MONTICELLO — Church leaders generally emphasize that a church is defined by its people, not the building, but sometimes the edifice needs some tender loving care, especially as it continues into its second century of use.
That’s why the First Presbyterian Church of Monticello is undergoing a $310,000 rehab to ensure it serves the congregation and community long into the future.
Most of the work is to repair and replace brick outside, as well as install flashing and anchors to keep moisture out, minimizing damage in the future to the parapets that extend above the roof line.
Also included is some sidewalk and step replacement to improve drainage.
“It’s a significant amount of work so that we can continue to occupy this building for a long time in the future,” said Steve Gangloff, a 30-year member of the church who is on the building and grounds committee.
The cornerstone for the original structure was laid in 1906 at 214 S. Charter St., with church-goers starting to use it the next year. The building has been added onto since, most recently with an educational wing in 1959.
As wear and tear began to show, land for a new church was offered to the congregation in the 1990s, but attendees nixed that possibility pretty quickly.
“We’ve surveyed the congregation a couple of times in the last 20 years, and it’s been clear they want to stay here. They like this location, they love this building, and they don’t want to move someplace else,” Gangloff said.
It also gives the 179-year-old congregation the distinction of being the only remaining church in the downtown business district.
“It was a very attractive proposition (the gift of property), but it meant leaving downtown, and the answer from the congregation was clear. We like this place,” Gangloff said.
Rehab discussion has been ongoing for a couple of decades, but intensified a few years ago. The church discussed conducting the work in phases, but decided to bite off the entire project at once.
“When you looked at the entire thing, I think we agreed it was like a 6 or 7 percent savings to do it in one lump sum, and every year it goes up between 4 and 6 percent,” lifelong church member Bruce Stoddard said.
“The bigger the thing got, the more you wondered (if the church should build new), but we’re third generation in the church, and I’ve got grandkids who may come to this church. At some point you have to fix it or move on.”
And who knows when future phases could begin in the age of COVID, where supplies are scarce and supply chains bogged down.
Work on the church building began in the spring, spearheaded by Otto Baum Co. and supplemented by Popejoy Roofing and concrete work by Eric Knisley. Ameren Illinois was also brought in for a necessary utility pole move.
Church leaders say the project should be completed by the Thanksgiving.
Of particular concern were parapets, some of which were beginning to lean, mostly due to moisture getting between bricks and expanding and contracting with the widley varying Central Illinois temperatures and humidity.
And in the category of “they don’t make ‘em like they used to,” Stoddard said the 1906 brick has stood the test of time better than that laid 50 years later.
“The brick layers have been telling us that the old brick is better brick, harder brick than what they are putting in now,” Stoddard said.
The church has not needed a loan to pay for the project, relying on several funding mechanisms that have included a $10,000 grant from the city of Monticello.
But most of all, church leaders credit decades of solid financial management for making funds available.
“The investments came about through generations of people giving and excellent financial management. We have these funds because we’ve done well with the funds over decades. It’s been a huge lift,” current pastor Paul Spangler said.
The building work is a means to an end: Equipping its members to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission in the Bible that instructs disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19)
“The building project is more visible, but we have a group of ladies who went on a mission trip, and before COVID had a group that went to Costa Rica for several years. I had a good friend (Paul Adams) who is no longer with us that went to Africa for eight or 10 years in a row,” Gangloff said.
“It’s about the people. This is just the building.”
And that’s what keeps people like Les Swartzentraub — another longtime parishioner and member of the building and grounds committee — at the church.
“For me, it’s the people I know in the church and that we’ve gotten to be a part of for the last 50 years. You make strong relationships, and you feel like you don’t want it to go away.”
A brief history
The Presbyterian Church of Monticello was organized Saturday, Oct. 27, 1842, with church histories bragging it came into existence 18 years before Abraham Lincoln was elected president.
Members initially met in the courthouse and Methodist Church, then erected a building at 447 S. Charter St. A 1,000-pound bell that sat in its tower is still in the current church tower.
The current building was completed in 1907. An education wing was added in 1959, a project which also enlarged the sanctuary.