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Religious faith has played a major role in the development of Rockford (1834-1835). Some of the first ethnic groups to settle in Rockford were: the Irish, Swedes, Poles, Lithuanians, Italians, and Blacks. Their cultural religious traditions led them to meet in private homes until their numbers grew and they were able to build churches. Court Street Methodist Church is one of the oldest churches in Rockford. It was established in 1851; St. James Catholic Church in 1853; First Lutheran Church in 1854; and Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest Black church, in 1891.

The city has well over 185 places of worship. The Metro-Area Membership Report on religious bodies for Rockford, IL, Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) which includes Boone and Winnebago counties divides religious traditions into 7 categories: Evangelical Protestants (59,123); Mainline Protestants (34,426); Catholic (69,793); Orthodox (1,248); Black Protestant (5,544); Other (4,878) and Unclaimed (174,419).

The Roman Catholic Church’s Rockford Diocese (established 1908) is a major provider for education in its 11 county area (456,965 Catholics). It has 10,474 children enrolled in its 40 grade schools, 4,183 students in 8 high schools, and 48,421 students enrolled in parish religious education programs. Also, the Diocese is involved in healthcare with affiliations to OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center and the Saint Anthony School of Nursing.

Rockford’s faith community is as diverse as the over 80 languages spoken in its homes: Buddhist, Baha’i, Judaism, Zoroastrian, Muslim, Unitarian, Friends Groups, and Amish to name a few. And, there is a synagogue, a mosque, temple, and people who are still meeting in private homes and renting spaces to practice their faith until they may build a specific place of worship. Some congregations of different beliefs and languages are so small that they share a space by staggering their times of worship.
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