In the pioneering days when the timber of this area was being cut for lumber, two communities sprang up here on the two sides of the Wisconsin River: Grand Rapids on the east bank and Centralia on the west bank. Traveling evangelists and itinerant preachers visited the frontier communities when possible. At length, in 1856, there were enough interested folk to form a contract with the Rev. Jesse Edwards to preach in Grand Rapids. By 1858, a Congregational Society was formed of those who favored the Baptist-Congregational procedures and they were served by the Rev. Smith.
In March of 1862, the Rev. J. W. Harris was ordained and the Society was formally organized as that organization on March 27, 1862. The group continued to meet in homes and in a local hall for a time. In 1864, the first of the church’s homes was framed. It was completed and dedicated in 1865. The building has remained in existence into recent times, currently as the Christian Science Church on First Street North. Around this time, a parsonage was built across the street from the old Sampson Canning Co. building.
First Congregational Church organized and hosted, in 1869, a lecture by Susan B. Anthony entitled “Women want Bread not Ballot”. There was a fire in this time frame and the church records were lost from 1862 until 1873.
Forty-nine new members were received in 1880. A major flood occurred that year, estimated a century later at about 100,000 cfs. The bridge was weakened from the flood and subsequently destroyed in the flood of 1888. The old kerosene lights in the church were replaced with electric lights in 1886.
The Church basically split into two congregations soon after the flood, one in Centralia, the other in Grand Rapids. The Centralia group met in City Hall. A building fund raised $3724 and a new “Unity Church” was built in the area where the new Centralia Center is in the west side Mall. It later became the Masonic Temple. After three years, the two congregations came together again and met in the west side church.
Rev. Wheeler’s salary appears to have been $800 per year in 1896. After leading a funeral procession riding on a high bicycle, he soon disappeared from the scene, to be replaced by Rev. B. J. H. Shaw. Rev. Shaw was replaced by Rev. Fred Staff in 1905. In 1906, the Church purchased a new parsonage just south of the present Moravian Church. And Rev. Staff’s salary jumped to $1700 per year.
A new stone church located where the present church is was built in 1911. Stories of anguish and politics regarding an east side versus a west side location for the new building may be myth as church records are silent on this subject.
The Church officially became incorporated as the “First Congregational Church of Grand Rapids” about 1913. An interesting event that occurred during this time was the pastor requesting that the ladies all remove their hats during service as “-most spring hats are so large that preacher and pulpit are hidden from view”. The Congregation also suffered through the agony of World War I plus a world wide influenza epidemic during this time. For an entire month there were no church services or public meetings allowed.
Rev. Arthur E. Leonard served at a salary of $3600 per year in 1923. Major refurbishments to the church building were made in 1935. The congregation was now at 600, and the building was already 25 years old. Rev. Hyslop was quite outspoken on the local paper mills running on Sundays and grocery stores also being open on Sundays. World War II came and 136 men and women from our church family joined the service of our country. The end of the war in 1946 brought about $10,000 in capital improvement projects to the church building. Fund raising and construction for a new manse was done in 1956. It was located a couple of blocks north of where Assumption High School is now.
Records show that in 1956 the church was feeling a space pinch. There was considerable discussion and studying regarding the possibility of building a new church building. The church celebrated its 100 year anniversary in 1962. The Education Wing for the new church was built in 1965, and services were held there for six months while the old stone church was torn down and the new structure built. In 1976, a new pipe organ was purchased and installed. About the same time, Wilhelmina and Ray Hall noted a need, and started the Food Pantry program.
|Rev. J.W. Harris||1862-1868|
|Rev. J.J. Cameron||1870-1870|
|Rev. E.G. Carpenter||1871-1871|
|Rev. R.K. Webster||1872-1875|
|Rev. Lauren M. Foster||1876-1879|
|Rev. J.S. Norris||1880-1882|
|Rev. John Rowland||1883-1886|
|Rev. A.L.P. Loomis||1887-1890|
|Rev. William Kilbourne||1891-1896|
|Rev. Fred S. Wheeler||1897-1898|
|Rev. Fred Staff||1910-1910|
|Rev. Robert J. Locke||1915-1915|
|Rev. Noel Breed||1920-1920|
|Rev. J. Merle Stevens||1925-1925|
|Rev. J.Merle Stevens||1930-1930|
|Rev. Fred Hyslop||1935-1935|
|Rev. Robert Kingdon||1940-1968|
|Rev. Donald Minnick – Associate Minister||1959-1964|
|Rev. Lyman Newton – Associate Minister||1965-1968|
|Rev. Cal Fischer||1970-1991|
|Rev. Gerry Bertsch – Associate Minister||1970-1976|
|Rev. Ann James||1983-1988|
|Rev. Doris Ruben||1988-1993|
|Rev. Jake Close||1991-2001|
|Rev. Beth Hoffman Faeth||1994-1997|
Rev. Beth Middleton Voight
Rev. Kendall Nordstrom
|Rev. Wanda & Paul Veldman||2003-2008|
|Rev. Paul Veldman||2003-2014|
|Rev. Micah Schlobohm||2014-2016|
|Rev. Missy Miller||2017-Present|