The First United Presbyterian Church is the featured building for this year’s Willow River Area Days button.
Around 1885, there was only a loading platform at what now is called Willow River. Soon afterward, the Fox and Wisdom Lumber Company built a sawmill at the dam, and certain families moved to the Willow River area to work. In the fall of 1891, meetings were held among the early settlers to organize a church. October 24, 1891, the schoolhouse became a Presbyterian church under the lead of Miss Hood.
Over the course of several years, the planing mill burned several times. Finally the sawmill moved to Park Falls, and many members of the church moved along with it. Nevertheless, the church continued. On August 11, 1918, the church was incorporated under the name of First United Presbyterian Church of Willow River.
In July 1978 the Parish of the Pines was organized with the Presbyterian churches of Askov, Markville and Willow River as members. The purpose of bringing these congregations together was to enable them to call a full-time pastor to serve in the three communities. However, in March 1990 the parish was dissolved and each congregation agreed to be independent. Today, the First United Presbyterian Church of Willow River continues to celebrate God’s grace and assists the surrounding communities.
First United Presbyterian is very active. Every Tuesday night the church has a Bible study called Walking Psalms. The name was created one night during Bible study while a few members were reading Psalms — members realized that people are walking psalms.
“People gather from four different churches and some travel from as far as Minneapolis,” a member said of the study group.
The church hosts a rummage sale every year for a fund raiser, and the children active in the church help at a 25 cents table. In the summer, the church puts a twist on the usual Vacation Bible School and calls it “camp in a van,” which is a fun time for the younger members of the church to worship together.
There are multiple ways to worship with others, and First Presbyterian tries to include everyone. The Rev. Betty Starky has made the church bloom in the past five years.
According to one member of the congregation, “She is by far the best thing that has happened to our church. She is compassionate, hardworking and similar to super-woman.” Others agree.
Starky has a special way of communicating with the members of the church.
“We text her different song titles and help her come up with ideas,” a younger child from the church said. The youth in the church teach the adults new music, creating a special balance between all of the members in the church.
In an upcoming service, First Presbyterian is having “cowboy church,” which rotates around some of the youth who participate in the saddle club and 4-H. The church also has a “blessing of the bikes” service, which fills up the church. Children bring their bicycles, and the older members of the church bring their motorcycles to have them blessed. Even the Christmas program is all inclusive.
“Anyone that walks into the church has a part during the service. Whether they are a star, cow, sheep or Mary, everyone is included,” Starky stated.
The Presbyterian church plays a large role in helping and supporting the community. Each month the congregation chooses a different mission. They collect food for the local food shelves, donate various items to the thrift stores and create “thank you” boxes for local veterans.
Young people are a focus of the church, and every fall when the school year begins, it provides students with crayons, paper, pencils and backpacks. As the weather gets colder, the church donates hats and mittens to those in need. Every Christmas the members create present boxes which bring joy to different children.
The church also allows AA meetings to be held in the building as an extra support for the community.
With such an active role in the community, it is not a surprise the Presbyterian church is being featured during the 2013 Willow River Days celebration. The First United Presbyterian Church members feel honored to be recognized by the community.