Albion Interactive History / First United Methodist Church

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / Churches

First United Methodist Church, 1836

Places of Worship
1st Building – Little Red Schoolhouse, 1837
2nd Building – Meeting House, 1838
3rd Building – Old Brick Church, 1850
4th Building – Old Methodist Church, 1888
5th Building – Goodrich Chapel, 1958

Roster of Ministers

  • John Kinnear, 1836-1837
  • George W. Brachenridge, 1838-1839
  • J.F. Davidson, 1840
  • Roswell Parker, 1841
  • Isaac Bennett, 1842
  • J. Ercanbrack, 1843-1844
  • W.H. Collins, 1845
  • William Mothersill, 1846
  • Jacob F. Parker, 1847
  • J.F. Davidson, 1848-1849
  • Rosin Sapp, 1850-1851
  • Francis A. Blades, 1852-1853
  • William Mahan, 1854-1855
  • F.B. Bangs, 1856-1857
  • E. Holdstock, 1858
  • Israel Cogshall, 1859-1860
  • Rosin Sapp, 1861
  • D. Burns, 1862
  • R.C. Crawford, 1863
  • A.J. Eldred, 1864-1865
  • D.F. Barnes, 1866-1867
  • J.W. Robinson, 1868-1869
  • J.C. Wortley, 1870-1871
  • H.M. Joy, 1872-1873
  • Levi Tarr, 1874
  • W.H. Perrine, 1875-1877
  • H.F. Spencer, 1878
  • George S. Hickey, 1879-1880
  • L. Masters, 1881-1883
  • John Graham, 1884
  • C.L. Barnhart, 1885-1886
  • Washington Gardner, 1887
  • J.C. Floyd, 1888-1890
  • R.W. Van Schoick, 1891-1894
  • A.E. Craig, 1895-1900
  • W.H. Burch, 1901-1904
  • F.E. Day, 1905-1909
  • C.J. English, 1910-1911
  • C.O. Mills, 1912-1914
  • A.R. Johns, 1915-1919
  • W.W. Diehl, 1920-1924
  • V.W. Thrall, 1925-1928
  • Robert E. Brown, 1928-1932
  • Spencer B. Owens, 1932-1938
  • Dempster Yinger, 1939-1950
  • John Tennant, 1950-1965
  • Don Baker, 1966-1969
  • Lynn DeMoss, 1969-1979
  • David S. Evans, 1979-1985
  • John Ellinger, 1985-?
  • Gregory Martin, 1999-2003
  • Dwayne Bagley, 2003-present

    Roster of Associate Ministers

  • George Somers, 1959-61
  • Birt Beers, 1961-63
  • Donald Robinson, 1963-65
  • S.S. Cosson, 1966-70
  • Wayne Fleenor, 1970-83
  • Randall Hansen, 1983-85
  • Each account telling the story of the development of Methodism is Albion is filled with concerning building, remodeling, renovating and repairing the various structures. It would be difficult to wonder whether there was much time and energy left for other religious pursuits, but the activities of classes, societies and other groups were numerous, it appears.

    In the manner of all early frontier religious groups, Methodists began meeting in homesteads where the circuit rider or class leader conducting the services. When the growth of the group made it sustainable, other places were sought or built.

    First Building – Little Red Schoolhouse, 1837
    According to a story in the Albion Evening Recorder dated August 8, 1891, a building first known as “The Little Red School House” served as a meeting place for the Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian Congregations on a rotating basis. Here is a description written by a reporter with colorful prose as he describes the educational function of the building:

    “A few rods down a lane that passes along the south side of the German Lutheran Church, from Superior Street to Ionia Street, stands a little, old weather-beaten structure that bears faint indication of having some day a flaming coat of red paint. This little rookery is hardly noticed now days; it is used for a barn and nothing more, but time was when it cut as big a figure in these parts as the most pretentious edifice in modern Albion. In its palmy days the pedagogue taught and spoke the young ideas in the little building where the ground work of brilliant minds was laid therein; preachers preached and prayed there; the singing master run up and down the scale there; its walls time and again resounded with the astounding declarations of the wily politicians, and on election day the suffrage of the American citizenship were exercised there; consequently, it was there and in other places of the same sort that the country was saved.”

    The RECORDER learns all this from L.D. Williamson, who struck the country in 1830s and aught to know. The building had just been completed at that time and was built for a school house. Then the place was without any name in particular, but was known as the forks, from the fact of its being located at the forks of the river. Mr. Williamson says that the day he stepped into the little red school house in the woods, a feeling came over him that it knocked the spots out of any house of learning he had left in the ‘back country of New York, and to this day he hasn’t gotten over the feeling.

    The original school room was about 20 X 30 feet and in it 100 pupils were packed like red herring in a box. The school master had a seat in the center of the room and all around him were arranged benches for the scholars. Before the outer tier of benches and against the wall were arranged rude desks which were used by the more advanced pupils, and thus the boys and girls were graded down from the outer edges till the ended up in a hollow square of infants on all sides of the argus-eyed pedagogue’s sacred shrine. Those were indeed school days; then it was not known at what moment a ruler would bang against your head for except while reciting the scholars set with their backs to the teacher and ruler throwing was in those days a popular mode of punishment.

    On Sundays the little red school house served as a house of God and four Christian denominations, the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians, kept things pretty lively there, if it is permissible to speak of Divine services as being lively.”

    Second Building – Meeting House, 1838
    The arrangements for worship by the four congregations worked out well until about a year later (1838) when there was mix-up in the scheduling. Methodist worshippers arrived on what they thought to be their day only to find another congregation holding a service. The Recorder account states, “The Methodists one day severed all religious intercourse with the red school house and concluded to go it alone.” For three Sundays services were held in a brown house said to be located across from a blacksmith shop. Elder Grant proposed they build a new place of worship “and the enthusiasm which grew out of the proposal was so intense that the building was as good as built. Three weeks later saw it a reality and the Methodists led the van.” The site was where the Presbyterian Church now stands. The story concludes with the information that Peter Williamson and Thomas Pray “drew timbers for it” from the Bath Mills Saw Mill. Later the school house was used as a barn and a blacksmith shop. The new building was financed by the sale of pews at $50 each. The first quarterly meeting was held January 19-20, 1839 with Rev. Elijah Pilcher, Presiding Elder.

    Third Building – Old Brick Church, 1850
    In 1957, a committee composed of William C. Harton, Chairman along with Miss Belle Pratt and Mrs. Mable Ray White produced some historical data on the Albion Church building and activities to maintain them. Here is their account:

    “In 1849, during the pastorate of J.F. Davidson, a brick building was commenced at the corner of E. Erie and Ionia Streets on the site of the present church. It was less than half the size of the present building, but the erection required as much time as that of the present building forty years later. Even then it was necessary to ‘hurry up’ the work to have it completed for a session of the Michigan Conference. It cost $9,000 and was dedicated by Bishop Morris in 1850 who presided over the Conference. In 1876 the whole interior was reconstructed – the floor raised to permit a basement, new stained-glass Gothic windows put in and the auditorium was provided with new seats. Church membership had reached 325 with 175 enrolled in Sunday school.

    By 1879, with increase in population and attraction by the college of Methodist people here, the membership and congregation was growing rapidly. Rev. J.M. Arnold, editor of the Michigan Christian Advocate, occupied the pulpit one Sunday evening and told the people that they needed a revival and a new church and needed both badly.

    When Rev. John Graham became pastor in 1884, people crowded to hear him until there was no room to spare and the congregation was uncomfortably packed. He left at the end of one year to go where he could have a larger church and salary and smaller congregation. The first Centennial of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America was celebrated in each district in 1884, the Albion observance being October 21.

    Old Methodist Church (1888-1958) at SW corner of Erie and Ionia Sts.

    Fourth Building – Old Methodist Church, 1888
    In 1887 Rev. Washington Gardner, an able, cordial, eloquent orator, who later came to be one of the state’s most revered and well-known statesmen, became pastor (Parsons dates his pastorate in 1888 – an error). While a new church building had been mentioned many times, it was Washington Gardner who took the initiative and began an active campaign for realizing this. Under his masterly leadership a $25,000 subscription for the new building was quickly raised during the winter of 1887-8. Decision to building on the same site as their present building came after much discussion and argument. All initial plans and actual construction were done during the two-year pastorate of Dr. Gardner.

    On June 16, 1889 the church building was dedicated by Bishop Newman, it then being considered the largest and handsomest church edifice in the county, as well as one of the finest and most complete in the state. $10,005 was raised at the dedication and that amount plus the initial subscription and the amount given by the Ladies’ Aid Society for organ and furniture made the total cost about $45,000. In 1891 there was a $7,500 debt. On Easter morning in 1893, the last of the church’s indebtedness of $4,500 was raised. By 1895 all was paid except $700 and in 1896 Debt-Paying Day was observed. Resident membership (exclusive of students) in 1895 was 850 and in 1899, 950.

    The next change in church property was the acquisition in 1928, during the pastorate of Victor M. Thrall, of the former G.A.R. Hall, located the first door west of the church building, to provide additional Sunday school and social rooms and the Church Office. This became known as the Church House. The cost was $3,000, and records show that the Board of Trustees had offered $4,500 for the property in 1925.

    In 1943 extensive interior remodeling was done. The individual opera-like seats were replaced with much more appropriate pews which matched in architecture the new altar, pulpit, and choir screen. The total cost, including redecorating was about $11,500.

    Throughout the intervening years the auditorium of the church has remained adequate in size, although filled to overflowing into the lounge at rear on special occasions, and many times at regular services. The Albion Church, considered by many the center of Michigan Methodism, in conjunction with Albion College, is a desirable place for district conferences, student and youth activities, etc. Lack of adequate Chapel facilities on the campus has brought many of the larger college events (commencement, etc.) to the church.”

    So the stage was set for the most important event in the history of Albion’s Methodist Church – the move to the campus site and the linking of facilities with the college’s Goodrich Chapel.

    Fifth Building – Goodrich Chapel, 1958
    In January 1950 Dr. John Tennant began his ministry at Albion. His description of the early years tells of the problems with the physical plant which led to the consideration to move to campus linking the church to the college.

    Of his early years, he recalls:

    “I learned that the church building was heated only on Sundays. The twenty foot wide church house, warmed seven days a week, was where all the church activities took place except Sundays. Early in my pastorate I learned that in order to have the church useable on Sundays, it was necessary to start firing the hot air furnaces by mid-day on Saturday. After Sunday morning services the fires were permitted to go out until the next Saturday.

    Before Sunday School on Sunday I stood in the center church aisle at the communion rail and saw the source of the smoke I was smelling. Through a crack in the firebox dome below the communion rail I could see the burning coal fire. So on the back end of the church house a brick fireproof furnace was constructed and a steam boiler installed to heath both church and church house. We built solidly because we expected to stay on Erie Street and use the entire church plant.

    Before the new heating system was installed the High School M.Y.F. often met on Sunday nights in the church house basement. There was only a dirt floor and an open steep stairway. I have pictures of the youth ascending those stairs. They were wonderful youth. An inseparable triumvirate was so full of zip that my wife frequently returned in despair from the Junior High M.Y.F. meeting in which she led worship services. They were irrepressible and full of play. Would they ever learn to be orderly and reverent? These shall remain nameless but are now outstanding citizens in Michigan.

    One afternoon my wife was serving at a reception table following the wedding of Keith Engstrom and Sallee Fox. It was raining outside. As usual the rain leaked into the second floor junior department worship chapel room just above. The pans, which were permanently located over the ceilings and under the places where the roof always leaked, could not hold the flow and water ran onto the floor of the chapel. From there it ran down through the first floor ceiling and onto the floor of the wedding reception room. It made such a continuous splash that the table had to be moved as the white dresses of the hostesses would be soiled with the splash. It wasn’t funny at the time.

    The West Michigan Conference, Bishop Reed presiding, met in Albion one June as was customary. People by the dozens crowded the outside sidewalks before and after sessions inside the Erie Street Church. The week after conference when sidewalks were empty one of the Baldwin girls had just walked below the tower when a cornice and part of the bell tower gave way and cam crashing down. Had she been on minute later in walking by, she would not have made it.

    New furnace, new roof, new bell tower, new kitchen to replace the rat infested unsanitary one! We decided it was time to consider a new building.

    An overnight Official Board Retreat was held at a small hotel by a like in northern Indiana. After hours of viewing, reviewing, praying and thinking together, we took a secret ballot vote to express our best judgment. Without one dissenting vote it was agreed that we approach Albion College about the erection of a joint church and chapel building near the center of our membership.”

    Fourteen years before (in 1939) the conversations begun with the college about a joint facility now were to be resumed after the suspension caused by World War II. The Harton Committee history gives the details about what followed:

    “On December 17, 1953, during the pastorate of Dr. John W. Tennant, following a year of planning by the church trustees as to needs and possible fulfillment of them, the congregation voted to enter into negotiations with college officials for joint use of the proposed chapel. Under this arrangement the church would build a Christian Education and Social unit, semi-detached from and adjacent to the new chapel, and the entire project would result in one of the most modern and complete church building set-ups in the state.

    Toward this end a fund-raising campaign was conducted in February, 1954 with about $116,000 being contributed or pledged towards the $225,000 goal. Until actual construction of the chapel was begun over two years later, the committee was working quietly on collection of pledges already made; but, by then, with building costs soaring, it was evident that a greater amount would be needed to carry out the proposed plans.

    Meanwhile, assurance was given the Albion Church that, if its congregation would raise the necessary funds to build its educational and social unit, the Michigan Conference, which considers Albion the center of Michigan Methodism, would contribute $45,000 for the construction of the connecting link between the chapel and the church’s building. Two donors also offered donations for an auxiliary chapel to seat 150-200 persons to be built at the western end of the church building, and for an organ to be installed therein.

    Consequently, a second fund-raising campaign was carried on in February, 1957 at which an additional $300,000 was pledged or contributed. On February 28, 1957 the final congregational action was taken when a unanimous vote of 143-0 authorized the committee to begin procedure to enter into negotiations to buy the proposed land and sign contracts for actual construction. Total cost of land and buildings, including the auxiliary chapel, the connecting link, and the educational and social building is to be about 4650,000. The location is to be on the east side of Oswego Street between Cass Street and Michigan Avenue, except the extreme south end, and extending eastward along the south side of Michigan Avenue, covering a total of six lots.

    Final contracts were signed with Miller-Davis Construction Co. of Kalamazoo, Michigan in the spring of 1957 and clearing of the ground began in May. Ground was broken in July and basic construction proceeded rapidly with the formal cornerstone-laying ceremonies taking place on Sunday, September 29, 1957 following the regular church worship service, the congregation going from its East Erie Street location immediately to the new site for same.”

    Other sources list a number of donors and amounts not found in the Harton Committee material. The John and Charles Wesley Chapel was mde possible by a $116,000 gift by Stanley and Dorothy Kresge; the organ and furnishings were given in memory of George and Belle Dean, Mary Bobbitt in the chronology of the church history notes the gift of an electric bell ringer for the Erie Street Church bell moved to the Goodrich Chapel tower. The bell had been given by one of Albion’s outstanding pioneers, William H. Brockway, in 1889. Weighing 3,800 pounds and hanging 130 feet above ground, it can be heard for several miles around. The Misses Belle and Georgia Pratt gave the money for the ringing mechanism installed in 1961.

    As the plans for the new facility were developed, there was not unanimous agreement about the project. Dr. Tennant’s account tells about some controversies which arose over the need of a facility. The rumored bid for a new roof on the Erie Street Church with a guarantee it would not be proved to be without foundation. No more substantial was the claim by opponents to have signatures against the plan or that its supporters had misled the bishop and the college officials. Bishop Marshall Reed stated his approval in a letter to Michigan Conference ministers as well as the Albion congregation. While there were a few members who left the church, work on plans continued with strong financial undergirding by the congregation.

    Dr. Tennant’s memoirs continue:

    “When both college and church officials agreed about the location of the new edifices the city council voted to close Perry Street from Oswego to Ingham Street.

    By agreement we employed Frank Dean as architect for the entire building. In chapel planning Trautwein and Howard, noted chapel architects, were associated with Frank Dean. In designing the church buildings Hensel Fink, Methodist denominational architect in charge of approving Board of Mission projects, acted as Architect in Association.

    The same contracting firm, Miller-Davis Company of Kalamazoo built all parts of the chapel/college buildings. At the completion of the contracted work, Cameron Davis of that company said we got the church portions for $60,000 less than he had estimated because of economical use of materials and methods of construction.

    One of the highlights during the construction of Goodrich Chapel was the lunch the women of the church served to the workmen and others when some 80 plus were working on the building. Tables were set up on the floor of Goodrich and casseroles and pies, etc., were brought in. There was no water in the building, but urns of coffee were provided and the workmen feasted. Cameron Davis, Frank Dean, and members of our building committee were guests. After an hour had passed I worried about the timely resumption of work. Ray Liebrandt said, ‘Relax, they’ll have all the time made up by tomorrow night’.

    While our relations to the workmen were excellent, our relations with labor executive were not always so. Business agents for steel workers and sheet metal tradesmen got into an argument. Steel workers did all the work on the upper Goodrich Chapel tower. Sheet metal men were installing the light weight metal on the outside of the church school unit between first and second and second and third floors. In the quarrel the steel agents arrived at the site in their chauffeur driven Cadillac’s. They came into the partly built church school building and told Ray Librandt and Frank Dean that they would withdraw their men and set up a picket line until sheet metal workers ceased to work.

    After an hour or so Frank said, ‘O.K. … but first you must explain to the church women why work on their kitchen was stopped because labor business agents couldn’t settle a quarrel between themselves.’ The agents managed to save face by deciding that the facing metal was of low gauge and so could be installed by sheet metal men. Then the chauffeur driven business agents departed. That was the only labor trouble in the entire construction.

    Three highlights were the removal of the church bell from the Erie Street Church tower and its reinstallation with an electronic bell ringer in the Goodrich Chapel tower.

    Another highlight was the presence of Bishop Reed at the laying of the cornerstone for the educational building. He gave a short address and participated in the actual laying.

    A third and unique highlight was the opening of the Erie Street cornerstone, the replacement and supplementing of the contents and the relaying in the wall of the garth on Oswego Street.

    The indebtednesses of the building were all paid and the building was dedicated during our pastorate. Bishop Loder was unable to be present at the dedication but sent his best wishes. No bill had ever been in default. All Conference and District apportionments had been paid in full.”

    September 1958 was a month of intensive activity for both Albion College and Albion First Methodist people with preparations for the dedication service for Goodrich Chapel and the consecration of Wesley Chapel and the Education Unit. The dream first discussed fourteen years earlier now was about to be realized as the two year construction period came to a close with the completion of the buildings.

    But first, for the congregation, was the matter of closing the old church on Erie Street which had served seventy years as its place of worship and meeting. On Sunday morning, September 21st, the farewell service in the old building got underway at 9:45 am. It was held without music, for the organ was already partially dismantled, having been sold to the Presbyterian Church in Marshall. The close of the brief service the congregation marched to Goodrich Chapel for the first worship in the new structure.

    A later story in the Albion Evening Recorder entitled, “What is happening to the old church?” told about the disposition of a number of the furnishings in the old building. In addition to the organ sale, the pews were sold to the Coopersville Methodist Church, the chandelier went to the East Main Street Church in Kalamazoo and the stained glass windows were made into mementos including the three medallions hung in the south windows in Wesley Chapel. Communion rail sections were also sold as souvenirs and a gavel was turned from this wood.

    The move to campus concluding the march from Erie Street on September 21st, began with a worship service in the new Goodrich Chapel setting followed in the afternoon and on the following Sunday by a series of dedications.

    On Sunday afternoon Goodrich Chapel was dedicated by President W.W. Whitehouse with Bishop Marshall R. Reed of the Michigan area and Dr. John W. Tennant, Minister of the First Methodist Church. Dr. Howard Lawrence, President of Albion College Trustees, also took part.

    Albion Evening Recorder accounts on September 22nd as well as those in the Michigan Christian Advocate tell the story about this fine new structure costing $1,375,715, which could accommodated 1,450 people. The tower alongside rose 208 feet including the cross at the top. The architecture was descried as a colonial version of the Greek Revival period. The Recorder account describes the hymnals as being a “dark wine color” and notes there were difficulties with the public address system (It were ever thus!) A beautiful hand carved teakwood cross created by the Reverend A. Allison Amstutz of Ludington was placed at the front of the chapel as a gift from him and his wife, Dorothy Graham Amstutz.

    The chapel is named for the beloved biblical teacher and chaplain of the college, Dr. Frederick S. Goodrich.

    At 4pm that same day, the Lucie McMiles Memorial Carillon containing 49 Flemish bells wad dedicated. Cariloneur Robert J. Carwithen came from Swarthmore, Pennsylvania to play the dedication concert.

    In the evening the Homer Memorial Organ was dedicated with Mormon Tabernacle Organist Alexander Schreiner from Salt Lake City, Utah, presenting the concert. The organ, given in memory of E.E. Horner by Mr. And Mrs. Richard Toncray, contains 3,462 pips and was then valued at $70,000. A 552 pipe antiphonal organ was the gift of Charlotte Sheldon Putnam.

    The festivities continued with a convocation attended by Michigan Area pastors on Wednesday, September 24th in Goodrich Chapel. Bishop D. Stanley Coors of the Minnesota Area and formerly minister of Central Methodist Church, in Lansing conducted the service of Holy Communion. Distinguished speakers on the subject of Christian education in the local church included Dr. John D. Gross, Secretary of the Methodist Board of Education, Dr. Hurst Anderson, American University President, along with Bishops F. Gerald Ensley and Gerald Kennedy.

    Sunday, September 28th saw the consecration of Wesley Chapel and the Education Building. Under the Methodist Discipline, a church cannot be dedicated until all indebtedness has been discharged. At this time there remained $250,000 in indebtedness.) The building was presented to the Trustee Chairman, Dan S. Birdsall and Building Chairman, Paul J. Hawes. According to the accounts in the Recorder, the men of the church did the landscaping.

    As a part of the consecration ceremonies, three Dean great-grandchildren of Mr. And Mrs. George Dean were baptized by Dr. John Tennant. They were Philip Paul, son of Mr. And Mrs. Barry Ewbank; Debra, daughter of Lieut. And Mrs. Jon Dean, U.S.A.F.; and Brenda, daughter of Mr. And Mrs. Gordon Ketchum. In the evening the organ in Wesley Chapel was dedicated.

    Several other events followed these momentous days in the life of the church. The cornerstone from the first Erie Street Church was opened in May, 1959. In it was a picture of the first Erie Street Church (completely faded), a Recorder story about the first service in that structure on July 15, 1888 and a number of other historical items.

    As the church settled into routine activity in its new setting, there were a number of features made possible by the church-campus relationship. One of these was the program built around the concept that college students and others should be given an opportunity to gain experience in the Christian education work in the church. A room on the second floor of the church section was set aside for Mrs. Elsie Butt, Christian Education Director for the church and instructor at the college, to work with her protégés. Jointly paid by both institutions at the height of the program, she was to oversee the work of 44 students in a wide variety of activities in the Christian education field. The project had been a plan envisioned by Dr. Tennant and President Whitehouse.

    In his recollections, Dr. Tennant states it represented “The fulfilling of a dream that we had the future leaders in our society might go out knowing what a good church should be and having some first-hand experiences of working as leaders in Christian education. What a great thing to have people in position of influence who know the value and possibilities in Christian Education.” However, this was not the vision of Dr. Louis Norris, who followed Dr. Whitehouse as the head of Albion College, and the program was discontinued.

    Dr. Tennant wrote, “Memorable was our relation with students. We brought into being an organization known as the Methodist Student Movement.” At a later date it was replaced by a very active group known as “The Vine,” which now has again been replaced by a Methodist student movement group.

    Worship services have been characterized by fine music made possible by the use of the great organ in Goodrich Chapel; the voice of the Chancel, Youth and Friendship choirs; along with two handbell groups, the Senior Handbell and Youth Handbell choirs. College and community instrumentalists have also added to the beauty of the music.

    In the summer, union services with the congregation of First United Presbyterian Church have given members of both churches the opportunity to become better acquainted through worship. Through Thanksgiving and Good Friday union services sponsored by the Albion Ministerial Association, the ecumenical spirit has found expression.

    For years the Albion Church has served as host to the Michigan – now West Michigan – Annual Conference. Only three times since 1949 had the conference been held elsewhere. The excellent facilities, the wholehearted co-operation of the Albion College staff, and the untiring efforts of the congregation have helped make the annual conference work run smoothly. Men and women of the church have been involved in providing special meals for groups, ushering, staffing communication desks for conference members as well as aiding the conference staff in numerous ways. The youth have helped fund their projects by providing the ever popular snack bar in their area, giving conference members a place to meet and enjoy refreshments. For First United Methodist Church in Albion, Annual Conference has a special meaning!

    In the period from 1958-1985, the church has continued its ministry to the campus and the community. The entire upper floor of the education building (with the exception of one section) has been turned over to Boy Scout Troop No. 158, the largest in the Land O’ Lakes District. Girl Scouts and Camp Fire girls have also used the facilities for their meetings.

    Many community groups make use of the facilities including special classes conducted by Calhoun County agencies. The Albion Community Theater stores costumes in one attic area, and there is Community Attic, housed by the church and run jointly with the Social Services Department, to provide clothing for people in need. The Co-operative Nursery School for three and four years old preschoolers was established by the church in 1963 and meets in the children’s area of the Education Building. It is administered by an inter-denominational board for which the church provides housekeeping and financial services. A survey several years ago showed an average of one meeting a day, for each day of the year, takes place in the building. This includes the use of part of the facilities by the Church of God, for several years until they bought their own building, followed by a Wesleyan group, the Caring Community Church, also using church facilities. A seventh Day Adventist congregation worships in the education unit on Saturdays.

    In the past 15 years, there have been youth and adults going to work camps for United Methodist Appalachian programs and other areas, including John’s Island. In the 80’s there have been work camp trips to Appalachia as well as Baltimore, Maryland and Baldwin, Michigan, with Habitat for Humanity.

    The outreach ministry of the church has always been extensive, given impetus by both laity and clergy. Dr. and Mrs. Lynn DeMoss were missionaries to Africa; Dr. and Mrs. John Crump, who served in India; and Dr. and Mrs. Dwight Landon became interested in India and China, after tours there in addition to our missionaries. Rev. Randall and Susan Hansen have been back in the spates for special training for Susan from 1983-85, along with itinerating missionary personnel, who have all contributed to the mission consciousness of the Church. Reverend Hansen has served during the 1983-85 period as the Associate Minister of the Church and, in addition, has filled many speaking engagements in the area to tell the Central America story based on their experiences in Panama and Uruguay. The plan to return to Uruguay in the summer of 1985.

    Albion College graduate Barbara Smith, who was an active youth leader in the church when she was on campus, now has returned to Korea for the Board of Global Ministries as a missionary after several years service teaching in a Methodist school there.

    In the fifties, when the move to campus was in the planning stages, surveys were undertaken to determine population projections enabling church officials to plan for the space needs of the church school and other organizations and programs. Especially in the youth work area, the projections of the public school officials were used as a basis for planning. However, darkening economic storm clouds which had been gathering on Albion’s horizon began their damaging work in earnest when the competition from Japanese electronics firms brought about the closing of the Corning Glass plant here. Local foundries experienced a decline in business as the changes in the automobile industry altered the need for certain types of steel parts; Union Steel, long owned and run by the Dean family, was sold to Eagle-Pitcher which later decided to close out its local facilities. A consortium of area businessmen bought the firm. It is slowly growing back to some semblance of its former size; McGraw-Edison, however, closed their refrigeration and air conditioning plant. A number of other foundry related industries are closed.

    All this had a serious effect on a number of aspects of life in the city. Middle management personnel, as well as many in the workforce, have had to go elsewhere for employment. The downtown business section, hurt by these developments, suffered also from the opening of shopping malls in nearby Battle Creek and Jackson.

    There were, however, bright spots for the stability provided by Albion College and Starr Commonwealth, with their staffs and students as well as their economic impact, provided a much needed cushion for city and community. Local attempts to diversify industrially continue, as some new industries are still underway.

    First United Methodist Church has felt the impact in a number of ways. The loss of membership in the early eighties placed a strain on its financial structure as well as its life as an organization. As the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of the occupation of the enw plant drew near, the need for approximately $20,000 in repairs to the heating plant had to be met. By careful use of assets, congregational response and internal borrowing, the projects were carried out without the need for seeking expensive outside financing. The long deferred drapery project was completed in 1983 on a Silver Anniversary project and the badly needed redecoration of the Tennant Hall complex (the hall, kitchen and foyer) was completed as a memorial to Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Carter.

    Yet in all this, the congregation has had its priorities clearly in mind. When the various appeals came to help the starving Ethiopians and others in Africa, as well as the African Methodist work, over $2,100 was raised in several weeks during the fall of 1984, a record which does honor to Albion United Methodists!

    Any summary of improvements and equipment added cannot be complete without tribute being paid to the Memorial Committee. Their work in addition to the equipment both in the aid of worship, Christian education, and the operation of the church has been significant. In 1978 handbells were purchased; in 1980 they carried out the Bedient memorial gift, providing new choir robes for the Chancel and Friendship Choirs; and in 1984 the hearing aid system to Goodrich Chapel was installed. Kitchen equipment, the work of the Boy Scout Troop, the purchase of a new copying machine are but a few other examples of the committee’s work. Money given in memory of members and friends has been conscientiously and wisely administered.

    One amusing incident will suffice to close this section while demonstrating the mood and direction of the congregation when issues arise. Tennant Hall has been used for many kinds of events during its lifetime: Meals, musical productions by the you, youth fellowship recreational activities, an adult volleyball group, Scouts, Camp Fire, Family Nights, and other group’s activities- the list is almost endless. Several years ago, persons interested in youth needs came up with the idea that some equipment for basketball was needed. Others were fearful that basketball games would be a nuisance or damaging to the building, but the decision was to go ahead; the need was then met.

    The Trustees and the Memorial Committee wrestled with several possible designs, none of them was satisfactory or in keeping the nature and use of the hall. Finally with the help of a consultant and Albion College basketball coach, Mike Turner, the right kind of equipment was located and installed at one end allowing half-court games. Fortunately, its enjoyment and usefulness has outweighed the problems. It is this kind of purpose and direction which have characterized the congregation and bodes well for the years ahead.

    In 1981, during the pastorate of Dr. David S. Evans, a group of people headed by Dr. Helen Manning and Dr. Keith Moore, began the work of planning for the 25th anniversary of the move from the Erie Street Church to the Albion College Campus. The thirty-three persons who comprise the Silver Anniversary Committee were divided into several sub-committees to deal with such things as the Homecoming Dinner, the mementos, other observances and finances.

    As a part of the celebration, former members as well as those living in other parts of the state or the country were invited to return for the Homecoming Dinner on Saturday evening, September 17, 1983. Former ministers, associate ministers, and other persons who had been a part of the church family were also invited to a gala dinner in Tennant Hall. Dr. and Mrs. John Tennant flew in from Sedona, Arizona; Dr. and Mrs. Lyn DeMoss came from Muskegon; but, the only other living minister, Rev. Don Baker, and his wife were unable to join the festivities. Former associates Dr. Wayne Fleenor and Ethel; Dr. Don Robinson; along with present associate, Rev. Randy Hansen and others were present. Dr. George Somers and Joyce sent their regrets from his teaching post in China. Birt Beers also could not join in. Former education assistants, Mrs. Elsie Butt and Mrs. Ruth Y.. widow of Dr. Dempster Yinger (Dr. Tennant’s predecessor), were in attendance. William Helrigel, Jr., brought greetings and recollections from his father, Dr. William Helrigel, Superintendent of the Albion-Lansing District at the time of the move to campus.

    It was a fine evening filled with memories, recollections, slides of the new church building and singing. Albion alumnus Dr. Robert Brubaker of Grand Rapids gave the evening address “Opening the Race with Help from the Balcony,” and Albion College President Melvin Vulgamore bringing greetings from the college. Special music was provided by a barbershop quartet, “The Notewo…” in which members Dr. Robert Dininny and Master of Ceremonies Harry Gardner sang.

    One special element of the evening was the presence of guests from as far away as California among the several states represented.

    The Sunday morning service in Goodrich Chapel celebrated the 25th anniversary of the first service in Goodrich Chapel. Reverend Ellen Brubaker (District Superintendent of the grand District of the United Methodist Church, wife of Dr. Robert Brubaker, and also an Albion graduate who shared the pulpit with Dr. Evans as they looked at the historical aspects represented by the 25th anniversary, as looking forward to the future.

    Source: Evans, David S. A History of Albion First United Methodist Church. 1985.

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