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Worship

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From half a world away, headlines of new examples of sectarian violence fill the newspapers and news sites. Faith, something that should lead to inspiration and healing, seems more often associated with just the opposite. It makes reading the often-repeated news increasingly difficult to browse. However, that violent streak was not true everywhere or in all times. Outsiders may not expect to find an example of helpful community relationships among faiths in a village as relatively diminutive as Mokena, but its residents have long known better. Over a century ago, early leaders of Mokena saw fit to place four separate Christian churches, one Catholic and three Protestant, all on nearly the same tract of land. Since that fateful positioning, Mokena’s churches have shown how beneficial to a community and devoid of conflict places of faith can be.

Credit for assembling the churches into such near proximity goes to a man from the annals of Mokena’s history named Allen Denny. Originally hailing from Devonshire, England, Denny eventually made his way progressively west to present-day Mokena. By the 1850s, Denny designated land “to be reserved for churches and other public buildings” within the village. Later, he specifically allotted the southern half of the park plot for churches, and the churches had reason to form together because of it.

Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church provided one of the earliest houses of worship in Mokena, entering the area in the middle of the 19th century. German immigrants to the United States managed to hold services in a frame church outside of Frankfort for some 65 years. Come 1915, though, the church presently used in Mokena took over the main services for the Lutherans in the area.

Around 1862, another group of German immigrants came together to form the United German Evangelical Church of Mokena. Later, that church became known as it is today, St. John’s United Church of Christ. The church had a uniquely traditional setup, with women and children sitting on the left side of the church, men on the right and overflow reaching into the middle. At the time, crossing those sex boundaries was taboo, though a few would do so regardless, much to the consternation of their fellows. Services also took place exclusively in German until 1907, when the church first had an English service. Another aid to the continued success of St. John’s came from the highly active Frauen Verein, or Women’s Association. Begun in 1904, it helped a great deal with keeping activities at the church vibrant, even when lack of supplies made traditional conveniences like ingredients for a cake difficult to acquire. St. John’s can thank the Women’s Association to this day for making it such a longstanding foundation of Mokena.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church still maintains its original building, as well. The church began in 1864 with a meager nine families to serve in Mokena. Nonetheless, the picturesque location and construction of the church has always drawn in artists and admirers of all kinds. St. Mary’s originally operated through the help of diocesan priests, then Redemptionists, and has since 1914 benefited from Franciscans. Under the guidance of the Franciscans, St. Mary’s managed to build a new church in 1956, but the original building perseveres on the original tract of land, possibly waiting for an enterprising resident to give it a nationally recognized historical designation.

Lastly, Mokena lore attributes an anonymous resident and the sale of a stray horse for the funding given to create the Methodist Church begun in 1967. This church showed a clear bond with sisters and brothers of a similar faith since its inception. For example, the first church pastor for the Methodists in Mokena also served at Gooding’s Grove and English Settlement Church, serving the community as broadly as said community saw necessary. In addition, the Methodists and Baptists would share the facilities on alternating Sundays for years, even maintaining a union Sabbath school to meet weekly. The arrangement did not last forever, but it at least showed how early Christians with some theological differences chose to overlook those for the higher goal of worship.

house of worship

The original four churches no longer inhabit exactly the same area, some of them having required an expansion to more aptly serve the community. Nonetheless, Mokena’s example of a series of worshippers who originally opted to pray near each other rather than apart, endures. Violence about theological quibbles may continue to exist miles away, but Mokena residents can rest comfortably knowing that it has since its beginnings, been beyond that conflict at home. With any luck, that example will grow and take over the headlines; for now, the churches, in whatever incarnation, remain.

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