Elgin Bible Church emphasizes grace in an era of megachurches
By Dave Gathman email@example.com September 30, 2013 8:00PM
These four Elginites invited Florida evangelist A.G. Canada, second from right, to lead a tent revival on the grounds of the Elgin watch factory in 1928. They had no idea they were planting the seeds of a church that would be formed 10 years later and would still be going on, as the Elgin Bible Church, in 2013. | Submitted
Updated: November 2, 2013 6:03AM
ELGIN — In August 1928, a small group of Elgin Christians invited a traveling preacher named A.G. Canada to come to Elgin — not from Canada but from his base in sunny Miami, Fla. — to lead five weeks of nightly tent revival meetings.
They would be held on the grounds of the Elgin watch factory with the help of Paul Rader of the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle and other prominent evangelists. Twenty-five days later, on Sept. 4, they wrapped up the 25 nights of meetings by singing “God Be With You Till We Meet Again.”
Little did they realize that were not just revitalizing the spirit of Elgin’s Protestant Christians. They were laying the foundation of the Elgin Bible Church, and that church would still be going strong — though in a very different physical form — 85 years later.
“These tent meetings were held nightly for five weeks, with hundreds of people responding to make a change in their lives through faith in Christ,” longtime EBC member Maralee Parker says.
“Following this, a group of devoted people began meeting regularly in a warehouse in Elgin for prayer, teaching and fellowship on a nightly basis. This group called themselves ‘the Elgin Gospel Mission.’ The growing group eventually incorporated in 1938, and the Elgin Bible Church was officially established.”
The church, which is now based at Route 19 (Chicago Street) and Rohrssen Road at the eastern city limits of Elgin, will mark the 75th anniversary of the official church formation this weekend, Oct. 4-6, with three days of activities.
‘Coffee for cans’
Parker, who is coordinating the anniversary events, said that at 6 p.m. Friday there will be an outdoor picnic with musical entertainment provided by “Counter Clockwise,” a band of high school teens from the Medinah area.
On Saturday, EBC members plan both a celebration and what Pastor Tim Beam calls “a caring challenge” to the community of both EBC members and people who do not participate in the church. The church has arranged with Starbucks to provide a “Coffee for Cans” opportunity, in which people who donate nonperishable food for Hanover Township’s Astor Avenue Community Center can receive free coffee. Food contributions can be dropped off in the church parking lot from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday (or earlier if plans are made with the church office).
Parker said the congregation hopes to fill an entire semi-trailer truck with the food pantry donations,
That afternoon, from 1 to 5 p.m., Parker said, “friends are invited to an open house at the church to reminisce and enjoy historical memorabilia of the past while anticipating the blessing of God for the future.”
The weekend will conclude on Sunday, when Justin Kron of Chosen People Ministries will speak at the church’s 9:30 a.m. worship service about the relationship between Christianity and the Jewish people and faith. Kron is a “messianic Jew,” a person of Jewish descent who has decided to become a Christian.
A luncheon will follow, for which reservations are required by contacting the church office at 847-888-1978.
Beam and Parker said the church, which has always been independent of any denomination, has gone through many changes and endured various challenges while remaining true to the basic mission expressed in its motto, “Knowing Christ and making Him known.”
Parker said surviving members — the last of the original ones, Bob Schneider, died last spring — are unsure whether those people who planned the tent meetings in 1928 were members of the same Elgin church or of various existing congregations. Before long, though, two of them — Roy Walkup and Charlie Hopkins — had rented the Fox Garage at 124 Division St. in downtown Elgin and had begun holding meetings every night at 7:30.
An ad they placed in The Courier-News on Sept. 8, 1928, described their “Elgin Gospel Mission” as “a place of revival, praise and prayer. Sick prayed for nightly. Full gospel in message, music and song.” In the crude commercial building, they sat on wooden benches, their feet on a dirt floor.
But wooden floors and a heating system would come. So would William McCarrell, founder of the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, who came out from Chicago every Tuesday night to lead a Bible study.
In about 1930, they rented a cinder block garage at the southeast corner of Center and Kimball streets, where part of the Ziegler’s Ace Hardware complex now is located. The building was changed and improved over the years, purchased outright in 1946 and would become the church’s home for the next 41 years.
The group officially became an independent church in 1938.
In about 1960, some members split off to form Grace Evangelical Church on Elgin’s far-west side.
By the late 1960s, Parker said, EBC had outgrown that landlocked site. People now drove to church in cars, and they needed more parking space. So the members bought 11 vacant acres on the city’s far-eastern fringe, at Route 19 and Rohrssen, and built the current modern brick building there.
Beam and Parker said the church’s worship style has changed much since the days when everyone wore their “Sunday best” and everyone sang the old 19th century hymns. Since 2000, they said, EBC’s music has been provided by a “worship band,” and “Christian contemporary” songs outnumber hymns.
And while some men still wear suits and ties, some worshippers also show up wearing shorts, they said.
Beam, who grew up as the son of a United Methodist pastor in rural Pennsylvania, came to EBC in 2005. He said the biggest challenges facing Elgin Bible Church today include competition from megachurches such as Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington and Harvest Bible Chapel in Elgin. Each can draw 100 times as many worshippers as EBC and therefore have a scale that enables almost anybody to find a special “niche” in which they’re comfortable.
Perhaps because of that competition for members, EBC’s typical Sunday attendance has shrunk from a peak of about 300 at the time of the move east to about 80 people today.
Because the building is so far east, what used to be a congregation of all Elgin residents now includes people who live in Bartlett, Streamwood, Hanover Park and Hoffman Estates.
Beam said the second big challenge is how to relate to the surrounding community and make people realize the Christian church is still relevant. He said that’s one reason for this weekend’s food drive, which he hopes will motivate many non-EBC members to bring in donations.
“This weekend isn’t about Elgin Bible Church getting its name out there. It’s about the church reaching out to the community. It’s about the people in Hanover Township who are hungry.”
Many outsiders think of churchgoers — especially fundamentalist and evangelical ones — as judgmental people who look down on “sinners,” even though the Bible says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” But EBC is striving to belie that, Beam said.
“We’re evangelical, and we consider ourselves in the fundamentalist camp. We’re Bible-focused, and we’re not dropping our focus on the scriptures at all. But we’re very grace-oriented. We believe that all of us have issues to deal with, even as we are in Christ. Jesus has taken all the judgment on himself on our behalf, so we’re free to give people grace to grow without judgment.”
Switching to parable mode, Beam said, “The kingdom of God is like a farm with a fence around it, and that fence is all the laws and rules about what we are supposed to do. A lot of churches spend all their time sitting on that fence. But Jesus is somewhere in the middle of that farm and he says, ‘Come spend time with me.’ ”
More information about the church or its weekend events is available by calling 848-888-1978 or visiting www.elginbiblechurch.org.