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Christian Reformed church observes 100 years

The First Christian Reformed Church observes its centennial this year.

June 05, 2014
"Rooted in Christ; growing in faith; sharing in love."

Throughout the Bible, the language of gardening and plants is used to describe life with God. In the Hebrew scriptures, God's people are referred to as a vine rooted in the love of God. In John 15, Jesus calls himself the vine and invites people, through him, to be grafted onto the life of God. A well-rooted plant can withstand almost anything — fire; flood; drought.

During its 100-year history, First Christian Reformed Church of Detroit has experienced literal fire, the flood of expanding industry, the drought of economic recession and remaining true to its identity statement.

Located at 1444 Maryland, Grosse Pointe Park, First CRC has had this address for 90 of its 100 years. Founded as a Detroit church, however, its roots are in the city, and its reach extends far beyond the borders of the neighborhood in which it is planted.

The church was established in 1914 by a community of newcomers who had moved from western Michigan to Detroit for jobs in the burgeoning manufacturing industry. These founders worshiped in a building shared by another congregation near St. Aubin and Lafayette. When, after 10 years, First CRC had amassed the resources to build, it followed its congregants to their homes on Detroit's east side, purchasing property at Maryland and Goethe in the then-young suburb of Grosse Pointe Park.

Church members moved into the neighborhood, started families, opened a school and initiated community programs. Longtime members of the congregation recall neighbors asking about this church whose members brought meals to the sick and home-bound, helped on moving days, threw showers for mothers- and brides-to-be and repaired homes. When asked the reason for all the hands-on involvement in their community, congregants said, "That's just what we do."

First CRC is firmly rooted in the reformed tradition that sees the Christian faith as having a formative impact on every part of life. The Christian Reformed Church traces its heritage to the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s and the rigorous, ground-breaking theology of John Calvin. He stressed the importance of biblical literacy — the need for all Christians to study and know the Bible. He also insisted the grace and love of Jesus Christ is transformative not just for individuals, but for the families, vocations, neighborhoods and nations in which Christians live. Calvinist Reformed Christianity comes to expression in rigorous and reasoned study of the Bible, faithful and intentional engagement with culture and a redemptive perspective on all of life.

Early church members established a day school to provide quality education from a Christian perspective; sponsored and supported aid and relief organizations throughout the Detroit area; helped start new congregations downtown and in Roseville; and sought to be good neighbors as they moved out into a broader radius surrounding their church.

Over the decades, the size and demographic makeup of the church changed. But First CRC's commitment to bringing the transformative love of Jesus to its community, has not. Despite declining numbers through the late 1990s and early 2000s, First CRC maintained its focus on service, outreach and community causes. When its Christian elementary school closed due to low enrollment, an affordable day care and preschool, God's Kids Early Learning Center, was opened. It has invested heavily in Crossroads, the Community Assistance Program, Dearborn's Arab American Friendship Center and Habitat for Humanity. During the recent recession, church members have helped coordinate and maintain Eastside Take Control, a collaborative service for local job seekers.

A welcome new development promises to bring more change to First CRC and its neighborhood.

In January 1932, the church's new building was gutted by a fire. During the building's reconstruction, the displaced congregation was welcomed by Grosse Pointe Park's Grace Evangelical Church, allowing First CRC to use the sancutary. Grace Evangelical Church, years later, changed its name and denominational identity and became Grace United Church of Christ.

Following a congregational transition, Grace UCC sold its building and moved to the corner of Mack and Nottingham. Motivated by a vision for creating a meeting place for residents of the city and the suburbs, a non-profit coffee shop called Higher Grounds was opened. But having moved out of its church building, the Higher Grounds congregation missed worshiping with a larger, diverse group in a more traditional setting.

Rooted in their common traditions of reaching across cultural and geographic boundaries with the love of Jesus Christ, based on the proximity of the two congregations and a growing friendship between their two pastors, Rev. Marcia Fairrow and Rev. Ben Van Arragon, Higher Grounds and First CRC launched a new life phase and shared ministry. The two congregations gather for 10 a.m. Sunday worship services at 1444 Maryland. Also members of both churches study and enjoy fellowship at Higher Grounds during the week.

The result is a 21st century version of First CRC that clearly shows its Calvinist, Reformed roots, but does so in fresh and unique ways. Sunday morning visitors will find a liturgical service with traditional hymns and responsive readings, contemporary worship songs and theologically deep, culturally-relevant Bible teaching. The congregation has been described as a friendly, hospitable and diverse group of people from the Pointes and Detroit, who value community, love Jesus and love their neighborhoods and city.

The members of First CRC extend an invitation to visit and experience some of the good things being celebrated this year.

First Christian Reformed Church celebrates its 100th anniversary Saturday and Sunday, June 7 and 8. Other anniversary-related events are to be held during the year. For more information, visit grossepointecrc.org, or 1444 Maryland, Grosse Pointe Park, for 10 a.m. Sunday services.

By the Rev. Ben Van Arragon minister at First Christian Reformed Church of Detroit

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