Circuit Sing-along - Sept. 25
Join the McHenry County Historical Society from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, for a Circuit Rider Sing-along, an homage to the traveling preachers of the early 1800s.
Join in singing some old-fashioned hymns at the old Riley Methodist Church, located at 9316 Riley Road, Marengo. Get a feel for what a circuit-rider sermon sounded like, courtesy of retired Methodist minister Sharon Bullmer of Crystal Lake. Tap your toes and sing to the music of Marengo church organist Tracy Piper. The program is free, although donations to maintain the 1898 church are appreciated.
These hardy clergy, including a few women, most often were affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church – still among the largest denominations in the United States. In sparsely populated areas, as the population grew, Methodist clergy could be appointed to circuits wherever people settled – often riding between churches on horseback. Although these traveling clergy, or “saddlebag preachers,” officially were never called “circuit riders,” the same was appropriate and it stuck.
Circuit riders seldom served longer than a year in a circuit, before they were appointed to a new area. While this was bad for wanting to settle down, it allowed them to reuse sermons and hone delivery.
An expert on circuit riders, the Rev. Dan Swinson of the Sycamore United Methodist Church, said reading from a manuscript was frowned upon.
“One preacher who read his sermon was told that there were only three things wrong with it,” Swinson said: ‘You read it, you read it poorly and it wasn’t worth reading.’”
To reach the Riley Township church, take Route 23 south of Marengo to Anthony Road. Turn right (west) to Riley Road. It is located just north of the intersection – between the school and township hall. Parking is permitted in the school lot. Refreshments and conversation follow. Historic songbooks and Bibles will be available for purchase. Like the Society’s 1885 Perkins Hall in Seneca Township, there are no restrooms. Plan accordingly.