The Presbyterian church has its roots in the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Church, which traces its history to the first followers of Jesus. The first Presbyterian churches began in the American colonies in the mid-seventeenth century. John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister, was one of the original signers of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776.
McKinley Church was founded in 1906 as the first church in the United States set up expressly for students at a state university. The following list highlights some of the significant dates, events, and activities during the first 100 years of McKinley’s history:
1903 – Committee appointed by the Synod of Illinois to organize religious care for Presbyterian students at the state’s land grant public university, the University of Illinois.
1906 – T.J. Porter appointed by the Synod as University Pastor
1907 – James M. Duer appointed as University Pastor and organizes religious services for students, which are held in Morrow Hall, the old Agriculture Building (no longer standing), of the University.
1909 – Martin E. Anderson appointed as University Pastor.
1910 – Synod purchased property near the campus, at 5th and John Streets, to be used as a site for a church building. The house on the site was used as a student center and living unit for men until construction of the church started.
1911 – Cornerstone laid and church construction begins because of the generosity of Senator William McKinley.
1911 – The student center house was moved to a location south of the new church, on 5th Street, and converted into a residence for Presbyterian women.
1912 – Church construction completed and dedicated to the memory of Senator McKinley’s father, the Reverend George McKinley. McKinley is the first church at a public university in the United States that was organized and built for students.
1914 – Robert R. Reed became Pastor of McKinley Church.
1919 – Thomas H. Hanna succeeds as Pastor of the McKinley Church
1922 – J. Walter Malone, Jr. was recruited by Senator McKinley and became Pastor of the Church.
1923 – McKinley Church organized as a regular church and member of the Bloomington Presbytery instead of merely being a chapel for students.
1924– Campaign for funds was started to build and maintain a Foundation building with a lead pledge from Senator McKinley of $200,000 and a goal of raising $400,000 in matching funds.
1930– McKinley Foundation building dedicated with Illinois Governor Louis L. Emerson giving the address and Walter Malone presiding.
1935 – “Presby” Hall established with the purchase of an adjacent fraternity house. The purchase was made possible through the generosity of Liva Ball for whom the house was, officially, named.
1938 – The Fraser Memorial Cloister, the breezeway joining the Church and Foundation buildings, added a distinctive beauty to the grounds. The breezeway was constructed with a lead gift in memory of John and Mary Fraser and the collective contributions of 199 University students and 90 alumni.
1942– James Hine becomes Pastor/ Director; hired from Hanover, IN.
1951- Worship services are held in the University Auditorium while Church is being expanded and the sanctuary reconditioned.
1952– New addition to church building dedicated with an enlarged balcony and modified entrance.
1952 (approx) – Church wheelchair ramp built; the first, or one of the first, on campus.
1953– Jim Hine makes trip around the world for the Presbyterian Board of Missions
1950’s-60’s – University’s PBS radio station, WILL-AM, regularly broadcast Sunday morning services.
1960’s– Formed Graduate Student Supper Coop; served food to about a hundred grad students four nights a week. It continued into Lundy era well into the 70’s.
1963– Organization of ecumenical United Christian Fellowship (Campus Presbyterians, Disciples and Methodists) and establishment of the UCF Chapel Center at Lincoln and Pennsylvania Avenues in Urbana.
1964– “Night Call” religious reflections television program launched by Jim Hine on Channel 3, WCIA television.
1960’s– Civil rights and racial equality advocacy and participation in the freedom marches in the south including Hattiesburg and elsewhere.
1965-68 – Demonstrate against and protest the military draft and provide advice to students on draft resistance options.
1967 – Purchase of three houses as a means to racially integrate community neighborhoods and supplement the rent for disadvantaged and diverse families of limited means in Champaign-Urbana.
1968 – Richard Lundy becomes Pastor/Director; hired from a position in Moscow. ID.
1969 – Active involvement in the war in Viet Nam peace movement including the provision of sanctuary and a first aid station for students protesting against the war within the Foundation Building.
1971 – Initiated and established a Day Care facility for low income families in the community that eventually became the Marilyn Queller Child Care Center in Urbana.
1975 – Involvement in the Baker Board ministry with women and Wesley Methodist Church and Foundation
1975 – Initiated congregational blood donor campaign.
1976 – McKinley begins Empty Tomb support with the establishment of a food pantry to collect and distribute groceries to those in need.
1976 – Sponsorship of a Black Pentecostal Church that used the Sanctuary alternatively with the congregation.
1976– Initiated Bicycle Project for International students, where abandoned bicycles were collected, repaired and given away free.
1977 – Hosted the Metropolitan Church composed of gay and lesbian people who were not comfortable or welcome in other community Christian churches by providing both office and worship space.
1977 – Hosted the Eastern Orthodox Church that met monthly in the Foundation Chapel and grew its congregation until it moved to its own facility in Urbana in 2001.
1978 – Church adopts the principle of using inclusive language in worship and liturgical activities.
1978 – Sponsorship of the resettlement of a Laotian refugee family into the community and their acclimation to America.
1980 -Inauguration of the Scot Free clothing exchange to support refugee families, students, and community people with the acquisition of clothing at no cost.
1980– Steve Shoemaker comes back to his home town from North Carolina to become Pastor/ Director; later shared role as Co-Pastor/Co-Director.
1980 – Became a “More Light Church” and joined with a handful of other Presbyterian churches nationwide to advocate for the full inclusion of all BLGT people into the life of the local and larger church.
1980s – Began support of environmental issues, first with the Central States Environmental Educational Center, an anti-nuclear Clinton group and continuing with Prairie Rivers.
1982 – Lightning strikes the cross on the Church building shattering it to pieces.
1982– Church building evacuated for safety reasons due to the discovery of structural instability in the beams supporting the roof.
1983 – Repairs to the beams and the replacement of the cross completed and the congregation moves back into the church building.
1983 – Church and Foundation support the first Intercambio De Cultural Yucatan winter rural construction exchange beginning a continuing mission ministry that expanded in 1987 to also include a summer urban construction and cultural exchange for students and young adult participation and in 1989 with winter health care and health education trips to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico involving health care professionals, doctors and dentists.
1984 – Charlie Sweitzer designated as Co-Pastor/Director with Steve Shoemaker
1984 – Participated in the sanctuary movement of Central American refugees with membership in and support of CUECOS, Champaign-Urbana Ecumenical Community of Sanctuary.
1985 – Sponsorship and housing of the Men’s Winter Emergency Shelter in the basement of the church building; involvement expanded to include a men’s all day drop in center in 1991; Obtained grant funding to support a community transitional center and staff and occupied the facility until the need outgrew the space in 2001.
1987– Sponsorship of the Greater Jerusalem Pentecostal Ministry that used the Foundation for church school while we worshiped in the Church and the sanctuary while McKinley held Christian education classes in the Foundation.
1993-94 – Church initiates Capital Campaign
1994 – Renovation of Sanctuary to include hard wood flooring; bathrooms on the main level; coffee nook, bulletin boards and closets at the rear of the sanctuary; and a full redesign of the chancel area in front.
1994 – Installation of new Dobson Mechanical Action Pipe Organ into the remodeled chancel of the sanctuary as the central and most prominent feature of the worship space.
1994 – Church Session established policy for the blessing of same sex unions.
1994-98 – McKinley is a major donor and the largest contributor to Habitat for Humanity; Habitat’s McKinley House dedicated in 1998.
1998 – McKinley hosts the national “More Light” churches conference in celebration and support for the full inclusion of GLBT persons into the Presbyterian USA denomination
1999 – Transition Pastor/Director Doug Baer is hired from Arizona.
1999 – Share the Care”, an innovative, cooperative means to support congregational family and personal needs, established.
1999 – Church joins the Center for Progressive Christianity national network as a statement of our theology; one of only sixteen churches in Illinois.
2000 – Heidi Weatherford becomes McKinley’s first woman Pastor/Director.
2000 – Native-American activism; Session sends letter to University of Illinois Board of Trustees asking it to retire Chief Illiniwek as a symbol of the University.
2002 – Church involved in the war in Iraq peace movement including the establishment of a “light a candle for peace” segment of Sunday worship.
2004 – Church and Foundation buildings host campus’ election eve rally featuring the soon to be Senator Barrack Obama; Over 4000 students and community people participated to overflow both facilities.
2004 – Sponsorship of a Korean Presbyterian church to meet in our sanctuary and have an office in the Foundation building.
2005 – An ecumenical Interfaith Alliance Chapter established through leadership of church members; promotes civic involvement of people of faith and asserts a progressive Christian point of view into the political realm.
Additional social justice and public service initiatives:
Limitations of space and format necessitate the exclusion of several other noteworthy projects and initiatives of the congregation. Such activities might include a ministry to the merchants in the neighboring Johnstown Shopping Center, office space for “The United Mime Workers” and “The Great American People Show”, hosting of the Expanded Cinema art movies, art display areas for students, recycling initiatives, energy crisis responses and provision of a meeting place for Iranian expatriate students during the hostage crisis. The annual church garage sale during the first week of fall semester was intended to allow students to furnish their apartments or get things they need at low cost. Youth group trips to Washington D.C. and New York City were taken to learn about racism and violence. Youth groups sold and distributed Free Trade coffee to finance their trips, like the one to Heifer International, and in support of Central American farmers. History also records that space was provided for the first large influx of Black students at the University in the late 60’s and Spring Break work trips with students to Appalachia and/or Indian reservations. Participation in the Gay Pride parade in Chicago, advocacy for GLBT people to gain equality in the Presbyterian Church, and provision of office and meeting space to groups and organizations with compatible values and mission are more recent endeavors.