In 1971, a group of families from Reba Place Fellowship, an intentional Christian community founded in 1956 in Evanston, Illinois, bought a 189-acre farm near Tiskilwa, IL. One of its founding members carried $100 in earnest money in his shoe. Intended as an extension of Reba Place in a rural setting, this new community continued to worship with Reba Place in Evanston for a time, despite the two-hour commute.
Eventually, Plow Creek Fellowship became its own intentional Christian community, separate from but still connected to Reba Place. While one family moved into the existing dilapidated farmhouse, the rest of the folks lived nearby. These families, who were never formally trained in construction, built four of the existing buildings themselves: the Alpha House, the Point House, the Corner House, and the Common building (also known as the Longhouse). In addition to constructing houses on the property, Plow Creek builders took outside jobs like specializing in pole barns.
The 1970s brought new families, births, illnesses, deaths, new businesses, a house fire, and connections to the wider community. Plow Creek became part of Shalom Mission Communities.
In the 1980s, PCF instituted the Sharing Neighbor step in the membership process and the Tiskilwa Medical Clinic was opened. The old farmhouse was eventually demolished and construction began in its place on the Valley House; the East House construction also began, designed to accommodate those with special needs. The 80s were the berry decade as strawberries and blueberries were established as crops on the property.
In 1991, CBS interviewed PCF for a Mennonite perspective on the Gulf War. The story aired, showing Main St., Tiskilwa, and labeling it “Plow Creek, Illinois.” Tiskilwa had a big rally to show their support for the war and PCF felt its vulnerability with neighbors. That same year, a new irrigation well was installed in the field along Bottom Road making it possible to move the garden there and they began building the Prairie House, reflecting one member’s interest in “post and beam” construction.
Over the years, families worked together on buildings and communal life, growing food together, canning tomatoes, freezing corn, milking cows, and sharing in childcare. The children were even roped in to help in the garden and in community work projects.
Community life also brought challenges. Leaders from Reba Place intervened helpfully and unhelpfully in various Plow Creek conflicts. Members in authority made hurtful decisions and even occasionally betrayed the trust of the community. Many of the earlier families left, and those who remained struggled with the pain together. But the Lord was faithful. After leading PCF through a time of self-examination and evaluation, He gave much healing through the power of forgiveness.
Plow Creek Fellowship began with a communal only membership form. In the mid-90s, PCF affirmed several changes including making it possible for people to join Plow Creek Mennonite Church without becoming members of Plow Creek Fellowship. PCF also made changes in their decision-making processes, adopting the high five form of consensus decision-making and encouraging trust and openness.
In the 2000s, with the merger of Mennonite bodies into the combined body, Mennonite Church USA, Plow Creek Mennonite Church withdrew from the Central District Conference and remained a member of the Illinois Mennonite Conference. In 2008, Plow Creek hosted about 900 people at PAPA Fest. They had many community guests, farm interns, and short-term helpers. Some helpers were geese in the strawberry patch.
In 2013, the new PCF Rule of Life was introduced and committees were formed to handle the growing challenges of property matters, spiritual life, and businesses. PCF continues to be thankful for God’s grace and provision among the folks who live and worship together.