First Congregational Church Woodstock, IL

1855: Universalist minister, Rev. Daniel Livermore organized the Universalist congregation in Woodstock. Rev. Livermore and his wife, Mary, were ardent abolitionists. They both worked tirelessly for the Union cause, and Mary Livermore went on to become a leading writer and lecturer for women’s suffrage

1865: The First Congregational Church of Woodstock was formed by returning Civil War veterans and anti-alcohol reformers who had previously worshiped with the Presbyterians, calling the Rev. J.J. Dixon as its minister.

1866: First church building opened at the corner of Dean and South Streets.

1905-06: New brick church built on the original lot

1937-39: During the Depression, the First Congregational Church, like so many other churches had fallen on hard financial times. In 1937, members of the defunct Universalist Church, who now worshiped at FCC, remembered a $5000 bequest set aside for the establishment of a new Universalist congregation in McHenry County. Members of First Congregational decided to seek joint fellowship with the Universalists and claim the bequest. This was accomplished in 1938, and the name of the church was changed to the Congregational Universalist Church of Woodstock.

1938-49: Rev. Merton L. Aldridge was called as the Congregation’s first Universalist minister serving until his death. He brought stability and growth to the congregation.

1939: The women of the church led the formation of a local chapter of the American Red Cross. Through the Red Cross the churchwomen got a strong interest in health issues. They would go on to found and largely staff the Ladies Auxiliary to Memorial Hospital and some would later found Easter Seals of McHenry County.

1950’s: membership became more county-wide as people began to drive in from surrounding communities, drawn by the unique message of liberal religion.

1957-63: The ministry of Rev. Weston Stevens ushered in a period of high-visibility activism in the community.

1965: Rev. John A. Dunn, a former Catholic priest, joined many UU ministers who came to Selma, Alabama to march with Dr. Martin Luther King after the deaths of the Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo.

1975: Rev. Barbara Wuensch (later Merritt) was ordained. Rev. Merritt was very active in the community and gained considerable local notoriety for her patient advocacy for improved health services to the elderly as the leader of the county’s Taskforce on Aging.

1985: The church fought the city council to become a founding shelter site for the homeless through the Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS) program.

1989: Reflecting the majority of the membership identifying with Unitarian Universalism the dominance of Unitarianism within the UUA the congregation changed its name to the Congregational Unitarian Church.

1990’s: The church opened its doors and provided worship space for Congregation Tikkun Olam, a Ten Directions Zen meditation group and the Blue Lotus Buddhist group.

Under the leadership of Rev. Dan Larsen, the church became involved in many social justice activities, including: founding the Woodstock Area Community Ministry. WACM, composed of local congregations, provides emergency funds and housing assistance for people in need through its Direct Assistance Program; a Latino Outreach program; a Diversity Day rally, an annual event that ran for several years. During this time, the church completed the steps to become a Welcoming Congregation and qualified as a Green Sanctuary church.

2000: the congregation voted to drop its affiliation with the UUC and become a solely Unitarian Universalist congregation.

2000-2009: the church opened its doors to provide meeting space for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), McHenry County PRIDE and Recovery International (a mental health support group).

2006: The Congregation celebrated the centennial of the Church building and dedicated the nine windows depicting the faith traditions from which the congregation draws in the Social Room.

2009: The Congregation changed its name again to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Woodstock.

2009-2012 Rev. Dan Larsen retired and was elected minister emeritus. Rev. James A. Hobart, Karen McFarland, and Rev. Jennifer Slade served as interim ministers with periods of lay leadership

2011: The congregation voted to accept the gift of a building purchased by one of its members at 5603 Bull Valley Road in McHenry.

2012: In January the congregation celebrated its first service at its new location in McHenry and informally began using the name Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry.

2013-2016— Rev. Sean Parker Dennison was unanimously called to the pulpit. By-laws were amended to change the governance model from a Moderator and Church Council to a Board of Trustees with a President and a Program Council. Second Sunday Collections benefiting community social service, environmental, and advocacy partners were inaugurated. The name Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation was officially adopted. Coffee with Questions was established as a regular adult education/discussion program before weekly Sunday Services.

The Congregation spearheaded and coordinated a Marriage Equality campaign in the county leading to the adoption of an Illinois act. Compassion for Campers was established as a yearly program serving the homeless when PADS church shelters are shut down May-September and participated in gun regulation campaigns and immigration reform activities with close connection to Latino community.

We celebrated the congregation’s Sesquicentennial.

Under the leadership of long time Music Director, Thomas Steffens, more than 20 members of the Choir toured Unitarian Churches in Transylvania. Coffee House and Open Mic Nights were established.

2016-to date—Rev. Dennison resigned amid some controversy. Under strong lay leadership the congregation continued on. The Worship committee provided strong Sunday programing and developed a core of regular pulpit speakers.

Thomas Steffens retired and Forrest Ransburg became Musical Director for two years followed by singer, composer, teacher, and community choir leader, Cassandra Vohs-Demann. The choir remains a vital part of the congregation.

The Social Justice team ramped up resistance activity following the 2016 election including participation in the Women’s Marches, youth led gun violence protests, the Science March and climate change activities. A Poets in Resistance program in March 2017 was a success. The Team also has worked on Hate Has No Home Here rallies for immigration rights and coordinated a Lights For Liberty Rally at McHenry County Jail which houses a Federal immigration detention facility. Community forums were hosted on health care and Medicare for All and voting rights and voter suppression. The team led two Black Lives Matter Sunday services, and are participating in UU The Vote.

Interim Religious Education Director, Heather Madaus, and her team lead a small but effective program and launched an innovative curriculum on Climate Change/Climate Justice.

2018-19: Rev. Kevin DeBeck served as Interim Minister and helped establish a congregational covenant of right relations.

2019: The Tree of Life tradition sources windows from the Woodstock church were installed and dedicated in an illuminated kiosk in the McHenry social room.

2020—The Congregation responded nimbly to the Coronavirus emergency closing the church building to all services, meetings, and activities. We are now using Zoom technology for Sunday services, meetings, and even social gatherings.