Faith United Methodist Church
Downers Grove
432 59th Street
Downers Grove
IL  60516 map

Faith Church
Helping Christians Grow...
Helping to Grow Christians

A History of Faith Church




The history of a church is the story of one’s search for an understanding of inner feelings in relation to GOD and GOD’S reason for placing us on this earth. This involves our conception of a higher state of life than the mere physical being such as we regard lower animals. It is apparent that there is within us a spark of the DIVINE which we refer to as the Spirit. Because of lack of understanding of the manifestations of this Spirit many people think of it as supernatural, unreal; but it is, in reality, LIFE ITSELF. This spirit is constantly striving to elevate the material being to do the will of the CREATOR, but because of ignorance of the true meaning of this inner urging, we become restless. Because we understand physical comforts and pleasures as better than the workings of the SPIRIT, we dream of greener pastures and more physical ease, which we feel are just beyond the horizon. This no doubt was in large measure the cause of the great immigration to this new land of promise, AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL. Among the early immigrants to AMERICA were the founders of our church.


Faith Church forefathers left their comfortable homes in Europe and found privations and hardships in the new country and loneliness in the wilderness and on the prairies. This was a new experience. Living miles apart with no one to converse with for days at a time brings communion with one’s inner self, and that still small voice gets a chance to manifest itself, and God becomes more real. In this sort of situation the earliest settlers of Downers Grove were eager to listen when Rev. Boaz came from the western conference in Ohio and preached at Chicago and Naperville.


This was the summer of 1837 and the Martin Escher family had just arrived from Pennsylvania together with a couple of other families who settled less than two miles west of Downers Grove on Maple Avenue.


Rev. Boaz stopped several times at the Escher home to hold meetings for the people in Downers Grove and Naperville.


The village of Naperville was better established than Downers Grove, and so it was natural that the people living between would go to Naperville to do much of their trading, and they helped to organize the first church in 1843. The “class” at Downers Grove continued to hold meetings in homes until 1858, when a small building was bought at Belmont, which had been used by the Congregationalists. This was moved to Maple Avenue about one mile west of Downers Grove across the road from the entrance to Oak Hill cemetery. In 1862 the conference formed Strauss’ class, Brush Hill, Summit, Canal and Downers Grove into a district called the Downers Grove Mission.


As time passed, the village grew, and some of the farmers moved into town. It then seemed wise to move the church. Thus an acre of ground was bought just east of what is now Brookbank on Maple Avenue. The little old Belmont building was moved to this location in 1873 and enlarged a bit. Evangelist services during the winters added converts to the church. In 1879 the church was incorporated under the name of SAINT PAUL SOCIETY OF THE EVANGELICAL ASSOCIATION OF NORTH AMERICA.





The community of Downers Grove was organized on March 29, 1873, when 87 citizens met in the office of Warren Rogers to effect the incorporation of Downers Grove into a village. At that same time the membership in our church was more than one hundred.


The earliest record book of the church has been lost. There is in existence a certificate of the election of trustees, dated January 19, 1864, showing the election of Martin Escher, Friederich Graff and Philip Lehman as trustees and Martin Escher as chairman and John Latz as secretary of the “Evangelische Gemeinschaft” or “Evangelical Association” of North America, a society for the purpose of religious worship in Downers Grove, Illinois. This instrument bears the seal of the CIRCUIT COURT OF DUPAGE COUNTY and the signature of Wm. P. Whitney, Circuit Clerk. There is also a handwritten form stating that on July 25, 1870, the members of the EVANGELICAL ASSOCIATION OF NORTH AMERICA met for the purpose of electing trustees at the church of said association in the town of LISLE, DUPAGE COUNTY, ILLINOIS. At this meeting Augustus Feussle was elected chairman, M. Hoffert secretary and Michael Hoffert, Herman Piltz and Henry Kiest trustees. This was sworn to before Charles Curtiss, justice of the peace, and recorded September 10, 1870 A.D. and signed by E. H. Hull, recorder. In 1870 the church was still opposite the cemetery which is in Lisle Township. The church has another interesting document, dated February 4, 1879. This was before women had the right to vote, and so it reads, “Pursuant to notice previously and duly given the male members of the Downers Grove Society of the Evangelical Association of North America convened for the purpose of effecting a permanent organization and taking such measures as are required for a legal incorporation under the statues of Illinois. Martin Stamm was elected chairman, B. C. Wagner secretary.”


It was resolved that the society adopt the name of Saint Paul Society of Evangelical Association of North America located in Downers Grove, Illinois. Tobias Atzel, Andrew Hoffert, Andrew Dilger, John Boldebuck and Jacob Path were elected trustees.


In 1882 Professor Paeth was assigned as preacher here. He felt that the church building ought to be improved or a new one built. Therefore in 1883 with much labor and sacrifice the building was remodeled. The roof was torn off and made higher, an extension was built on the rear for a rostrum, a section was added on the front with a 60 foot spire.


The farmers hauled stone for the foundation from Naperville or Lemont. The men of the church helped wherever possible. The interior was beautifully decorated with fresco work and in the front of the church on the wall of the rostrum was inscribed in colors and in fancy German script the verse, “SEEK YE FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND ALL ELSE SHALL BE ADDED UNTO YOU.” On December 16, 1883, this building was dedicated, free of debt. In the words of one of the members on that day, “There was great joy and praise to GOD, giving Him all the glory. It was felt that all the labor was richly rewarded as when a winter is past and the air again is pleasant.”


Heretofore there had been no musical instrument in the church; but at this time an organ was donated, adding much to the services. The custom of that day was for the women to sit on one side of the church and the men on the other. At communion there were two goblets, one for the men and one for the women. Each took a swallow as the pastor held the goblet. The communion pitcher and the goblets are still in existence. All church services and Sunday School sessions were conducted in German. The children were even taught to read German in the Sunday School.


The sermons of that day were very dramatic and delivered in tones ranging from almost a whisper to loud shouts and heartrending pleas for sinner to repent and be saved from the Devil and the eternal fires of hell. People seemed eager to hear such sermons, especially because they were always interwoven with the soothing, saving grace of the great love of Jesus Christ, who gave all that they might inherit eternal life. It is not hard to understand the desire for such sermons, when you realize the stress and strain of the period that was being experienced by the people in the congregation. There were memories of the Indian massacres, the scourge of cholera that was brought in by the soldiers at Fort Dearborn, the disturbing days of the slavery question, the anxiety of the Civil War, the small pox, yellow fever, diphtheria, and scarlet fever epidemics which took so many lives and against which there seemed to be no human defense. These were the things that stirred emotions and were felt deeply in men’s souls. Some people cursed God for sending His wrath upon them, but the spiritually minded pleaded earnestly for God’s help, and many a prayer meeting was a time of intense emotional overflow. This was also the period when many religious sects began to appear and cause considerable confusion among the church people.





Older members of our church can remember the old fashioned “revival” meeting. Forceful sermons were preached about the broad road to destruction and eternal punishment for the sinner. There was escape through belief in Jesus Christ. After the sermon those who felt convicted of sin knelt at the altar rail. The devout believers gathered around. Fervent prayers were made on behalf of the sinner. Songs were repeated over and over, the sinner’s mind would work fast and furiously, reason struggling with the sinner’s spirit and the burden of condemnation getting so heavy that the will relaxed and repentance was possible. Then the inner spirit seemed to well up into the conscious mind, and a great burden seemed lifted. Each could believe himself saved and happiness filled the soul. This was conversion or being “born again,” as believed in the protestant churches.


Evangelistic meetings in the winter and camp meetings in the summers became popular, and a great spiritual awakening swept the country. This came none too soon, for vice and debauchery were rampant. The liquor industry was demoralizing the country. The vice dens and red light districts were openly operating and even kidnapping innocent unsuspecting country girls who went to the large cities seeking jobs. The churches took up the fight against all this wickedness. Our church took its place with those of the community who earnestly tried to eradicate these evils. Our town was kept free of saloons and vice dens. Temperance organizations were formed, the anti-saloon league came into being, the W.C.T.U. and the fight for women’s suffrage was strenuously pushed by the women. Our church always stood shoulder to shoulder with those who fought for the uplift of humanity. The churches preached and taught and distributed literature to bring the people to a sober realization of the vice conditions, but it took the courage of Carrie Nation, who boldly entered saloons with her hatchet, smashing everything b breakable, to give impetus to the movement. The fight was kept up and conditions improved. During all this activity the different sects and “isms” were taking advantage of the highly emotional state of affairs by advancing radical and fanatical modes of worship, drawing some members away from the established churches and causing trouble in general. Whether this and the fact that our church still clung to the German language in the worship service was the cause is not clear, but on November 30, 1894, differences arose; and the “Evangelische Gemeinschaft” split into two groups. One group followed Bishop Dubs and called themselves the “United Evangelical Church.” Our own church rallied under Bishop Escher, retained the original name and possession of the church property. The two churches were reunited on October 14, 1922, in the Mack Avenue Evangelical Church in Detroit, Michigan. Once again the spiritual sons and daughters of Jacob Albright were reunited into one body and one spirit. The split had cut the membership in half, and though it was discouraging, the work went on. Students from Naperville were often employed to serve the church, and this pleased the younger members, because the students preached in English, as well as German.





The start of the 1890’s found our church in a rather sad condition, caused by the split, which left us with a membership of approximately 40 and a correspondingly diminished influence among the other churches of the village. However, the spirit of Christ was kept alive by the loyal members who struggled courageously.


During the next ten year period great developments took place in the world at large, especially in the United States. The use of electric power was becoming a commonplace thing, and kerosene lamps were becoming obsolete. The state of Wyoming voted in women’s suffrage, which caused some definite excitement in political circles. A big topic of discussion in 1892 was the preparation being made for the great world’s fair in Chicago, to be known as THE COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. The fair opened in May of 1893, and the same year a depression struck the country. This proved to be not so severe, however, and things soon picked up to the point which caused this decade to be known as the GAY NINETIES. During this era horse racing became very popular, and this became another social concern of the church.


Funny little horseless carriages were making their appearance, and by 1898 one cylinder automobiles that could travel ten miles an hour could be purchased for one thousand dollars. The Spanish American War of 1898-99 gave the United States possessions in the Pacific which brought us into close relationship with Asia. The church’s missions were expanded, and that, of course, affected the Downers Grove church. It was about this time that the “Young People’s Alliance” was formed. It was a very active cultural organization, and as the members grew older and the organization faded, the few remaining members in our church formed a young people’s group called the “Nicodemus Club.” Some of our current membership were members of this organization.


One day during a violent thunderstorm the church steeple was struck by lightning. There was no fire, but the steeple was shattered. Rather than rebuild such a tall spire, it was decided to cut it off and make a low, blunt tower a little higher than the peak of the main roof. No picture of the church with the original steeple has been found.


In 1899 the Naperville campground was purchased by the conference. A tabernacle was built, and many members of this district, mostly from Chicago, leased lots and built cottages and spent a good deal of the summer there. During the week services were held. People came on bicycles, by horse and buggy, by train … all to hear the special speakers and music. The evangelistic nature of the programs brought about many conversions. Our church always closed during campmeeting time so that members could attend those services.


It was during the last few years of the 90’s that Alexander Dowe was forming an organization to establish ZION CITY north of Chicago. He succeeded in drawing a few Evangelical members, who joined his communal idea of government. Among them was a preacher named Richert, who was our local minister at the time, and about whom it was said, “He could listen to a sermon and afterward repeat it word for word from memory.”





The twentieth century was entered with great expectation. Experts exclaimed it as the dawn of a new day. The many scientific discoveries of the past twenty years were now being developed into practical use. The United States became the world leader in the production of steel, the Panama Canal was completed, wireless telegraphy became a boon to ships at sea, the X-ray machine made it possible to look thru the human body, people experienced the wonder of moving pictures, and people began to have a new concept of life and things in general. Many became skeptical of the teachings of the church and discounted the value of religion.


It was about the year 1900 that Sam Haller and his family came to Downers Grove and established the store which later became the Downers Grove Department Store. The Hallers were good business people and prospered from the start. They became members of the Evangelical Church and added new spirit and much needed encouragement. Mr. Haller was chosen for Sunday School Superintendent in 1907.


Mrs. Haller was chosen as leader for the Women’s Society, which at this time changed its name to the “Ladies Aid Society.” This was done because they wished to put forth a greater effort toward strengthening the local church.


American slang was beginning g to be used at this time and well-remembered is a talk by Mr. Haller to the Sunday School about the corrupting of the English language and how disrespectful it was to call children “kids.”


In 1907 John S. Stamm, a Naperville seminary student at the time who later became Bishop, was sent to the Downers Grove Church as minister. He was forceful and possessed a personality that was pleasing and powerfully persuasive. He was a master of the old type of evangelistic service and could preach conviction into the heart of the hardest sinners. Through the efforts of Rev. Stamm and Sam Haller the people of the Evangelical Church decided to build a new church on the prominent corner of Main and Maple, a beacon light to the Christian way of life. It was felt that the old church was “hiding its light under a bushel,” since it was located on the edge of town. In 1909 arrangements were made to exchange the church and property with Mr. Haller. Cement blocks were a new building material at the time and were expected to be a great asset to the building industry. Mr. Haller wished to build a fine home of cement blocks and acquired the necessary equipment to make them. He agreed to furnish the blocks for the church building. The blocks were made by hand at 1143 Maple Ave., where Mr. Haller was having his house built. All the blocks for the church were hauled to the site by a team and wagon by Arthur Iehl, the brother of Maude Boldebuck. Roy Miller had a hand in making the blocks for his uncle Sam Haller and also worked on the construction of the church as carpenter. The cornerstone was laid in 1909, and the building was completed and dedicated on October 23, 1910, with Bishop S. P. Spreng officiating. The cost of that building was $11,825.


This was now the newest and best looking church building in town and the lost influence in the community was regained. Through the efforts and influence of Rev. Stamm several prominent businessmen were converted and joined the church. Things were again looking up, and the members felt proud of their new building and pressed on with greater zeal to exalt Christ. The old building was turned broadside with the street and remodeled into two apartments, which have the street numbers of 1221 and 1223 Maple Avenue.


Previous to 1909 the annual conference consisted of clergy only. In the 1909 conference the laity was represented for the first time and had the right to vote. Sam Haller became the first lay delegate from Downers Grove. In 1911 E. M. Diener was recommended for the ministry and licensed to preach. In 1915 he was ordained a deacon and in 1917 ordained an elder. For many years he served as a conference trustee. In 1912 the conference moved Rev. Stamm, which later proved to be unfortunate for Downers Grove.


His guidance was still needed by the congregation, especially the new members. A few years later the Haller family moved west and one by one the new members dropped out for one reason or another. It became harder and harder to keep up the church program. To some it appeared too much of an effort to continue; but God willed differently; and much gratitude and honor is due Martha Penner (later Mrs. Roy Miller) and Mary S. Diener (mother of E. M. Diener for their tenacious efforts and “don’t give up” attitude during the darkest days of the church’s existence.





During the dark days of our church early in the 1900’s, when the congregation found it hard to make payments on the debt of the new church, it was impossible to keep up a good program; and again the church found itself losing influence in Downers Grove. Under these conditions it took only a very little solicitation for one of the prominent churches of the village to attract some of our best musical talent, which made things still more difficult. However, the loyal ones stuck to the task and by sacrifice and prayer kept up the morale; and the church debt was finally paid off.


After a slight breathing spell and just after World War I, the church was decorated. Carpeting and new lighting fixtures were installed, all at a cost of $500. Charles Haller donated a big share of this expense. Things were now looking up again. The Young People’s Alliance became more active; and when the war was over, this group joined wholeheartedly in all the district meetings of what was then the Fox River Valley Union with inspiring results. There was also much interest shown in weekly prayer meetings. Lay members took turns in leading these meetings, and the spiritual life of the church inspired the members to look hopefully to the future.


A building boom started about 1921 in the village. New people were coming to live here, and the prospect of new members was given thought once again. Automobile traffic was increasing, and the noise was interfering with the church services because both Main Street and Maple Avenue were main thru streets for the village. The Sunday School had increased to a point where more room was needed. Soon there was a movement started to build a new church, but because of the building boom, prices of property were going up rapidly, places close in to town were very scarce.


Therefore in 1926 the congregation, with the approval of a committee appointed by the Annual Conference, purchased property at the southeast corner of For3est and Prairie Avenue for the purpose of building a new church. This property extended about 90 ft. along Prairie Avenue and a little more than 100 ft. on Forest Avenue and contained a two story house. The purchase price was $1,200. A mortgage was secured on this property and also on the church property. The house was rented while plans were being made for a new church building. An artist’s sketch was made in color, showing a church building to cost $50,000. A prospective buyer for the old church property was willing to pay $35,000 for it.


Things looked very bright for a time, but soon the plumbing and the heating in the house became a problem, and most of the rent money went for repairs. Then the great depression came, and the northside property had to be given up to pay off the mortgage on it. This still left a debt on the church building and on the parsonage property. It was a tremendous task just to pay the interest on the debt, and the budget had to be cut. When Rev. J. G. Finkbeiner came as pastor, he offered to take a cut in salary. The Harvest Home Festival was instituted and became an annual drive to raise money to pay off the debt. After a number of years the debts were liquidated and money became available to install new heating plants and fix up the basement of the church building for a fellowship room and also to install a kitchen. Social activities increased, musical programs by students from North Central College were common, and meetings and parties of the Y.P.A. (now the Nicodemus Club) became popular. The Nicodemus Club also sponsored suppers, which raised money to help out with the budget and several missionary projects. These were encouraging times for our church.





In 1928 Min Street was widened and lowered. The church corner was rounded, making a much wider curve to accommodate automobile traffic. This necessitated the taking of eight feet of the church property at the corner. For this the church received $2,000, which just about paid for the new lamp posts which were installed along Main Street at the time. The lowering of the street and sidewalk meant changing the Main Street side entrance and remodeling of the main entrance on Maple Avenue, which gave a very uninviting appearance that existed for many years.


In 1935 the church celebrated the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the Main Street building. This celebration started out with an anniversary prayer meeting on Wednesday night, followed by a young people’s rally on Thursday, and concluding with silver anniversary banquet on Friday night. This all led up to a great day of celebration on Sunday, November 17, 1935. During the morning service Bishop S. P. Spreng, who officiated at the dedication in 1910, preached the sermon. In the afternoon a fellowship meeting was held, where Bishop Spreng delivered the address and letters from former pastors were read. In the evening another service was held with Rev. E. M. Diener delivering the sermon. He was a member of the building committee and also was recommended for the ministry by this congregation.


In 1932 our church paper, the EVAN ECHOES, was born. The editor and publisher was Gladys Michael, who served in that capacity for many years.


1942 proved to be another inspiring year when the 90th birthday of the founding of the church was recognized and appropriately celebrated. A souvenir edition of a brief history of each of the organizations within the church was presented to each member.


Ever since the widening of the street and changing of the front entrance to the church, the question of how the entrance could be improved was often raised before the trustees. Finally in 1954 a plan was developed so that the outside stairway could be restored in its appearance by making part of the entry hall into a stairway.


Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was the site for the final General Conferences of the Evangelical Church and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ and for the first General Conference of the Evangelical United Brethren Church. On a sunny morning, November 16, 1946, the assembled delegates sang “Lead On, O King Eternal” as the processional hymn. Bishop John S. Stamm, senior bishop of the Evangelical Church and a former pastor of Faith Church, presented Bishop A. R. Clippinger, senior bishop of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. Bishop Clippinger read the Declaration of Union that brought the Evangelical United Brethren Church into being.


After World War II the membership began to grow again, and it was decided that a new church building was necessary if the Christian work of the church was to keep pace with the changing times. For several years during the pastorate of Rev. Paul Stiffler this movement was pressed, but the many problems and apparent lack of supporters delayed the project until the arrival of Rev. Leonard Sukut.


Enough enthusiastic younger members finally overcame the anxiety and doubts of the older members, and the project of a new church took off with a jump. The old church property was sold, the old building was demolished and services were held at O’Neill Junior High School until the new church building was finished. On October 24, 1958, the name of the church was changed from First to FAITH EVANGELICAL UNITED BRETHREN CHURCH.


A temporary building committee was selected by the congregation, who gave their ideas to Mr. Carlstedt, the chosen architect, who drew up the plans. Then a permanent building committee was selected, and this group carried on the business to the completion of the building at Fairview and 59th Streets. Ground was broken on May 1, 1960, and cornerstone laying took place on July 17, 1960, both with appropriate ceremonies.


On Sunday, February 19, 1961, a beautiful new church was dedicated to the Glory of God, where the work and worship of Christ, our Redeemer, could be carried on down the years for each generation. My honor and respect be given to all those who gave so much personal time and labor to see this project through.


No one person builds a church alone. Roy Johnson and Harvey Kenitz accepted the key, which was turned over immediately to Bishop Heininger with the words, “With sincere gratitude to the architect and builder, the members of Faith Church present to you, Bishop Heininger, this our church, to be dedicated as a place of worship for the glory of God in Christ and the service of man.”


In the litany of dedication we read, “We dedicate this building to the task of the Church of our Saviour Jesus Christ, to evangelism and education, to social service, economic and civic righteousness, to Christian unity and international good will, to the Kingdom of God and the brotherhood of man.”





During that same year as the dedication of the new building, 1961, another joy was celebrated in the lives of our pastor and his wife, Bea. A son, Donald, was born to them. This birth was perhaps symbolic of the new life of Faith Church. Both Donald and his sister, Rita, were blessed with musical talent. Rita became our choir director in 1979. Don blends his voice with other choir members, as well as performing solos during the worship services.


In 1962 more construction was determined to be necessary. This time construction was begun on a new parsonage with Roy Johnson as the contractor. On December 26, 1962, the Sukuts moved into the new parsonage at 5832 Fairview.


In April of 1968, a union was formed between the Evangelical United Brethren Churches and the Methodist Church to form the United Methodist Church, and thus the name of our church changed to FAITH UNITED METHODIST CHURCH.


It was a time of praise when on February 17, 1974, 13 years after the church dedication, the congregation gathered to witness the note burning of the mortgage. The ritual for the mortgage burning began with a presentation by Harvey Kenitz, treasurer and building committee chairman. He said, “The last dollar of indebtedness has now been paid. The mortgage has been cancelled and lifted. We now present it to you to be burned with appropriate ceremony. We feel that this is a day of victory and achievement and we rejoice in it.” Those present at the ceremony were Bishop Paul Washburn, Rev. Paul Whittle, the District Superintendent and Bishop Heininger.


A church is more than a b ui8lding. It is people and programs. One program that came about in October, 1972, was the first “Lay Witness Mission” with coordinator Bob Smith from Bloomington, Illinois. So successful was that lay witness weekend that a second was scheduled for April, 1978, with coordinators Ken and Pat Crawford from Staunton, Illinois. These missions and the subsequent evangelistic outreach of the church through Evangelism Explosion, a bus ministry and a strong youth program resulted in a significant growth in the church membership. Once again it was determined that new facility construction was necessary, perhaps an educational facility, perhaps a new sanctuary, with current facilities being converted for educational and fellowship use. A feasibility committee was established. This group determined in 1980 that, indeed, there was a dire need for facilities but that the depressed economy and high interest rates made it inadvisable to build at that time. In January of 1981, the economy picture changed, and a building committee was appointed with Walter Carlquist, Hazel Cramer, Vivian Garman, William Miller, Ed Pool, Phil Stevens, Ed Zahour and Leonard Sukut. This committee worked long and hard for several years to present a new plan for construction. That plan, which has resulted in our current facility, was approved and work ensued. On November 20, 1983, the new building was dedicated.


In the dedication bulletin we find the following. “The entire congregation deeply appreciates the untiring efforts of the committee and all persons who gave special labors of love. ‘You are commanded by the Lord to build.’ With that admonition, the building committee … proceeded to carry out their obligation. Brick, stone, mortar, wood, glass … all fashioned together by skilled workmen, who gave their utmost to perform a job they would be proud of. They have succeeded, and everyone’s heartfelt thanks goes out to them.”


You are no longer aliens in a foreign land, but fellow-citizens with God’s people, members of God’s household. You are built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus Himself is the foundation-stone. In Him the whole building is bonded together and grows into a holy temple to the Lord. In Him you, took are being built with all the rest into a spiritual dwelling for God.

Ephesians 2:19-22


And so concludes the first 125 years of Faith United Methodist Church. Praise be to God for this rich “beginning.” And now let us proceed to “build” our faith.