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Godfrey Congregational Church, 1960 to present.
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Godfrey Congregational Church, 1850 to 1960.
GODFREY — Godfrey Congregational Church will have a special service at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 14, commemorating its founding 175 years ago.
After the worship service, former members, friends and visitors are invited to the fellowship hall, where there will be a slide show featuring pictures of past and present members and church events. There will also be historical displays and memorabilia. Those having memorabilia about the church they would like to share are asked to bring the items to the church on Wednesday between 9 a.m. and noon, prior to Sept. 1.
Capt. Benjamin Godfrey founded this historic church. After having served on sailing vessels from the age of 9, serving in the merchant marine in the War of 1812, accumulating and losing two fortunes, and prospering once again as a commercial trader in New Orleans, he traveled north to Alton in 1832 with his business partner, Winthrop Gilman. It was during this trip up the Mississippi that Godfrey was converted to Christianity.
Shortly after arriving, he purchased and remodeled the large limestone home on Scaritt’s Prairie, now called Godfrey, near the intersection of Illinois 111 and U.S. 67 for his large family, which reportedly included eight to 10 girls and at least three sons. Godfrey was concerned about the education of his daughters and resolved to build a structure devoted to the moral, intellectual, and domestic improvement of females. He did so in 1839; and after Godfrey built the Monticello Female Seminary, he employed the Rev. Theron Baldwin, an ordained Congregation minister, as the school’s principal. Baldwin conducted services in the seminary chapel for the students and faculty every Sunday, and the nearby settlers also came to these services. Baldwin, the students and faculty, and the settlers decided to form a church in the Monticello Chapel, and on Nov. 2, 1839, the Church of Christ in Monticello was created.
By 1850 the chapel in the seminary had become too small for the congregation and the community. The seminary and congregation decided to build a church on the seminary grounds, and it was completed in 1856. The church was non-denominational until Oct. 21, 1885, when it joined the Springfield Association of Congregational Churches. This lovely frame church is still in existence and may be seen on the Lewis and Clark grounds and is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1908 the church changed its name to Godfrey Congregational Church of Godfrey.
The depression of the 1930s was hard on the church and there was an urgent need for repairs to the church building. At the same time, Monticello College was expanding and needed classroom space. The church accepted the college’s offer to make the needed repairs and assume responsibility for the building’s future care if the church would deed their interest in the church to the college, with the church still having use of the building on Sunday and limited use on Thursday. This arrangement worked until the 1940s, when the college needed more space and began placing more restrictions on the church’s use of the building. By 1946 the church, needing more space and time for congregational activities, began a building fund. By 1950 they were able to purchase the property at 6104 Godfrey Road. The former Timothy Turner home, which stood on the property, became the parish house and the center for weekday activities.
The fund-raising continued from 1946 to 1962. Some of the fund-raisers were: chicken dinners at the Godfrey Civic Center in the fall, ham and asparagus suppers in the spring, fall festivals, bazaars, meals served to community groups, apple butter bees, and handmade clown dolls, which were popular with the Monticello girls. The chicken dinners became very popular and sometimes served as many as 800 people.
The efforts of the congregation were a success and in 1960 the beautiful new sanctuary and fellowship hall was erected and dedicated. By 1968 the congregation was able to raze the old parish house and add educational wings to the church.
In the 1950s, the Congregation Christian churches and the Evangelical and Reformed churches merged. Godfrey Congregational voted in 1960 to accept the constitution of the new union and changed its name to the Community Congregational United Church of Christ. Feeling a need to identify more with its roots, the church’s name was again changed in 2005 to Godfrey Congregational Church UCC. Even though its name changed through the years, from 1839 to present, Godfrey Congregational Church has been a church seeking to minister to the Glory of God and to proclaim the Gospel, welcoming all people.