Gazette Article by: Arlyne Anderson Garrison
Appeared in the Gazette: Summer 1999
Winnetka Covenant Church evolved from a small group of people in 1927 under the leadership of the Reverend A. Ernest Rohrbach. Swedish immigrants working as maids, cooks, gardeners and chauffeurs in wealthy North Shore homes comprised most of the group. Because Sunday work responsibilities continued until mid-afternoon, they met at 5:00 p.m. Worship began with lay people leading singing in their beloved Swedish language. A preaching service in Swedish followed 6:00 p.m. supper.
In December 1927, the assemblage formed The Christian Fellowship Church, affiliated with the Mission Covenant Church in America.They established church organizations and began a building fund. During this period, the church name changed to the Swedish Evangelical Mission Church and then to the Evangelical Mission Covenant Church.The congregation initiated a service in English and, with assistance from bilingual students from North Park College in Chicago, started a “School for New Americans.”
In 1930, the congregation purchased a lot at the corner of Birch and Oak Streets in Winnetka, and two years later a beautiful brick church building was completed.The cost was $8,000, with the entire amount loaned to the congregation by the employer of one of its members. The new church included a Fireside Room “for those who had no real home of their own.” Members gave liberally, even during the difficult years of the Great Depression, and in 1944, during the tenure of the Reverend Samuel Carlson, the congregation burned its mortgage.
After some years of struggle for the congregation, the Reverend LeRoy A. Benson arrived in 1953, initiating a major rebirth.The church adopted a new constitution and a new name, Evangelical Covenant Church of Winnetka, Illinois (the common name is Winnetka Covenant Church).
In 1955, a children’s Sunday School replaced the adult fellowship area in the basement, and a willed house was remodeled into the first parsonage. Four years later the Reverend Charles E. Nelson arrived, revitalizing old programs and initiating new.
As the congregation outgrew its quarters, fundraising for a new building began. In 1963 ground was broken on land donated by A. Harold and Lorraine Anderson at the corner of Hibbard and Illinois Roads in unincorporated Cook County. The following year a sanctuary (which is now the Fellowship Hall), church offices and Sunday School rooms on the first floor were completed. The unfinished second floor became a popular area for youth sports but soon was needed for classrooms.
In 1967, the Reverend Arthur A. R. Nelson began his tenure as senior pastor, bringing unique talent and vision and more educational opportunities. Ground was broken in 1972 for the current sanctuary. Soon a pre-school was opened to serve the community. When Women’s Bible Study Fellowship began, the church was filled to overflowing each meeting day.
From 1988 to 1998, the Reverend Robert Dvorak served as senior pastor, increasing church staff and programs. He initiated the “Brown Hymnal Society” where people gather to sing favorite old hymns and choruses. Late in 1996, the church property was annexed into the Village of Wilmette, resulting in a new address: 1200 Hibbard Road, Wilmette.
As summer 1999 arrives, the church is served by new senior pastor Steven Elde (here since March) and a new church building educational wing has been dedicated.