To all who mourn and need comfort––to all who are weary and need rest––to all who are friendless and wish friendship––to all who pray and to all who do not, but ought––to all who sin and need a Saviour and to whosoever will––this church opens wide its doors and in the name of Jesus, the Lord says, “Welcome.” Cover of the order of worship, October 27, 1935.
The twenty-seven charter members 1907:
Mrs. Annice Goddard Bantz Mrs. S. M. Kingery
Mrs. Henry Bantz Mrs. Edward Leppold
Mrs. Joe Barham Mrs. Edward Manning
Mrs. Grace Bliss Mrs. Francis Owens
Mr. Eugene E. Bliss Mrs. George Mercer
Mrs. Ida B. Clark Mrs. Nettie Patterson
Mrs. Fannie Crandall Mr. John W. Peebles
Miss Mary Crandall Mr. W.F. Rumage
Dr. W.H. Crandall Miss Ellen Simmons
Mrs. Flem Gent Mrs. Minnie Smith
Mr. Glenn S. Goddard Mr. A.M. Watt
Mrs. D.D. Hartwell Mr. Alexander West
Mrs. Marshall Hartwell Mrs. Martha Sloan West
Miss Bertie Williams
First Pastor (stated supply): Rev. L.B. Lyle
First elders: Dr. W. J. Cramdall, A.M. West, and W.F. Rumage
Imagine Marion in 1839. The first survey of Marion’s area was less than the Circuit City warehouse (23 football fields). The new county seat was in a swamp, wet and muddy, full of mosquitoes. The square, the highest part of the town, had been William Benson’s cornfield. The only building on the public square was a log store with
no door that opened and closed. Only a few crude homes huddled near. To this miserable little town, came missionaries from California, Rev. and Mrs. Nehemiah Hunt under the direction of the Presbyterian Board of Missionaries.
They came to organize one of the earliest churches in the area, Marion Presbyterian.
The Hunts dug into the task before them. Rev. Hunt built a two story frame building with $400 and did most of the work. They lived, conducted worship services, and Mrs. Hunt taught Sunday School in this rough building.
They struggled along, and at last on August 31, 1845 they organized a church, led by Reverends W. Chamberlain and Williston Jones with nine charter members: Samuel Aikman, Henrietta Aikman, William Aikman, Maria E. Aikman, Eliab Aikman, Lewis Cox, Mary Cox, Louisa Cox, and Margaret McMurray.
The congregation replaced the original building in early 1847 with a new one near the site of the present county courthouse. In 1870 the church moved 3 ½ miles northeast of Marion and reorganized as the Mt. Zion Cumberland Presbyterian Church––known as “Cross Roads.” For the next thirty-seven years, Marion had no Presbyterian church.
After a conference with Henry Bantz at Junction, Illinois, on August 12, 1907, Rev. W.B. Lyle, Sabbath School Missionary of Ewing and Cairo Presbyteries, came to Marion on September 1 and organized a Sunday School October 13. Rev. Lyle led in purchasing a lot on East Boulevard Street north of the city reservoir. The new church met in a tent until they built a tabernacle, forty by sixty feet, on the same lot.
One hundred people attended the new Sunday School! And in three months the attendance doubled. Henry Bantz was the first S.S. superintendent. The first teachers were: Mr and Mrs. Alexander West, Oscar W. Hartwell, Glenn Goddard, Miss Minnie Swafford, Miss Maude Grant, John Goddard, Miss Mary Crandall, Rev. W.B. Lyle, Mrs. Minnie Smith, Miss Ellen Dimmons, Mrs. E.B. Bliss, Lon Sanders, and Miss Emma Wilkins.
The Cairo Presbytery appointed Rev. J.R. Craighead, Anna; Charles McClure, Cobden; and A.S. Buchanan, Cairo, to organize the new church. On November 7, 1907 at 7:15 p.m. the First Presbyterian Church of Marion was born. Rev. W.B. Lyle was the first stated supply and moderator of the session. There were 27 charter members (see list above). They worshiped on borrowed benches and Rev. Lyle preached from a borrowed pulpit until the Mt. Vernon Presbyterian Church gave the congregation a pulpit and chairs. Henry Bantz presented the bell. A revival added many new members.
The church purchased a two story frame building on State Street in December for a manse and later purchased the Dr. Zach Hudson home at 805 N. Van Buren Street. In 1911 they bought a building for $500 from the Methodist Church on West Main Street and moved it to 804 North Market. They repaired and redecorated the building and added a basement.
There were trying times. The May, 1915 record shows “There being no suitable material for elders, it is thought best to wait to elect any”!! After some rethinking, the church did elect elders in June, 1915: Hubert Ramsey, William Sullins, Ora Heiple, D.D. Hartwell and Henry Bantz.
A huge success story was the “Hustlers.” C.J. Ramsey taught the Bible class of two or three young men in the early 1920s. But when Rev. Knight came as the new pastor in 1923, attendance grew to an average of fifty––one of the largest Bible classes in Marion! The church constructed a large gymnasium, where the Hustlers played basketball. Inspiring speakers visited the class, including George Sisler, noted baseball player, and Coach Bob Zuppke of the University of Illinois.
On January 1, 1928 a fire destroyed the building. Members worshiped in the Family Theatre (in the Hyde building which also housed the A & P supermarket in the 1940s/1950s) until they could construct a new one. Within a few months after the fire, the church rebuilt the gymnasium and rededicated it for worship on May 20, 1928. An even
more damaging fire on December 9, 1934 forced the church to abandon their house of worship. They met in the old Dodd building on North Market Street until October 27, 1935 when the members dedicated their new building. Rev. A.E. Powell was the pastor. And it was his friends who donated the stained glass window.
Rev. John S. Holladay came in 1942 from Cheingmai, Thailand, where he served as a missionary. He and his family fled through the jungle as the Japanese entered Rangoon. The Holladays escaped Thailand on December 11, 1941—four days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Rev. Holladay had spent 12 years as a missionary there and was credited with organizing the resistance movement for the O.S.S.
During the pastorate of Rev. S.A. Johnson and his wife from 1944 to 1953, the women organized an inclusive organization integrating the ladies aid and women’s Sunday School into one group known as the Women’s Guild.
Mrs. John Goddard was the first Guild president. Other officers were Mr. W.C. Anderson, Mrs. Ray Harris, Mrs. Rugh Mitchell, Mrs. W.C. Anderson, Mrs. Oldham Paisley, Mrs. Don Mitchell, Mrs. Ernest Hill, Mrs. Evelyn Herron, Mrs. Cecil Ramsey, Miss Nellie Byars, Mrs. Jean Otey, Mrs. L.A. Turner, Mrs. J.E. Giles, Jr., Mrs. Lester Throgmorton, and Mrs. G.J. Frick.
After the old manse was condemned, the church erected a new home for $10,000 at 805 North Van Buren Street under the leadership of Rev. Samuel A. Johnson. The church paid off the $3,500 mortgage to the Board of National Missions in New York City in 1952, five years ahead of time. And benevolence giving increased by 800 per cent!
In 1958, with the leadership of Pastor Dr. Joseph Van Roekel, the members started a campaign to erect a new church building in the Southwest part of Marion. On July 16, 1961, they held ground breaking ceremonies on a five acre tract at 1200 S. Carbon Street. The Full Gospel Tabernacle bought the Market Street building and relocated it to DeYoung Street. Mitchell Funeral Home purchased the lot and manse. On Sunday, November 28, 1962, the church dedicated their striking one story church building to the glory of God with the hope that it would “aid Presbyterians in the service of mankind and the community.” Dr. Van Roekel supported the Trick or Treat for UNICEF, conducted worship services as Camp Carew and was very active in Camp Carew activities. He served as the first interium Chaplain at the new Federal Penitentary in Marion and was active as Chaplain at the VA Hospital and Marion Memorial. Dr. Van Roekel also worked closly with other churches in town including the Bethel AME Chruch. Combilned Vacation Bible Schools were conducted with the Bethel AME Church. Mrs. Van Roekel was also very active in the church including working with the Presbyterian Women and the Chruch Circle and also served a term as Presidnet of Illinois Church Women United. During Dr. Van Roekel’s tenure he was yoked to the Carterville First Presbyterian Church.
Rev. David McChesney came as pastor on Thanksgiving Sunday of 1970. The first year the church netted 27 members and the next year broke 200 in membership. Rev. McChesney and his young family fostered activities such as family camping at Camp Carew, worship services at Camp Carew, Trick or Treat for UNICEF, and Sunday evening gatherings during the advent season. Rev. McChesney was very active in presbytery and was Chairman of the General Council from 1976-1983, which allowed him to be involved in the wider community. He was Chairman of the Board of Camp Carew and Vice-chairman on the board of John A. Logan Community College. Through his involvement with John A., he met instructor Karl Maple, and they helped organize the Prisoner Family Support mission.
Pastor Olive Haynes was installed in 1980, the first woman clergy in Marion and the only female minister of First Presbyterian Church. With Dr. Haynes’ leadership, the church made a decision to focus on hands-on missions (described later in the missions section of the history). November 7, 1982 she led the church in celebration of 75 years of history, fellowship, and witness to Christ. Also during her tenure (in 1985), the members replaced the flat, leaking roof with a pitched one, modernized the kitchen facilities, and paid off the entire expense in three years.
Rev. Paul Johnson came to our congregation as a student pastor and completed his degree while serving our congregation. He performed hospital chaplain service at Evansville to complete his program. He was ordained and installed on December 10, 1989. Pastor Paul was an excellent teacher and led Bible studies and created a men’s group which met for fellowship and prayer. He was a part of all functions of the church, attending every meeting of the men and women’s groups. He led the design of banners with some Sunday School Classes and with the aid of the Van Roekel family. The banners hung in the sanctuary until the new celebration banners replaced them in 2007.
In 1996 the church called Rev. Dan Whitfield as pastor. Dan and Yvonne, and their children Yvette, Jeanne, Glenn, and Lynette were members of the church when Dan received his call to ministry while Dr. Haynes was pastor. He attended Louisville Theological Seminary where he graduated in 1989.
His first pastorate was Westminster Presbyterian of Benton, Illinois. His ordination there on September 17, 1989 was a combined effort of the Marion and Benton Presbyterian churches. The Marion choir sang at the service and several members of the Marion congregation attended.
He has led the church in established mission projects and helped create Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Marion Area. Yvonne headed up the new Health Ministry program and was one of Southern Illinois’ first parish nurses.
During Pastor Dan’s tenure, the church added the new educational wing in 1998, made possible through the Bennie and Ruth Sanders bequest. The wing provides classrooms and additional space to the kitchen and fellowship hall. Dale Holloman headed the construction project.
One hundred years of history and more. Today’s Illinois Presbyterian came from a rich heritage. Early pioneers were Presbyterians. General Thomas Posey, on the staff of George Washington, came to Illinois as a Presbyterian leader and settled in Shawneetown where he is buried. The Marion church has persevered through lean and fat years. Years when membership and funds dwindled and time when a young men’s Bible class grew to fifty. Times of fire and destruction. Times of stretching and building. Throughout it all, the church has held its doors wide open to the community and the world in the name of Jesus Christ and to the Glory of God and said, “Welcome!”