November 22, 2022
Dear Friends at Rock Creek —
What a joyous occasion — a 200th anniversary! I send you my heartiest Congratulations and warmest Best Wishes. God has smiled upon the Rock Creek Church over the years, and I am happy to have served the saints there for six years in the 1990s. I learned much about rural ministry during that time.
I remember the weekend I flew out to interview in April of 1993. Standing in the cemetery with the members of the Pastor Nominating Committee, admiring the redbud trees, I asked when they quit using the cemetery. Everyone laughed. Hazel Golden said, ‘Oh, if you come here, you’ll be burying people here all right.” With a flourish, Richard Stiltz escorted me to his grave plot. Not many months later, in December, I laid Richard to rest in that very grave. The next month I buried Scott Nichols, and I confess it overwhelmed me.
I remember the Chicken Supper in August of 1993 — my first one, and your last one. I was tasked with managing the inflow of people, which didn’t sound like a difficult job until I had to do it. The next year we experimented with having an Ice Cream Social instead, which made everyone both relieved and grouchy. It takes courage to let a beloved tradition die.
I remember teaching Kerygma classes on Sunday evenings, and having such a wonderful turnout. We sat around the tables in the church basement and studied the Bible together, then enjoyed some treats. Teaching that series was the most important thing I ever did at Rock Creek.
I remember our first Christmas Eve worship together in 1994. I announced I would conduct a service even if the Ruppels and Everharts were the only families in attendance. The sanctuary was nearly full, beautifully lit by candles. A year or two later a visitor told me that she “always” came to Christmas Eve worship at Rock Creek. I learned that traditions are born in mythos and attended by affection.
I remember standing beside Doug on summer evenings as our daughters, Hannah and Clara, learned to ride their bikes on the gravel roads through the cemetery. They liked to gather the artificial flowers that blew up against the chainlink fence and use them to festoon the gravestones, especially the one shaped like a dog. The quiet pup never seemed to mind his beautification.
I remember renting the Spiritual Center to the Great American People Show, in the summer of 1995. GAPS put on outdoor theater at New Salem. It was a controversial action, as were most actions related to that building. Managing that contaminated well was always a problem! At some point, Mike Whitehurst’s visionary leadership led to the addition of a bottom entrance, which transformed our use of that space.
I remember the weenie roasts and Halloween parties at the Spiritual Center, the former two-room schoolhouse which stands near the Rock Creek Presbyterian Church. On those fall evenings the kids tore through the woods in glee. In early October of 1996, I got a headache that did not lift. I was unable to preach for World Communion Day and had to call in a substitute. On subsequent Sundays I took heavy painkillers. I cannot imagine what I said in the pulpit. The Menninger family took over the planning of the Halloween party that year. One evening Jane Hurie brought me some Rice Krispy bars as a kindness. When I bit into one, a wisdom tooth sheered off, which lifted the pain. A miracle.
I remember the 175th Anniversary in the fall of 1997. I preached an “I Have a Dream” sermon about expanding the sanctuary. The message was met with resistance. One of the elders, whom I shall not name, told me in a stiff tone, “Anniversaries are for celebrating not for challenging.” Indeed, it seemed that the very idea of change sent the Rock Creek Church community into upheaval. We arranged a series of conversations, which lasted a full year, and were better attended than the worship services.
During that time Doug earned his Masters Degree in Instructional Technology. His job search brought us to a position in Virginia. The timing was intense. I announced our nearly-immediate departure exactly one week before we were supposed to vote on the proposed expansion. It was not a happy state of affairs for any of us!
I was so thrilled when you delayed the vote, briefly, and then voted Yes. It wasn’t until Thanksgiving of 2004 that my family and I were able to visit and see the addition in person. What a joy that was! I am so glad that the congregation has continued to thrive in that beautiful, historic place.
As I recount all these memories it’s apparent to me, and I hope also to you, that we tolerated each other with good humor and did our best to follow Jesus by the leading of the Spirit. God has been good to the Rock Creek Church. To God be the glory!
Rev. Ruth Everhart
Here’s a write up from the Illinois Times including the highlights of the church’s founding by the Reverend John M. Berry and the ties to Abraham Lincoln.