Grace Fellowship is a new church with a lot of history. Their building was constructed in 1858 and launched as a Baptist church. Billy Graham even preached there in the 1950s. But to its current congregation, it’s brand new.
At a building dedication in October, the Grace Fellowship congregation was bubbling with excitement. “God opened this door,” said church member Jerry Miles.
“Knowing this was the place God meant for us and for it to become a reality,” said fellow member Alice McGraw, “it just reinforces that he is with us and has been part of it all along.”
It took the congregation a few years to get to Sublette. The church began in 2010 as Grace Fellowship in Amboy, the second church plant in a network that started in Ashton and now also has a site in Davis Junction.
Brian McWethy (center in photo) is pastor/planter of Grace Fellowship Amboy and an IBSA zone consultant. He told the story of how his congregation moved from one small town to another, just seven miles down the road. “The church sat empty over the last four years,” McWethy said of the former Sublette Union Church. “And we were meeting in a Farm Bureau building in Amboy.” His congregation was outgrowing their building, and the people in Sublette were getting anxious about their town’s empty church building.
“No one wanted to tear this church down,” McWethy said. “They even talked about turning it into a museum. Then people from the town came to Grace Fellowship and said, ‘We see what you’re doing in Amboy and we want you to come here.’”
During this time, the members of Grace Fellowship were working through the “Experiencing God” Bible study and began to feel like God wanted them to look into getting the church building. But then they were offered the option of purchasing the Farm Bureau building in Amboy. They made an offer on the building, but it wasn’t accepted. So, they made an offer on the Sublette church building, which was accepted.
“This is kind of like when the children of Israel were out in the wilderness and God sent them to a place and they wouldn’t do it,” Miles said of the church’s relocation process. “This is God showing us our promised land. We just have to be a willing vessel to be used to by him.”
The church, alive
When the church began renovation work on their new building’s interior, they marveled at what they found. “We pulled out the floors and found the logs that were hand-hewn with square spikes holding them in place,” McWethy said. “The rock foundation was all original.”
Church members don’t want to make any changes that will ruin the historical integrity of the exterior of the building. They are discussing building a 40×50 Morton building for classroom space next to the church.
Before the first service in the new building began Oct. 6, Grace Fellowship held a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Originally, the mayor of Sublette was to do the job, but he had pneumonia and was forced to stay home. McWethy subbed for him. As he cut the ribbon, the pastor declared, “What was dead is now alive!”
As McWethy performed the ribbon-cutting, member Bryce Erbes was inside the church ready to ring the bell to signify the church’s opening and start of service. Erbes is the third generation in his family to attend church in that building. His father used to ring the church bell, and his grandfather rebuilt the steeple platform after it was blown away by a tornado decades ago.
“The history and knowing what it all means… Just to see it alive again means a lot,” he said. “It feels like my family grew up going to church here. I don’t have the words. It’s hard to explain it. It just means a lot to my family and to the town of Sublette.”
McWethy’s dedication day sermon was based on Acts 8:4-12 and titled “The Church Alive.”
“This church was packed with people back in the day,” he said. “God has truly blessed this church over the years. As we look back at the glories, I think it’s great the things that have happened. Here’s the question—what does the future hold?”
As an IBSA zone consultant in northwest Illinois, McWethy sees churches struggle to gain ground there and elsewhere in Illinois. He told his congregation, “We have 740 churches that are either plateaued or declining. They can only look back at past glories. We’ve had hundreds of baptisms, salvations, and rededications, but we must be focused and intentional. I’m confident God has even greater glories ahead for Grace Fellowship.”
He implored the congregation, “When Jesus looks at us, may he see a church that is alive. A church that is moving forward in Christ and with Christ.”