TOWN OF LINN — In the year 1844, Samuel Morse sent the first telegraph, George Williams founded the YMCA and James Polk was elected the 11th president of the United States.
In that same year, the Linn Presbyterian Church came to be.
This September, the church will reach its 175th anniversary, and leaders of the congregation are planning a year of community events to commemorate the milestone.
“We want to celebrate not just our past, but our future, and where we’re headed,” said the Rev. Terry Hennesy, the church’s pastor since 2014.
Hennesy said the 175th anniversary is also a chance to showcase church activities beyond the regular services, demonstrating how members of the church can support their community in perpetuity.
“Churches need to make that connection between Sunday morning and Monday through Saturday,” Hennesy said. “People want to know that their congregation is helping.”
Kick off on Sunday
The events will kick off Sunday with a community lunch.
One of the church’s biggest upcoming events is a Valentine’s Feast at 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 15, where members will collect donations to benefit the Open Arms Free Clinic in Elkhorn.
Other anniversary event plans include a music jam in March and a cook-off in October.
All the while, congregation members will spend the year recording when they perform acts of kindness outside of church services. The goal is to reach or exceed 175 total acts of kindness.
“I think it’s a nudge,” said Pat Oblak, chairwoman of the church’s 175th anniversary committee. “This is a nudge to say, ‘Here we are, in this beautiful community. Look at what we can do.’”
The church congregation currently has about 200 members, but it began with a humble 29 founders in the mid-19th century.
After starting their church in 1844, the charter members originally congregated in a Linn schoolhouse.
In 1867, they established their own building, the Presbyterian Church of Linn and Hebron on Hillside Road near Hebron, Ill. In 1922, the congregation left Hebron behind and moved to the unincorporated community of Zenda, physically uprooting and relocating their church building. The building later grew dilapidated, and it, too, was left behind.
In 1978, the members built a new church at its current location — W3335 Willow Road in the town of Linn, on a hill overlooking Lake Geneva.
Lauren Asplund, the church’s volunteer historian, has conducted years of research and compiled the entire history of the Linn Church as part of his volunteer work with the 175th anniversary committee.
“Over the years, people have been producing various histories of the church. I’ve gone back and I’ve pulled together all these things so I have one document,” Asplund said. “It’s been fun. I’ve enjoyed doing it.”
Asplund’s work will be published in September, to coincide with the original founding date.
Although it is among the Lake Geneva region’s oldest churches, Linn Presbyterian shares that distinction with others. In 2017, St. Francis de Sales Parish in Lake Geneva celebrated its 175th anniversary. And last year, the First Congregational Church of Christ in Elkhorn celebrated the same milestone.
Nowadays, Linn Church operates under the goal of embodying, as it calls itself, “a traditional church with a contemporary vision.”
The congregation’s Sunday services fluidly alternate between prayer, spiritual and philosophical discussion, traditions of worship, and a mix of classic and modern hymns.
Julie Morse, a member of the church for the past two years, said she and her husband visited many churches when they moved into the area, but only Linn Presbyterian felt “just right” to them.
“Truly, on our very first visit, we knew we’d found something unique but comfortable — a perfect blend of old and new,” Morse said.
Caleb Staab, 19, who has attended the church since childhood, said he admires the “unconventional” services and the membership they have cultivated.
“I’ve met a lot of really good people who go to the church,” Staab said. “Linn just really has a special, comfortable, welcome place in my heart.”
Oblak, who has been a member since 1975, also attested to the church’s positive impact on the community. In planning for the 175th anniversary celebration, she and her husband, Bob, were eager to show local families what Linn Presbyterian Church is all about.
“This church is a growing, vibrant community that takes care of itself and also community members,” Oblak said. “We take care of those people, too.”