Beth Lawniczak’s earliest memories are entwined with church events.
The self-described “cradle Lutheran” – a lifelong Lutheran – has used her God-given gift of music at church as a cantor, she said, and she is going to school to be a spiritual companion, a role that involves listening and helping people discover where God is in their lives.
“If we’re open and willing, he’s there,” said Lawniczak, of St. Charles.
Lawniczak, who also works at Bethany Lutheran Church in Batavia, is among the tens of thousands of people who regularly attend religious services in Kane County.
Their faith is demonstrated throughout the Tri-Cities in such ways as near-nonstop Eucharistic adoration at such churches as Holy Cross Catholic Church in Batavia; mission trips that take members of various churches across the world; and free community suppers at four churches in Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles.
Monsignor Aaron Brodeski of Holy Cross Catholic Church said people are created with a longing for God and often try to fill the longing in many ways, including materialism.
But, he said, quoting St. Augustine, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.”
Faithful Kane County
Steven Srock, senior pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church, said the best definition of faith he has encountered is Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
By that definition, Illinois is full of faithful people.
According to a study released in December 2009 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 70 percent of Illinoisans believe in God with absolute certainty.
The national average is 71 percent.
However, Pew found only 53 percent of Illinoisans say religion is very important in their lives – the national average is 56 percent – and 39 percent say they attend religious services at least once a week, which is the national average.
“In most Southern states, frequency of worship attendance meets or exceeds the national average,” according to the Pew survey. “By contrast, in all Northeastern states, frequency of attendance meets or falls below the national average.”
In 2010, about 7 million people regularly attended services at 12,453 congregations in Illinois, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives.
This, the ARDA noted, represented 55.3 percent of the state’s population.
The congregations in Kane County reported similar churchgoing attendance.
According to the ARDA, 326 congregations reported that 267,748 people regularly attend their services, which represent about 52 percent of the county’s population.
This is slightly down from data reported to the ARDA in 1980.
Then, congregations in Kane County reported having 154,362 churchgoers, or about 55.4 percent of the county’s population.
Of those attending services in Kane County in 2010, the ARDA reported, about 155,400 were Catholic; 50,700 were Evangelical Protestant; 36,600 were Mainline Protestant; 3,700 were Black Protestant; 1,600 were Orthodox; and 19,700 were of other affiliations.
Brodeski said Holy Cross’ ability to maintain Eucharistic adoration continuously for six days a week says a lot about its parishioners’ commitment and level of faith.
Eucharistic adoration gives Catholics a chance to be in the presence of the Lord, as a consecrated host is exposed in a monstrance, or a receptacle for such purposes.
Catholics may choose to pray, read the Bible or, among other prayerful devotions, contemplate acts of faith.
In the Rockford Diocese – which includes 105 parishes across 11 counties in northwestern Illinois, including Kane County — perpetual adoration is becoming more common, Brodeski said. He said the popularity speaks to people’s longing for God.
“This is a way of satisfying that,” he said. In this busy world, he added, “Now more than anything we need this hour of prayer.”
‘A way of life’
As senior pastor at Christ Community Church in St. Charles, Jim Nicodem understands why people might turn to faith. Sickness. Marriage. Unemployment. Rebellious children.
Such life crises lead people to look for a resource bigger than themselves, he said.
Certainly, last week’s events – which included the Boston Marathon bombings, the ricin letters sent to lawmakers, the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas and local flooding – would prompt people to turn to faith.
The Rev. Bob Jones at St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Church in Sugar Grove said in an email that he planned to address the topics in his homily that weekend and also had talked to some of his parishioners during the week.
“We have all agreed that things like this represents a definite darkness in the world, but that the Light of Christ always has the power to overcome the darkness of these type of events,” Jones said in the email. “We also talked about the healing power of Christ and how much that it is needed at times like these.”
But he and Srock, the pastor at Bethany Lutheran, said they hope people also give praise and thanks to God.
The hope, Srock said, is that “faith becomes a way of life,” that God “is the friend and companion that walks with you every day.”
Church always has been a big part of Stephanie Heusinger’s life. Before she began working as the parish secretary at St. Katharine Drexel, the 28-year-old attended Catholic school through college and had a mother who was the director of religious education in the parish she grew up in, she said.
Now, Heusinger said, she also regularly volunteers as a cantor during Mass.
“I find joy going to church,” Heusinger said.
Lawniczak, the shared ministry coordinator and director of music at Bethany Lutheran, said sitting in a pew on Sundays is such a small part of the whole experience.
Being a spiritual person isn’t complete, she said, until you are living the faith and emulating Jesus.
“The doing is where you get the energy,” she said. “And it’s a ‘get to,’ not a ‘got to.’ ”
How religious is Illinois?
• 70 percent of Illinoisans say they believe in God with absolute certainty. Mississippi tops the 50 states with 91 percent, while New Hampshire and Vermont tie for last at 54 percent. The national average is 71 percent.
• 53 percent of Illinoisans say religion is very important in their lives. Mississippi tops the states with 82 percent, while New Hampshire and Vermont tie for last at 36 percent. The national average is 56 percent.
• 39 percent of Illinoisans say they attend religious services at least once a week, which is on par with the national average. Mississippi tops the states with 60 percent. At 22 percent, Alaska ranks last.
• 55 percent of Illinoisans say they pray at least once a day. Mississippi tops the states at 77 percent, and Maine comes in last with 40 percent. The national average is 58 percent.
Source: The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
By the numbers
Top 10 religious bodies in Kane County by members in 2010. Includes full members, their children and the estimated number of other participants who aren't considered members.
• 155,391 – Catholic Church• 16,918 – Non-denominational • 13,201 – Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod • 13,192 – Muslim estimate • 11,105 – The United Methodist Church • 9,239 – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America • 7,073 – United Church of Christ • 4,526 – American Baptist Churches in the USA • 2,952 – Episcopal Church • 2,879 – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Source: The Association of Religion Data Archives, 2010 County Membership Report
Top 10 religious bodies in Kane County by members in 1980. Includes full members, their children and the estimated number of other participants who aren't considered members.
• 71,348 – Catholic Church • 16,310 – The United Methodist Church • 13,970 – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America • 13,864 – Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod • 9,969 – United Church of Christ • 4,778 – Presbyterian Church • 3,965 – American Baptist Churches in the USA • 3,662 – Episcopal Church • 3,618 – Salvation Army • 3,191 – Southern Baptist Convention
Source: The Association of Religion Data Archives, 1980 County Membership Report