History of the Bishop Hill Community United Methodist Church in Bishop Hill, Illinois
The history of the Bishop Hill Community United Methodist Church begins before the 1846 settlement of the Bishop Hill Colony. It was in Sweden, prior to the organization of the Jansonists, a Methodist minister from England, George Scott, was on a mission to spread the “good word,” even though the State Church was Lutheran. The rules of this established church were very staunch causing the unrest of the Swedes in several provinces north of Stockholm. These folks were beginning to form a group called “Jansonists,” the word taken from the leader of the dissidents, Eric Janson. Jonas Olson was one of the Swedes helping to organize an exodus of hundreds of rural folks from the Mother Country to the New World of America. Jonas, who was a salmon fisherman from the northern province of Halsingland, had met Scott in Stockholm and had deep conversations about religion. Scott was run-out of Sweden after 12 years of radical preaching . Eventually, Scott’s assistant, Rosenius took over the missionary project. Olson had also befriended Rosenius.
Jonas Olson’s brother, Olof Olson, was sent by the Jansonist group to find acreage in America for them to settle. After holding book burnings of the offending books of the Lutheran Church, the Jansonists had to
leave Sweden quickly, especially Eric Janson and Jonas Olson, who had been imprisoned several times for holding religious meetings in private homes.
Olof Olson, the scout, arrived in America in the New York harbor where the Bethel Ship waited to inform Swedish immigrants of the ways of people in the new country. The greeter on the Bethel Ship was Olof Hedstrom, a Methodist minister. Hedstrom advised Olson to go to Victoria, Illinois where his brother, another Methodist minister, had already established a church. Olson would have Jonas Hedstrom help him choose acreage for the immigrant group arriving from Sweden to settle. While Jonas Hedstrom was advising an area to purchase, he also converted Olson to Methodism. Shortly after when Janson arrived,Olson and Janson began heated religious arguments. Janson’s son, Captain Eric Janson,, recalled hearing his father and Olson loudly arguing into the night. Olson was swayed back to sup- porting Jansonism, but Olson only lived another year so didn’t have much time to evangelize and Eric Janson lived a short 4 years after before he was murdered. After Janson’s death, Jonas Olson became the main speaker in theColonyChurch. Any man could share his spiritual feeling from the pulpit with his fellow man during this communal time. At the end of the communal time,1861, Jonas Olson had invited a Methodist minister into the Colony church to preach, a Rev. A. J. Anderson, from Andover, Illinois. Anderson preached many times until he wore out his welcome and was asked to leave. He then preached in private homes in the village. There was enough interest in the Methodist doctrine for a group of the Colonists to form a congregation. They purchased rooms on the second floor of the historic Blacksmith Building to meet. The year of 1863 seems to be the first recorded date in the official Methodist records that this congregation appears. At that time there were about twenty members. These were the years that camp meetings were held at Red Oak woods.
By 1869 a church building committee was appointed with the decision to build a structure for worship at a cost of $3500. A parsonage had already been built on the church site at a cost of $600. This building was later moved west of the Colony Store and later located by the water tower.
One of the early ministers, Eric Shogren, 1870-1873, increased the congregation to 200members. At that time a pipe organ was purchased and installed. Shortly after this time the rooms at the Blacksmith Building were sold at auction for $200 and half of that money was given to the Methodist Episcopal church at Clay Center, Kansas. By 1880 a new parsonage was built for $1600.
Hickory Grove Camp meetings were held in Rev. Wigren’s time, 1882. A 10 acre tract of land was purchased for this purpose by participating churches. Buildings were built for housing preachers, dining halls and the like. Free will offerings were received at first, later an admission fee of 5 cents per person above age of 12 and 5 cents a horse charged on Sundays, the admission being free on week days. A tabernacle was built by 1905 that seated 350 people. Cottages were erected by some congregations, gradually displacing tents. The ground was eventually sold to adjacent farmers.
Rev. John Bendix was the Bishop Hill minister from1885- 1887. He was the father of three children, one being Vincent Bendix, who was born here.Vincent was the inventor of the Bendix Drive Clutch. He became very wealthy,
A long barn was built behind the church during Bendix’s time to shelter horses during services.All who paid their share toward the building could use it, others had to use the hitching rails to the north or west of the church yard..
At the turn of the century, the church was drastically remodeled at a cost of $3100. A colonist,Karen Hanson had bequeathed money that helped with expenses. It was at this time the pipe organ, having not been satisfactory, was removed.
During this extensive remodeling, services were held at the Mis- sion Church building.That was located on the north east corner of the Steeple Building lot. This was a house-type structure that was later moved to Galva for a residence. The stained glass windows were given by Major Eric Berglund in honor of his Colony parents,Anders Berglunds’. The cost of the windows was $800. Jacob Jacobson gave the oak pulpit chairs at this time in honor of his parents. The church received $200 and 31 1/2 acres of land from Lewis Larson in 1899. Non-members of the church raised money to buy and install a bell in the new bell tower.
Revival meetings at the church and in a tent in the village park were held in the 1913 term of Rev. A. G. Peterson.
P.j. Stoneberg, well known Bishop Hill historian and scholar of Columbia, Harvard and Knox College was a member of the BH Church. He co-partnered with Rev. Malmquist to print the Bishop Hill Messenger, a paper with church and community news. Stoneberg died at a young age and bequeathed through Knox College, farm ground finances. to the BH church.
In 1930 a kitchen facility was added to the church structure, 1950’s the basement was excavated for a social hall and large kitchen with running water as well as bathrooms with flushing facilities.
May the story of the Bishop Hill Community United Methodist Church continue its history by future generations.