CHESTNUT - Honest Abe was elevated to sainthood at the United Methodist church in this Logan County community.
The face of our country's 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, is on an eye-catching stained glass window that looks over the sanctuary. From the outside, when the sunlight bounces off the stained glass window on the front side of the church, Lincoln also seems to be peering out over the town.
Mount Pulaski resident Mike Lakin is proud of his family's role in commissioning the Lincoln window.
His great-grandfather, George Washington Lakin, was only 17 years old when he joined the Union Army during the Civil War. He served under Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman during the March to the Sea.
"He had a huge amount of respect for General Sherman and even named one of his sons after the general," Lakin said.
After the war ended, George Washington Lakin and other men who lived in Chestnut formed a local chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic, a nationwide organization of Union veterans founded in Decatur.
As a way of honoring Lincoln, the men had the stained glass window made with Lincoln's face on it and the letters GAR.
The Grand Army of the Republic truly believed their efforts had been on the side of the Almighty, Mike Lakin said.
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"According to stories from my father," he said, "my great-grandfather and the other men thought Lincoln was a saint and General Sherman was the greatest person who ever lived. If anything derogatory was said about those two, (it) would have ended in a fight."
The history of the church began when pioneers settled in Yankeetown, just a few miles west of Chestnut, in 1842. They later resettled in Chestnut and built a small frame church building there in 1872.
"It was a time when the railroad was coming through the area and land had been platted out for the community of Chestnut, which included a general store, blacksmith shop, some other businesses and the church," said the Rev. Kevin Treptow, the current pastor.
In 1911, the church members built a bigger brick church building that included the Lincoln window.
Treptow said there wasn't much history about the window other than how it was commissioned.
"The townspeople of Chestnut were good Union loyalists and dedicated to the Grand Army of the Republic," he said.
Another stained-glass window dominating the sanctuary's north wall depicts a woman holding on to a cross as rain showers down on her.
Treptow often wonders about the significance of the window and whether it's Mary weeping over the death of Jesus as she looks toward the sky.
"I have pondered that window, and there is a song that we sing a lot that strikes me as to what the picture is really about," he said. He refers to the song "Grace Greater Than Our Sins," written in 1911 by Julia H. Johnston. One of its verses says:
"Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold, threaten the soul with infinite loss; Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold, points to the refuge, the mighty cross."
The current church building has remained stalwart as a soldier. It is built according to the Akron Plan, a church architectural style popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with semicircular seating in the sanctuary.
Some of the German settlers who lived in Chestnut had been traveling to Mount Pulaski to attend the Lutheran church there. But because of the difficulty of traveling back and forth, they ended up borrowing the Methodist church building for services for a while, Treptow said.
Treptow, who has been pastor for the past three years, remains busy traveling himself, pastoring churches in Latham and Mount Pulaski as well.
The membership role at Chestnut United Methodist has remained steady at 41, with an average of 28 devoted worshippers every Sunday.
"The church is small in numbers, but the members are determined to keep going," Treptow said, and I admire that."
Sheila Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 421-7963.
About the church
WHAT: Chestnut United Methodist Church.
WHERE: 313 N. Logan St., Chestnut, off Illinois 54.
SERVICES: 8 a.m. Sunday.
* The first pastors were the Rev. J.D. Weems and Rev. Hiram Buck.
* The Rev. Kevin Treptow has been pastor since 2006.
* Membership stands at 41.