SOUTH BELOIT - When Manchester Free Church minister's wife Lois Taylor stopped by the church on Friday morning, she was pleasantly surprised to find the door with a fresh coat of paint.
Finding little blessings at the church isn't anything new. The loyal congregation of 20 to 30 members often volunteers their time and talents to maintain and fortify their historic place of worship. Whether it's bringing beautiful garden flowers for the altar or doing maintenance projects, people love to help and usually don't seek credit or even reimbursement for it.
Perhaps it's part of the reason the church at the corner of Free Church and Manchester Roads is poised to celebrate its 150th anniversary. Despite its many years, the church building is in impeccable condition and the congregation's spirits continue to soar.
"The people in that church have faith. They are very strong. They don't want the little church to ever end," Lois Taylor said.
To celebrate its milestone, everyone's invited to Manchester Free Church's 150th Year Celebration on Sept. 23. A service will be held at 11 a.m. followed by a lunch and open house from noon - 3 p.m. The menu will feature crustless ham and turkey finger sandwiches, potato salad, fruit salad and a plethora of pie slices. Congregants are also working to revive a famous lettuce and cabbage salad served at the church's well-known chicken dinners spanning from 1912 to 1977.
At the event people can pick up history booklets being made, historical artifacts and fun things like "Duzit" scrubbers for pots and pans which were handled out to guests years ago as a memento for their church visit. The church may also haul out some rag rugs from the past and tales of the fall auction which accompanied the chicken dinner.
Organizers hope to attract up to 100 people. Lois Taylor said those at the church have had a great time planning the event.
Manchester Free Church has a deep history. It traces its roots back to a meeting on Sept. 23, 1868 resulting in the formation of the First Free Church Society of Manchester and Vicinity and planned to erect a building which later went up in 1872.
It was non-denominational and truly "free" as no offering plate was to be found. Instead, a small wooden church-shaped box with a slot sits in the narthex accepting donations.
Despite lack of an offering plate, the church was always plentiful in support and kept a low budget.
Daniel Taylor started being minister in 1984, preaching the second and fourth Sundays. His wife said Daniel is visually-impaired and gives all sermons from memory. The church also features organist Rosemary Palmer.
Although church members have become close and like family, anyone is welcome. Ages range from a baby to a 97-year-old.