On August 15, 2021, a group of God- and nature-loving people came to “Earth Church,” the first-ever Northern Illinois Synod gathering, at the home of Pastor Carol and Mr. Paul Soderholm, to “pray without words” in their 200 acres of restored prairie and in-the-process-of-being-restored oak savanna.
“When Jesus heard about John, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” (Matthew 14:13a)
In this time of unrest and multiple challenges, Pastor Carol and Mr. Paul Soderholm offer a place where others can also withdraw to a quiet place to pray and commune with God, our Creator.
This land, located near White Pines State Park, Oregon, IL, is their home and place of living worship that they call their own “earth church.” (See photos below)
The official name of this property is the Edward F. Vassallo Land and Water Reserve, so designated by the Illinois Nature Preserve Commission. This land which they have owned since 1998 is 130 acres of restored prairie which was restored and continues to be maintained by Pastor Carol, Paul, and a dedicated group of “stewards” who are committed to this vision of returning this prairie land to the way that it was when the original inhabitants lived on this land.
Although the work is hard, those who join the Soderholms as partner stewards find it a joy. As Pastor Carol says, “It was hard work, but then again it wasn't, because prairie covered 90% of Illinois at one time. Prairie lies dormant in the ground until conditions are right for it to emerge. Basically, we created the conditions for re-emergence, and then planted and managed hundreds of pounds of prairie seed gained from Nachusa Grasslands and graciously given to us.”
As Carol explains, the Edward F. Vassallo Land and Water Reserve is named after her son Eddie who died in 2014 of Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Eddie loved property and was their first steward. He worked hard on the land with Paul. An interesting side fact: The “F.” in Eddie’s name stands for “Frederick.” When he was very young, his parents called him Eddie Freddie. Carol wants her synod friends to know that so if they come out in the next few months, they’ll get a jar of their own prairie flower honey. It's named Eddie Freddie Hives since the hives are on the 130 acres named for him.
Altogether, the Soderholms have 200 acres, 70 of which are woodland, that is, oak savanna, which they are working to restore, Pine Creek winds through the property as well. The remainder of the property is “basically weeds.” Plus, Carol and Paul’s log home sits on some of the 70 acres as well.
Carol and Paul welcome visitors. They welcome stewards. So, should someone wish to volunteer, very soon it will be seed collecting time. Carol, Paul, and their fellow stewards go out to the prairie to pick seeds to plant and replant and plant again next year. The seeds they pick must be processed which, Carol says, “is a beautiful process.” Seeing that process is a real learning experience.
She invites you to “Come out. Enjoy the beauty of God's magnificent creation. Take part, however small, in restoring it.” Carol also is a marvelous cook, so anyone who comes to help will get an awesome meal.
The next Earth Church event will be in December when, although the land will be in its restorative sabbath, Carol, Paul and all who recognize the gift of worshipping God in the land God created will meet in the barn on their property, to celebrate the beauty of creation in winter.
To contact Carol, her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.