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. 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. Two lots were purchased and a wood frame building erected in Blake's Addition. The building was dedicated December 19, 1869. This location is what is now 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 15 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, the 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 Unstick 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 and Pastor Marin 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 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 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. 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 Philippines, both long term and short term. Most recently, mission activities and work trips to Alaska have been supported by the congregation.
Throughout the years, the members at First Reformed Church has 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."
The three Reformed Church's in Fulton: Trinity, First 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 meetings, 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 Church.
For 84 years the congregation of Trinity Reformed Church has gathered faithfully to worship and serve God. On December 29, 2013 at 9:00 a.m. 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, 2012 at 9:00 a.m.
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.