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More than a building: Waterman Presbyterian celebrating 150 years

The buildings that make up Waterman Presbyterian Church tell a story of its 150-year history, but member Jeanetta Boughton said the real history of the church is in the faithful few who keep the church thriving.

The Waterman Presbyterian Church is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year by holding special services every Sunday in May and honoring five members who have a collective 343 years of membership between them.

Boughton will be one of the members honored at 10:30 a.m. Sunday in the sanctuary of the church at 250 Cedar St., Waterman.

“The building doesn’t describe us,” Boughton said. “God’s love describes us.”

Boughton will be honored for 65 years of membership, Wilma Carrol, 77 years; Florence Hipple, 73 years; Marcella Monteiro, 65 years; and Floyd Hunt, 63 years.

The sermon Sunday will be given by the Rev. Dr. John Rickard, who is the general presbyter and stated clerk for the Blackhawk Presbytery, which serves churches in northern Illinois.

The original silver bell from the old church steeple will ring during the special ceremony Sunday. Speelman said the bell has been back in service for two weeks, but members can’t remember when they last heard the bell ring. Members also will sing the centennial hymn written 50 years ago.

Waterman Presbyterian Church was organized in May 1864, a time when Abraham Lincoln was president and the Civil War was being waged. Eleven people started the church, which was originally named Clinton Center Presbyterian until 1872 when it was bestowed with its current name.

The first wooden church building was dedicated in 1874 and the church has been located there since, although the building has undergone several changes. A Sunday school building was added to the property and dedicated in 1950. In 1958, a manse, the home where a Presbyterian minister lives, was built next door.

In 1965, the congregation voted to replace the old wooden church. A new brick structure that continues to be the church’s home was dedicated in 1967.

Several ministers have served the church during its 150 years. For 18 months from 2011 to 2012, the church was without a full-time pastor and was served by fill-in pastors every Sunday.

In September 2012, the Rev. Roger Boekenhauer, who grew up in Waterman and was baptized and confirmed at the Waterman Presbyterian Church, started serving as pastor.

“I’m pleased to be part of the 150th celebration of the Waterman Presbyterian Church,” Boekenhauer said.

Boughton recalled her family sitting in the fifth pew of the church, near a stained glass window of a lamp. She still sits there most Sundays.

Boughton said the biggest change she’s seen has been in the declining membership. At the church’s peak, it boasted more than 200 members. Now, the church has 58 and Boughton said a crowd of 24 on Sunday is typical.

Many of the children she knew who grew up in the church have started attending other churches, which gives her some comfort.

“Even though there’s few of us still attending, I know the seeds were sown here,” Boughton said.

New members still find their way to church, such as church elder Melba Speelman, who came seven years ago.

A history in the Presbyterian faith before she moved to DeKalb brought her to the church in Waterman, but it was one of the dozen stained glass windows in the sanctuary and hospitality that kept her.

“That lamb was on the cross of the church where I grew up,” Speelman said pointing to a stained glass window near a pew in the back. “That kind of sealed it for me.”

She also received a handwritten note from the pastor at the time thanking her for coming and apologizing for not spending more time with her.

“I think it’s the feeling of family among the people here that keeps us going,” Speelman said. “There is a nice, warm feeling about being in this congregation. People care about each other.” 

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