Our Story Told Through the Ministry of Our Churches:
The Face, Hands, and Feet of Jesus in Central and Southern Illinois
The story of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield is borne out in the daily work and ministry of its churches as they seek to be the face, hands, and feet of Jesus in their local communities.
In January 2021, the Election Committee asked the 33 congregations of the diocese to tell their story of how God, through their ministry, was answering the post-Communion prayer, “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” Submittals could include descriptions of ministries and events, member testimonials, and other characteristics that best reflect the people, spirit, and culture of their eucharistic community.
The following are excerpts from various submittals. They provide a glimpse into God’s work through the faithful to be the Body of Jesus Christ in the communities they serve.
From St. Thomas Church, Salem: Our “Dignity Box” ministry is one of our crown jewels. We wrap empty copy paper boxes with decorative wrapping paper and take them to the local nursing homes. When one of their patients passes on, the patient’s personal belongings are placed in the box and returned to the family instead of the plastic trash bags that had been used in the past. Another continuing service is providing suitcases for local foster children to use as they move from place to place.
We hope to continue our large group projects in the coming year. They include our annual High Tea Party, used book sale, chili cook-off, Christmas cookie sale, free lemonade stand and poker tournament.
From St. Mark’s Church, West Frankfort: Small but mighty, in the last few years we have adopted two valuable ministries; we have a Blessing Box, feeding the hungry daily, on a fairly busy community road, and until the Covid Pandemic hit we were delivering up to 100 snack bags to an area elementary school for the more needy children to take home for the weekend. Through the pandemic, through shutdowns, we have continued to be The Episcopal Church in Franklin County, IL.
When asked, a newer member who found us a few years ago, had this to say to our next bishop:
I would tell the Bishop that I have visited the great cathedrals and none of them had the open arms I have found at St. Mark’s. I would tell HER that in Southern Illinois it is a safe space for the faithful LGBT* and a home for those often neglected by the Christian Community. Here, spiritual needs are met, and spirits uplifted. I would conclude that the arms of St. Mark’s not only reach for the faithful but for those most in need within the community.
From St. Thomas’s Church, Glen Carbon and St. Bartholomew’s Church, Granite City: These churches have been yoked together for many years. Both were founded over one hundred and twenty years ago, the first by British coal miners, and the second by inhabitants of what was then an important steel city. Glen Carbon’s mine closed just before World War 2, and the community developed into a dormitory village for people working in Edwardsville and St. Louis. Granite City has been in decline for some years. Both Eucharistic communities have suffered as a result. Their story is not unlike that of many churches in the diocese. However, the two churches have a base of extremely devoted lay people, determined to be the church in their communities.
St. Thomas’s Church has a pre-school, founded over twenty years ago, when, during a spurt in membership, the church building was extended. For most of these past years the school was too small to create a stable financial base and became a steady drain on diocesan finances. Then, nearly four years ago, a new director took over, and now the school is one of the larger and most financially successful ones in Madison County. Over sixty students attend daily. One of the two retired, part time clergy, Fr. Scott Hoogerhyde, serves as chaplain, as well as priest in charge of St. Bartholomew’s. Bishop Anthony Clavier, assistant editor of the Anglican Digest serves as Vicar of the two Eucharistic Communities.
From Emmanuel Memorial Church, Champaign: A fixture on Champaign’s central West Side Park, Emmanuel is known in our community for several things: our decades-long daily ministry of providing sack lunches to the homeless community, our popular presentations of Choral Evensong according to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, our unique Altar Guild Easter Eggs tradition (a project in which altar guild members made and sold eggs decorated to resemble characters from popular culture), our partnership with and support of local outreach ministries, and our beautiful Ralph Adams Cram building complete with rood screen and Lady Chapel.
With its mixture of town and gown cultures, Emmanuel gathers a diverse group from all kinds of backgrounds and of all ages: retirees, young families with children, grad students and faculty, singles, and teenagers. Some are life-long Episcopalians, others grew up in different faith traditions, and still others had no prior religious background. What we have in common is a deep commitment to know Christ and make Christ known; we are grateful that God’s grace enables us to transcend our differences as we meet at his altar.
Since the 1990s, part of Emmanuel’s special call has been offering to God the ancient round of the Daily Office, which is led by a team of laity and clergy. While we’ve been observing the Offices at home or online during the pandemic, in normal times at least one of us, and sometimes as many as 3 or 4, is in the chancel every weekday at 8 a.m. or 5:15 p.m. to pray Morning or Evening Prayer in the church. We believe this gives our nave a noticeable “prayed-in” feeling.
We were grateful for the chance to testify to God’s forgiving love that came with our being featured in Oprah Magazine and by the Episcopal News Service after our 2019 work with RIP Medical Debt to forgive $4 million of bad medical debt in the counties of our diocese.
From St. Andrew’s Church, Edwardsville: Our Outreach Committee, following Matthew 25:34-46, has year-long activities which serve the community including participating in fundraisers for charities, the Scarf Project which makes scarves, gloves and hats available to the needy, providing School supplies, collecting soup and other foods for the local food pantry, and the Angel Tree at Christmas which provides food, gas, clothing and toys to needy families. Two other ministries which bring members of the community into the church are the quarterly book sale, famous throughout the area as being the best organized one anywhere. In addition to bringing people into the facility, it is a successful fundraiser for the parish. Each March the Quilt Guild presents a show and sale of fabric art produced by members of the parish and quilters throughout the area. A feature of this program is the presentation of a Quilt of Valor to a veteran of the military.
From St. Andrew’s Church, Carbondale: St. Andrew’s Church has several ministries to the community. A shawl ministry group knits and distributes prayer shawls to infirm persons. In December each year, there is a collection of socks for homeless persons. Food is collected and transported to a local food pantry. Christmas gifts are contributed to a community-wide project for disadvantaged persons. Clothing is collected for babies of mothers of need. The parish also hosts (either in Carbondale or Marion) community groups such as one that recycles plastic bags to make sleeping mats for the homeless, a needle craft group, and alcohol/narcotics anonymous.
In addition to various special social occasions and the regular coffee hour Sunday at church, St. Andrew’s has a decades long tradition of TGIF gatherings on the last Friday of the month. Members gather, usually at a host’s home for a couple hours of socializing.
From St. Paul’s Church, Carlinville: We enjoy very productive partnerships with local service agencies (especially the local Food Pantry), and other local churches (especially the Federated Church of Carlinville) connected to efforts of service and social justice. We continue to think creatively along those lines, actively making plans for increasing our impact on the well-being of the poor and marginalized in our area. Additionally, the St. Paul’s Eucharistic Community has a longstanding connection with a local institution of higher education: Blackburn College. Several Blackburn faculty and staff members attend St. Paul’s regularly.
Our community has consistently been one of academic inquiry and thoughtful theology. Our recently retired rector, Fr. John Henry, was a career educator before receiving a call to the ministry and has brought his pedagogical skills to his thought-provoking sermons at St. Paul’s for a decade. The incoming rector, Fr. Carter Aikin, has taught undergraduate courses in Christian theology, religion, and philosophy for the past 16 years at several liberal arts colleges. This community ‘raised him up’ as a leader from the pews of St. Paul’s, where he had been worshipping since 2014. It is quite typical for 35 or 40% of Sunday worshippers to attend seasonal weeknight Adult Forum Christian Education classes. We are a thoughtful bunch.
From St. Stephen’s Church, Harrisburg: St. Stephen’s Church supports the Harrisburg 4C’s shelter and food pantry with a monthly donation of money and collected can goods, plus with our annual soup collection on ‘Souper Bowl’ Sunday we are able to donate even higher amounts of canned goods. Some of the soup is also donated to the local community college students living on campus.
Before COVID we always enjoyed any excuse to have a potluck/party and delicious coffee hour after the service. Because the members of St. Stephen’s love to eat and out of the love of cooking, fundraisers were started. For 19 years, we hosted a five-course Italian dinner complete with china and all the finery of an upscale restaurant. Members of the church did all the cooking from scratch and waited tables. Live entertainment of Italian songs or piano music was provided. On a much more casual scale, we also have held BBQ chicken dinners. Proceeds are given to local charities and organizations such as Shop with a Cop, CASA, and the Women’s Center.
St. Stephen’s is in Saline County, but members travel from neighboring Williamson, Gallatin, Pope, and Johnson Counties. The area is frequently referred to as Little Egypt with Garden of the God’s National Park nearby.
We have lost several of our founding members but third and fourth generations of their families still attend. We have a wide range of vocations represented by the congregation including coal miners, teachers, medical professionals, bankers, private business owners, farmers, and city and county employees.
From St. John’s Church, Albion: St. John’s is an exceedingly small congregation, and our existence depends completely on our commitment to attend faithfully and fully. All the tasks—ecclesiastical or practical—are up to Father Bill Howard, our priest, and our hardy handful of members. This would invite burn-out, but we stay flexible, pitch in so nothing falls through the cracks, and support each other. We intend to persist and pray to grow. Unless a member is traveling or ill, all are present. Working together is vital and a joy.
Our financial stewardship is a perpetual balance between self-sufficiency and outreach. We pay our bills, keep a little in reserve, and forward an annual pledge to the Diocese. A prime reason we can do so is because Father Bill does not accept a stipend beyond travel expenses. Our annual pledges meet our needs and give us dollars to share. We stretch the effect of our Outreach dollars by joining in Diocesan opportunities, local ministerial alliance projects, and regional social services. But we also respond immediately to people in emergency situations as they pop up.
Every reason we might have to be discouraged by challenges has become a source of connection, strength, and faith.
From Christ the King Church, Normal: Beginning in the 1980s, Christ the King began intentionally looking outward to involve itself in the community, diocese, and world – to be “the church in the neighborhood.” A founding member served as Springfield’s rep to the Province V Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief (as it was then called). The church joined with Central Community Action to provide the “little house,” on church property, as a residence for women working their way out of poverty. For a time, when possible, the parish tithed its budget to outreach. When Christ the King moved to a newer building in the 1990s, there was room for a pre-school, which operated successfully for many years.
Christ the King is a participant in Carle BroMenn Medical Center’s community partners program; in 2021, the parish received a diocesan Mission & Ministry grant, which it then matched, to aid the Spiritual Care Department’s “Caring Hearts” fund. Continuing into 2021 and beyond the parish will pledge $500 quarterly to the “Caring Hearts” fund. The Crafts Ministry has supplied prayer shawls, masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, and sleeping pads made from plastic grocery bags for the homeless. The parish also has purchased and donated materials and backpacks for a nearby grade school and has collected toys at Christmas for children who would not otherwise receive gifts.
We also supply monthly meals and support for students and staff at The Regional Alternative School Program (RAS) which provides educational services for students throughout Dewitt, McLean, and Livingston counties. RAS provides programming for students considered to be at-risk of dropping out of school. The program exists to provide students who did not qualify for special educational services and were not experiencing success in the traditional day school program, for a variety of reasons, with an option to continue their education.
Christ the King – the church in the neighborhood – is always looking for ways to joyfully present Jesus’ face—and love—to its greater neighborhood and world.
From St. George’s Church, Belleville: “My wife and I felt at home the first time we visited St. George’s. St. George’s may be small, but it’s a vibrant and diverse community of dedicated people quietly doing the work of the Kingdom of God—caring for the needy, worshiping through a faithful (yet never fussy) presentation of the liturgy, preaching the gospel soundly, and studying the Word deeply. St. George’s is a caring and prayerful family, and we’re blessed to be a part of it!”
From St. Christopher Church, Rantoul: Episcopalians in Rantoul during the 1950s and 60s were meeting at the Chapel located on Chanute Air Force Base. As attendance grew, plans for a mission church began and so in 1964, St Christopher opened its doors at its present location, 1501 E. Grove, Rantoul, IL.
St. Christopher thrived for about 30 years, with folks coming and going from the base. Some members also retired to Rantoul. When Chanute closed in 1993, attendance dropped significantly, but it rebounded fairly well. Members who stayed and raised their families in Rantoul kept things going.
Today the congregation is small with about 20 members, including children. It’s been hard during the pandemic, but services are still running. We’ve been calling ourselves “small but mighty.”