History
Growing to Serve God Since 1833 | Service Time Sunday 10:30 AM
First Congregational United Church of Christ | 6494 Belsay Road Grand Blanc, Michigan 48439

History

 

The first entry in a small record book in the Church archives reads: ʺOn the 13th day of July, 1833, a number of professed Christians met at the house of Deacon Josiah Owen in Grand Blanc, for the purpose of uniting together in the fellowship and communion of a church. Isaac W. Ruggles, a missionary of the American Home Missionary Society, was present as moderator. After a season of prayer, those present gave a relation of their experience. Letters were read from the churches whence they came: Josiah Owen and Susan, his wife, Cyrus Baldwin, Charles Butler and Sarah, his wife, Emmaus Owen and Cynthia Marie, his wife, Almira Smith, wife of Jeremiah Smith, Cornelia Smith, wife of Silas Smith, and Sarah Ann Butler, entered into covenant to walk together as a Church in all the ordinances of the Gospel. They then resolved to take Congregationalism as the rule of the Church Government.”

This made the First Congregational Church of Grand Blanc one of the only two Protestant Churches between Pontiac and the Straits of Mackinaw at the time. This small but sturdy group from New York State formed the backbone of this church in those early days. Their lives were simple, their discipline was strict and their faith was strong. Meeting first in homes, then in school‐houses that bore the names of Smith, Butler and Halsey, they built the first ʺMeeting Houseʺ in 1855 at a cost of $850, dedicated it on September 12th, and remained there in the vicinity of Saginaw and Holly Roads for the next 30 years. During that period, the Church helped the community grow in spirit, bear the anguish of the Civil War and spread the Gospel.  

The pastoral leadership of the Church in the beginning was served occasionally by ordained ministers, who were passing through, or residing temporarily in the area.  In 1838, it became the practice to call a minister to preach for the whole year. This policy was followed whenever a man was available, and sometimes he and his family lived in a log house owned by one of the members, for it wasnʹt until 1864 that a parsonage was built. A procession of men faithfully served the Lord and the interests of the congregation, some staying a few months, some a few years, with salaries in those latter years ranging from $500 to $600.

The year 1885 is an important one in the history of this Church, for it was then that its second building was erected on Grand Blanc Road, a short distance west of Saginaw Street at a cost of $4,893. Over the next 63 years, the records tell of the business side of the organization and many interesting events. Among them were the replacing of the parsonage in 1901 and 1930, the Church addition in 1926 and the 100th Anniversary Celebration in 1933. But we know that the faith that its people proclaimed was the sustaining and guiding force that saw them through the turn of the century, World War I, the ʺRoaring 20ʹsʺ, the depression of the 30ʹs, and World War II. A few present members joined the Church during those years. They could tell of the peaks and the valleys in the life of the congregation, and of the stalwart core of people, of which a number of them were a part, that kept the Church moving ever onward.

Over the past 40 years, Grand Blanc has changed from a primarily rural town to a mushrooming suburban community. During that time, there have been over 1,000 men, women and youth who have ʺpledged their loyalty to Christʺ as they joined our Fellowship and increased the net membership from 169 to 665 in 1997.

 

 

In the fall of 1948, the sanctuary was extensively redecorated and the congregation worshipped with the Methodists during that period. In 1951, the basement was remodeled, and in 1958, a Christian Education Unit was added as the first step of a master plan that would eventually include a new sanctuary.

That same year, this Church became a part of the United Church of Christ, the denomination formed in 1957 by the merger of the Congregational Christian Churches in 1931 and the Evangelical and Reformed Church, a merger in 1934. We are now the First Congregational United Church of Christ of Grand Blanc.

 

With the rapid development of Grand Blanc in more recent years, and the difficulties that would be encountered because of limited land space, it was decided to erect a new building at a new location. In March 1966, the present 9‐acre site was purchased, financing was arranged and the groundbreaking took place on July 1967, and our beautiful building was constructed over the next 15 months at a cost of $430,000.

 

The first service was held, and the cornerstone laid, on October 13, 1968. A tie with the past is maintained through the 1885 Church Bell, which was moved from the old steeple to the new location, and continues to call the worshipers together each Sunday.

During this time First Congregational ordained its first person to full‐time parish ministry in Jesus the Christ. In the last service at the old building held on October 6, Rev. Don Wenstrom concluded his Worldwide Communion Meditation with these words:

As God has guided and blessed this Church over the past 135 years, may God continue to do so through us and those who come after us, that the Gospel of Christ may be lived and spread — ʹAcross the Years, and Around the World.ʹ

Culminating almost a quarter century of pastoral leadership, church growth and expansion, Rev. Wenstrom resigned and was followed by the Rev. John M. Byers who became the thirty‐fourth pastor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ. Jack and his wife, Jakie, gave strong leadership from 1972 until 1983. 

During his tenure, the church continued as the congregation discovered Godʹs unfolding purpose in their new location. Educational and spiritual life were fostered with renewed emphasis upon the study of the Word and church administration was restructured with the updating of the Constitution. A new staff position, Director of Christian Education, was created and capably managed by Shirley Stevens beginning in 1976, not only including Church School responsibilities, but adult education, peace issues, and mission ministry. During these years, the Senior High Youth group grew into a strong ministry as well as other fellowship groups in the congregation.

Troop 368 (named because it was housed in the third church building of our congregation and formed in 1968) became a model of scouting under the leadership of many church members.

The year 1983 was special in the congregationʹs history as the sesquicentennial of the church and community were celebrated. One hundred fifty years of ministry and mission were highlighted through a pageant, Flint Symphony Chamber Orchestra concert, enactment of an early service of worship in the ʺoldʺ Congregational Church (Grand Blanc Road), and other events that brought our historical tradition alive by reminding the members of our rich heritage and the Biblical mandate for ministry.

All in All in all, these years of Rev. Byersʹ pastorate were years of building the foundation of expanding ministry in a new facility in the midst of a changing society. The struggles of faithfulness to God in sharing the joy of discipleship within a community and world searching for its identity, the role of justice, and the proper use of power created a challenging and demanding time for the followers of Jesus the Christ.

Dr. William Donald was called as an Interim Pastor as the congregation began its search in the fall of 1983 for its thirty‐fifth pastor. In April of 1984, Dr. Max B. Hayden was called to carry on the pastoral leadership. The focus of ministry, as directed by the congregation, was to continue the spiritual growth of the congregation and to reach out to meet the needs of a growing community of Godʹs people in all the world.

The church mortgage was retired in June of 1985, the congregation in January 1986 accepted a five‐year plan for ministry and Rev. Judy Jahnke was called as Associate Pastor in January of 1987. We came to the 155th year in the ministry of First Congregational United Church of Christ with pride in our rich heritage and hope in the possibilities that God unfolds before us.  Rev. Gordon Hoyt and Rev. Joan Jacobson served as Associate Pastors in the early 1990s. The educational ministry continued to flourish under the capable leadership of Charlene Matheny, Vickie Walker, Sandy Langeness and Julia Goodall.  During this same period two of our members, Roberta Schaafsma and Julia Goodall, entered seminary.

In 1993, First Congregational became the first church in Michigan to build a home for a family through Habitat for Humanity and have recently completed our ninth home in this community. In the fall of 1994, Ms. Kathie Wind began as the director of Educational Ministries, and Rev. Janet K. Barriger accepted the call to serve as Associate Pastor. In that fall, the Strategic Plan of the church was updated and revised, stating that the mission of ourchurch is to glorify God and share the teachings of Jesus the Christ through our ministry to the kingdom of God by: strengthening relationships with God, promoting spiritual growth and building up the body of Christ.  

In the fall of 1996, we accepted the call to serve our community through a new preschool, the Learning House, directed and taught by Ms. Bette Bauer Norrington, expanding to include a child care center in the fall of 1997. Currently, the Learning House staff is teaching and nurturing over 150 children each year.

In 1997, a new Bell Choir Loft was constructed in the sanctuary. In the summer of 1998, the congregation proudly ordained Julia Goodall to full‐time parish ministry.  In 1999, the courtyard was landscaped and paved for the enjoyment of the community and the congregation. In addition, a memorial wall was carved into the north wall of the courtyard, where members and friends can be remembered in writing or with their ashes placed in the garden. A new bell tower and sign for the church were erected in 1999.

In the spring of 2006, a new Christian Life Center was completed and dedicated.  In 2007 we began to focus on the second phase of our building program with a Capital Campaign. Renovation of the sanctuary begain in 2008, and the updated worship center was dedicated in October of the same year.

Our mission is ʺto enable disciples to change the world to the glory of God by living the teachings of Jesus our Christ,ʺ and we proudly identify ourselves as a church that is spiritually alive, radically inclusive and justice‐oriented. The hundreds of people who have contributed to these years of ministry will only be surpassed by the hundreds of lives yet to be touched by the love of Christ expressed through the members of First Congregational United Church of Christ as it moves into a future confident in the power of God.

The bell, which has called our congregation to worship since 1885, will continue to ring out boldly to remind us of who we are as Godʹs children; it will continue to call us to faithfulness in years to come.