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History of First Reformed Church

The history of First Reformed Church is significantly related to immigration from the Netherlands to Whiteside County in general, and Fulton in particular. The first known Dutch Immigrant to investigate the "Fulton City" area was Thomas Smith in 1856. He returned to Michigan, and the following year other Dutch folk immigrated and began to write friends and relatives about settling near "Fulton City." Soon several Dutch families had settled in the area and religious gatherings were held. In the "pre-organization" days, Folkert Dykema, Fred Sterenberg, and Garret Nannenga helped shape and mold the spiritual life of the immigrant families. Early meetings were held at a schoolhouse located at what is now the southwest corner of 9th Avenue and 4th Street. Once a year or so the Reverend H.G. Klein would come to Fulton from Chicago, and the families would gather at the home of John Munnike for meetings, at times lasting all day and into the night. On October 28, 1866 the families organized the Dutch Reformed Church in Fulton, Illinois. The Reverend H.G. Klein guided them in their organizational meeting. The first elders were Garrett Nannenga and Fred Sterenberg, and the first deacon was John Tillema. Two lots were purchased and a wood frame building erected in Blake's Addition, Lots 5 and 6, Block 4. The building was dedicated December 19, 1869. This location is what is now the southeast corner of 19th Avenue and 4th Street, the site of the Harbor Café.

The Dutch influx and the natural growth of families continues, and the first building required an addition which was dedicated September 12, 1877. In 1885, a city block bounded by what are now 5th Street and 6th Street, and 15th Avenue and 16th Avenue was purchased. A new larger wooden frame structure was built on the north half of the block, and the existing home on the block was used as a parsonage. In 1886 the church body known as the Dutch Reformed Church in Fulton incorporated legally and it received the ordinal number "First" at the time, becoming the First Reformed Church of Fulton, Illinois. Although there have been building alterations and additions, the church building has been located on the same block since that time.

Over the years, several congregations have branched from First Reformed Church. Significant differences arose within the overall Dutch Reformed Church in the 1880's centered mainly around pastors, worship, and church supported private schooling, and resulted in two denominations; the Reformed Church, and the Christian Reformed Church. In February 1886, the First Christian Reformed Church of Fulton withdrew and was established. Increasing numbers in geographic areas led to other church bodies organizing. In 1896, the Ebenezer Reformed Church was established in Morrison, IL. In 1909, rural churches were established in nearby locations; Spring Valley Reformed is located northeast of Fulton in Ustick Township, and Newton Zion Reformed is located southeast near Erie, IL in Newton Township. Two congregations formed for other reasons: in 1916, 54 communicant members and their families (180 total) and Pastor Martin Koster withdrew and incorporated Second Reformed Church of Fulton, desiring to conduct worship services in English rather than Dutch. In 1929, Trinity Reformed Church of Fulton organized.

The Reformed Church and the Christian Reformed Church have shared values concerning care of religious community members. A Dutch saying is "In unity there is strength." In 1876, in response to a community need, twenty-nine plots were purchased from the Fulton Cemetery by the Dutch Reformed Church for the use of members. Over the years, some 157 (identified) were buried on these lots in unmarked graves, with the last recorded burial occurring on July 13, 1956.

The location of the original church building (19th Ave and 4th St.) Was used from 1892 to 1952 as a "poor house." It began as a single dwelling, but was later expanded to serve two families. In 1958, discussions began around the possibility of constructing a "home for the aged" of the community. As a result, Harbor Crest was completed and an open house was held May 30, 1966. The local churches continue to be involved on the directing board for the facility.

First Reformed has had a long history of involvement and support of missionaries and mission activities, including supporting local members serving in the Phillipines, both long term and short term. Most recently, mission activities and work trips to Alaska (click here to view photos) have been supported by the congregation.

Throughout the years, the members at First Reformed Church have sought to glorify God and act as His people, as best they were led to understand. Today, seeking for God's direction continues as we embrace the mission of "Loving Jesus and Others."

Church Building1

The three Reformed Churches in Fulton, Trinity Reformed, First Reformed and Second
Reformed, worked together over the last couple of years to find ways to support one another.

The Consistory and members of the Trinity congregation held many meeting, votes and discussions, and of course, not everyone agreed on the next step for their Church. During the process, Trinity and First Reformed formed a joint group to look at another option for Trinity. The Consistories from each church selected five individuals from each congregation to participate in discussions and planning.

In October, the Congregation of Trinity was presented with two options on which to vote: 1. Try to call a new Pastor, or; 2. Unify with First Reformed. The simple majority vote was in favor of
unifying with First Reformed.

For 84 years the congregation of Trinity Reformed Church has gathered faithfully to worship and serve God. On December 29, 2013 at 9:00 AM Trinity had its final worship service and concluded with a luncheon, celebrating the legacy and mourning the loss of the church. Trinity Reformed united with First Reformed Church. The first unified worship service was held on January 5, 2014 at 9AM.

In the wake of such a weighty decision and difficult chance, it is important to pause for a moment and to remember, to remember all that is good, and kind, and faithful; to remember the legacy of Trinity Reformed Church.

The History Of Trinity Reformed Church Of Fulton

Trinity Reformed Church of Fulton, Illinois was organized October 2, 1929, at Second Reformed Church with 65 charter families. A Chicago Classis committee of four pastors and an elder also met to organize this new church. The first worship service was held October 13, 1929, in the Fulton Coliseum (Fidelity building), conducted by Rev. John Steurenberg. English services were held at 9AM and 7:30 PM, with a 2 PM Dutch service. Three lots at the corner of 13th Avenue and 6th Street (containing the old Tucker Saloon and livery barn) were purchased and razed in the winter of 1929-30 by volunteer labor.

Building of the basement unit began March, 1930, approximately on the saloon location. Members helped in construction, using horses and scraper to excavate the soil. A parsonage was built on the barn site, with dedication of both on July 25, 1930.

Rev. Henry Mollema was installed as Pastor on September 5, 1930. During the hard times of the Great Depression, the congregation was unable to meet the pastor's salary, but able members supplied meat and vegetables to the Mollemas. Pastor Mollema even sifted the furnace ashes, re-burning the cinders to stretch heating resources.

Soon after organization, a Sunday school, Choir, Ladies' Mission Society, Young Women's Service League, Men's Bible League, and a Ladies' Aid Society were organized, with Catechism classes, Youth Christian Endeavor Societies and a Trinity Guild organized later. On April 21, 1943, the basement and parsonage mortgages were burned. Immediately after, a new building fund to raise money for the upper structure began. The Mollemas retired July 1, 1946. On July 3, 1947, Delbert Vander Haar was ordained and installed as Pastor. He and Trudy saw the need for organizing a Young Couples' Study & Service Club at that time. In 1948, the congregation assumed an emergency share in supporting Miss Jeanne Walvoord, R.N., as Missionary to communist China.

Construction of the upper structure began April 21, 1949, with dedication December 14, 1949. In 1959, a Moeller pipe organ was installed–enhancing congregational and choral music that has been an important part of worship throughout Trinity's history. Trinity's first and long-term Choir Director was Everett J. (Doc) Housenga. Later, Mother and daughter, Mrs. George (Ruth) Renkes and Mrs. Ron (Gloria) Pessman, provided over 100 years of combined dedicated service as pianist and organist. Mrs. Wilfred (Helen) Sikkema led the children's Sunshine Choir for many years, with Gloria Pessman later assuming that role, as well as leading the Senior Choir in voicing their praise through worship music, anthems and cantatas for over four decades.

The Holy Spirit moved mightily through a Lay Witness Mission and Kennedy Evangelism Team during Rev. Robert Vander Schaafs ministry–greatly increasing the congregation. So, on April 3, 1988, ground was broken for an educational unit containing classrooms, a study, church office, nursery, fellowship area, and prayer room. Dedication was October 22, 1988.

Vital throughout Trinity's history has been the giving of prayerful and financial support towards spreading the Gospel in Brewton, Alabama; Annville, Kentucky; the Church of the Good News in Chicago; Macy, Nebraska, and through missionaries in Mexico, China, Japan, Ethiopia, Philippines, India and Africa. In 1980, a 1981 Ford Club Wagon was donated to Andy Kamphuis in Apache, Oklahoma, for transporting families of the Indian Reservation to church and Sunday school. Trinity's Mission Team has annually touched and improved lives when rehabilitating housing in Jackson County, Kentucky. (For photo's of the last work trip, click here.) In 2012, Trinity Church received special recognition from The Reformed Church in America as a Missional Impact Partner for meritorious financial contributions towards mission support, for which all glory belongs to God!

Local outreach has included: Physically and spiritually feeding local families through "Fast Food Fellowship" on Family Nights; a Jail Ministry; Bible Study groups; Moms' Club; Brown Bag Lunch & Bible Study; rotating Sunday afternoon services at Harbor Crest Home, supporting Self Help Enterprises in Sterling, the Victory Center in Clinton, and local Habitat for Humanity; and assisting the Food Pantry with donated commodities, volunteers, and monetary donations raised through a seasonal Produce Table.

The Men's Bible League continues in local outreach through prayer breakfasts and the study of God's Word. For many years, the congregation greatly enjoyed the benefits of the League's chocolate chip sales–used to fund distribution of devotional booklets.

Hannah Mission Circle has long aimed to spread God's love both abroad and at home, including a long-standing commitment of preparing loving sustenance for those bereaved following funeral services. The group also ensures that all residents of a nursing home receive a treat or cupcake to join in the birthday celebration of a Trinity member living there.

Members of The Creative Crew combine their varied abilities to stitch articles of comfort and aid for Harbor Crest Home, The Pregnancy Center, Iowa City V.A. Hospital, and others in need.

Through these many years, the Holy Spirit has worked powerfully through a multitude of believers who first sought the Lord's will through prayer, and then willingly offered their hands, time, and talents to make an impact on lives–a wave that has rippled from 514 13th Avenue to the ends of the earth, and for eternity. The Lord has not failed the congregation, and they rejoice in His guidance and blessings. While the organized church of Trinity Reformed ceased to worship together on December 29, 2013 we believe that spirit and legacy of Trinity will continue.

Unification Service Pictures