Dayspring Native American United Methodist Church to have open house June 29

Jeanette Kendall TimesNewspapers
Dayspring Native American United Methodist Church pastor Gary Billiot is flanked by two children during a prayer over the drum during services June 8. The church services are a mixture of Native American customs and Christian lessons from the Bible.

Many residents may not realize there is a one-of-a-kind church in East Peoria. In fact, it may be a one-of-a-kind church in the state.

Dayspring Native American United Methodist Church is located at 201 N. Norwood in East Peoria. There will be an open house at the church from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. June 29.

Bec Land, a member of the church, began attending a year ago after she learned that her grandmother was part Native American.

Land said her grandmother lived in Arkansas and had to hide the fact that she was one-quarter Cherokee because of prejudice.

“Society did not accept it,” Land said.

Land was intrigued about her family’s heritage and has an aunt helping her trace its history. 

Prior to learning that her grandmother was part Native American, Land attended Dayspring one day. Her brother was already attending the church. 

“When I came here I kept having the feeling of being at my grandma’s house,” Land said. 

When Land relayed this feeling to her father, he told her to call her aunt in Arkansas about their family’s Native American history.

The Dayspring Native American church is situated on about 43 acres. The church itself looks like a log cabin resort. Inside, there is a large foyer with an ornate handmade wooden coffee table and couches. The sanctuary has a large wooden cross hanging high and seats are situated in a half circle. In the center of the room is a large drum, which is used in the church service.

Drum chief Gary Cashmer of Normal said the drum is made of cedar wood. Tobacco was spread on top of the drum in a cross to point to the East, South, North and West. Women sit on the outer perimeter of the drum as a protective shield and men sit at the drum to play it. Cashmer said women are considered spiritually stronger than men in the Native American customs; plus, they are not allowed to beat on the drum because it’s considered a male action.

Cashmer said he has been drumming for 18 years and has been with Dayspring for five years. He said he was honored when he was asked to be drum chief.

Prior to the service Cinda King lit some sage and did a smudging, or purifying of the room.

Then, drum songs, such as “River of Life” and “Kum Ba Yah” were sang.

The Rev. Gary Billiot had a moment of silence for friends who have passed on, most recently, Shana Stimeling, 28, of Peoria Heights, who died June 3, after falling from a motorcycle.

“In the Native American culture, there is no goodbye, no death, it’s a new journey,” Billiot told the congregation of about 40 in attendance, including Stimeling’s father, Robert, and her son, Bradley Miller, who had a special place at the drum next to the pastor. Miller took part in the playing of the drum.

A children’s story time took place next, and children with some adults, sat on a buffalo rug while Rosalie Hagaman told a story about an eagle.

After scripture readings and a prayer circle, Dick Lower of Pekin talked about the Native American store at the church and the bead classes he teaches. The free classes are 10 a.m.-noon the last Tuesday of each month.

Lower, 83, was raised Cherokee, and began beading as a youth for his family. 

“I do it in a sacred way, so whoever receives that beading gets the prayers and blessings,” he said, adding that he does not sell anything he makes.

Lower said that a Native American has to be registered with the federal government in order to sell authentic Native American beadwork, which is available for sale at Dayspring.

Those interested in taking the beading classes can purchase a loom during the class.

“It’s something that’s almost extinct because it takes a lot of time,” Lower said.

In addition to jewelry, the little shop has other Native American items, such as leather bags, sage, CDs, hats and rattles, for sale.

“It started out as a suitcase, the traveling store,” Hagaman said.

Lower is a long-time member of Dayspring and knows its history. He said Harley Patterson got the land for the church from the United Methodist Church in Peoria for $1. The church was built by volunteers in 2007. Billiot, who has been the pastor at the church for two years, assisted with building it.

“We had no place to go. ... This is the only place in the state where you can go with a connection to Native American worship,” Lower said.

Billiot said one does not have to be Native American to attend the church. He said that about 50 percent of the service is Native American customs.

Billiot would like to see the church grow to at least 300 members. He said he hopes people will come and learn about the church during the open house.

During the open house, there will be a service, music, storytelling, food, including fried bread, dancers, drums, crafts, tours and beading demonstrations. Billiot said he will also cook alligator. 

“We are so fortunate in East Peoria to have this,” said church member Chuck Marsille of Metamora. “It’s definitely unique. We’ve got this beautiful church here and it needs to be used.”

Walking on the grounds, there is a fire pit, a children’s garden and a huge stone medicine wheel, as well as a natural spring in the woods.

“It’s just like a little hidden away area that nice,” Marsille said.

“I always tell people ‘Come and try it out. If it fits, wear it,’ Cashmer said.

Billiot also talked about the uniqueness of the church. He said it is likely the only church that has a buffalo skull in it.

“We do things away from traditional ways but we still try to follow the Methodist rules. I’d say this is the only Methodist Church that follows this format,” he said. “We serve the same creator. I think it’s a perfect mix.”

For more information about the church, call 698-2527. For more information about the open house, call Land at 699-2767 or email