. The year 1915 was also the year of the 50th reunion of the 95th Illinois. Edgar, along with many other Boone County veterans, made his way to Springfield for the festivities.
Faithful to the end, Edgar and Ellen served as influential members. Their names appear often in church records. They were helpers in the war effort on the home front during World War I. In 1919, they were helpful in encouraging the membership when the church could not meet together because of the world-wide Spanish flu epidemic. When the church suffered a decline in the 1920's, Edgar would call the church to pray and seek revival.
In 1926, Edgar and Ellen celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. South Baptist had a great celebration for them. They were the last surviving charter members of the church. In the mid-1920's, a newly-married young couple, Walter and Idora Hopp, began attending the church. Their second child, Darlene, was born on July 15th, 1929, shortly before Edgar's death in October. Ellen would follow her husband in death in 1930.
By 1930, the Great Depression was causing severe problems in Belvidere. After years of decline and doctrinal drift, South Baptist Church was seemingly near its death throes. The church actually voted to discontinue services in 1931, due to lack of finances. Again, God had different plans. An evangelist, George Ade, started holding a series of tent revivals in Belvidere using South Baptist Church as his base of operations. Attendance at South Baptist Church increased, and soon, by 1932, the church could call a new full-time pastor, A.D. Minton. Walter and Idora Hopp were quite active by this time and were quite influential in bringing visitors to church. The church began to grow and prosper again.
The Hopps, being a farm family, knew quite a few other farm families and invited them to church. In 1932, Herman and Mabel Linder were baptized and received as members. Maynard and Verna Fidder were saved, baptized, and received into membership in 1940. Another family, John and Lillian Nelson, began attending in 1938 and were baptized and accepted into membership in 1944. Their young son, Richard, would eventually become the longest-serving pastor of the church. These families became the nucleus for another 50 years of growth and ministry in Belvidere.
The Old South Baptist Church building was showing signs of age by 1940. Another fire in 1936, had caused extensive damage to the flooring. The church also needed more space for a rapidly-expanding Sunday School. Since there was no room to build another building, the people of the church dug a basement under the existing building. This again came with great sacrifice and "sweat equity."
In 1944, Harry A. Ironside, who had pastored Moody Church in Chicago, held revival meetings at South Baptist Church. There was great response during this war-time revival. It was recorded in the church minutes that it was "the greatest moment in the history of the church."
In 1940, Darlene Hopp was baptized and became a member of the church at age ten. She grew into womanhood during what many considered the "glory days" of the old South Baptist Church. She and her sisters, along with many of the farm kids, grew up milking cows, going to church, and attending Belvidere High School. In 1946, a farm boy named Al Henninger, and some of his friends, saw the young blonde at a high school activity. In the competition for Darlene's attention, Al made a bet with his friends that he would kiss her on their first date. (He lost!!) It took quite a while, but Al eventually won Darlene's affection, and the two were married in South Baptist Church in 1948. As a young couple, they would alternate between the Evangelical Free Church on the north side of town and South Baptist. In 1954, Al became a member of South Baptist. He and Darlene have been members ever since.
The Henningers were quite active in church and in the Belvidere community. Al has owned several businesses, a campground, and an insurance agency. The couple has been active members of the Boone County Grange and Boone County Fair since the 1950's. Under their leadership, the Boone County Fair has become one of the most successful fairs in the entire Midwest.
By the church's 100th anniversary, in 1965, it was becoming quite apparent that the old church building was inadequate in function as well as locale. The aging building was in constant need of repair, and the lack of parking was proving to be a major hindrance. In 1963, the church had called Richard Prochnow as pastor. In God's timing, this was the right man at the right time. Belvidere was growing. The new Chrysler plant in Belvidere was soon to open, and the south side of town was exploding in growth. Pastor Prochnow led the church in relocating to 7th Avenue in 1967. The church also changed its name to Calvary Baptist Church. Through earlier years, there had been several failed attempts to move the land-locked church to a new location, and the move finally came to fruition in 1969.
Pastor Prochnow and his wife, Maxine, served for ten years at South/Calvary Baptist church. Many new members, including Roy and Linda Hicks in 1964, were added to the church. He was the pastor longer than any other pastor until Pastor Richard Nelson's 20-year ministry beginning in 1981. Al and Darlene remember Pastor Prochnow conducting Sunday church services at their campgrounds before returning to Calvary Baptist Church to conduct the morning worship services.
Calvary Baptist Church began a Christian school ministry in 1975, under the leadership of Pastor R. H. Hunt. The city population was booming, and the church was prosperous in souls as well as finances. In 1981, Pastor Nelson began a long and successful ministry. The church was in its heyday. Attendance reached 500 on special days. Even in personal tragedy, Pastor Nelson was a strong and steady influence upon the church. In the year 2000, Pastor Nelson resigned and semi-retired to another ministry in Henry, Illinois. He remains active as Missions Director for the Association of Independent Baptist Churches in Illinois (AIBCI).
In the new millennium, the demographics of the area had begun to change. The Christian day-school movement had crested. Many Christian schools in the area were faced with declining attendance and increased burdens on the churches. Calvary Baptist was no exception. In 2003, the school was closed. The church also faced a declining attendance and higher maintenance costs. In 2009, internal dissension caused many to leave. The church was left with too much building for too few people. Like Edgar Lincoln before him, Al Henninger became a steadying influence upon the congregation as the church downsized and relocated to 312 North State Street, ironically, on the north side of the river.
Al and Darlene, along with Dan and Carol (Fidder) Frey and Dennis and Nancy Linder, have continued the heritage of the generations who have gone before them. With Ellen (Moss) Lincoln and Darlene (Hopp) Henninger, we span 150 years of membership at Calvary Baptist Church. The church again is prospering, and by God's grace, greater days are ahead.
As John Newton in the hymn "Amazing Grace" wrote: "Thru many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; 'Tis grace hath bro't me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home."
Calvary Baptist Church has enjoyed 150 years of ministry in Belvidere, Illinois. Thousands of saints are in heaven today because of the service and sacrifice of faithful members through the years who have responded to God's call to service. Grace has led us safe thus far, and God's grace will lead us home.
Written by: Pastor Dan Lashley*
30th pastor of Calvary Baptist Church
*I would like to thank all those who helped with this project. Poring over 150 years of documents written mostly in cursive has not been an easy task. Special thanks goes to Dennis Linder who seems to be a walking repository of names and family trees. Also, his wife, Nancy, has spent countless hours organizing displays for the coming celebration. Phyllis Burgos has been gracious in helping a technologically challenged pastor with the layout of this work. My wife, Judy, has painstakingly gone through each draft adding commas and correcting syntax. Any mistakes you see are a result of me not following her advice.
Also, Lonna Bentley of the Boone County Historical Museum and Jillian Fuller at the Ida Public Library have been most helpful. Thanks for your willingness to search the archives for documents. I have made a great effort to be as accurate as possible, especially in handling the names of ancestors. If your ancestors are mentioned inaccurately, please be assured it was done in ignorance and not in malice. If our Lord tarries and Calvary Baptist Church celebrates anniversaries in decades to come, may the same message be preached as it was 150 years ago:
"And the Spirit and the bride [the church] say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely."