The Dream Begins
The dream of a Methodist congregation in the Jenison area began in the late 1950s as a tremendous boom in church-building in the Grand Rapids suburbs took hold. Growth in the Jenison area really took off in the early 1960s and the area was put on a list of potential church development by the United Methodist Union. In the mid-1960s, however, the boom in church-building faded and the Union’s interest in a Jenison congregation faded with it.
In the meantime, Grandville United Methodist Church was experiencing a great deal of growth, with a sizable number of folks from the Jenison area. Interest in a Jenison church was renewed and in 1968 and the property at the corner of Baldwin Street and 28th Avenue was purchased. Surveys taken in 1967 and 1973 indicated that, while there were many Methodists living in Georgetown Township, there was only limited interest in a new church. So, the property sat undeveloped. In response to the results of the 1973 survey, the Vice President of the Methodist Union wrote,
“My suggestion was to sell the property. It seemed obvious to me that if a new church were to have begun, it would have happened by then.”
A number of families in the Jenison area, however, insisted that there was a call for a Methodist congregation in Georgetown Township. After some persistence, the Methodist Union agreed in 1975 to approve a new congregation if these families could get commitments from 50 families.
On January 11, 1976, 228 people representing 64 families attended the first worship service, held at Sandy Hill Elementary School. The congregation continued to grow and by its second anniversary, moved into a newly constructed building at the corner of Baldwin Street and 28th Avenue. In response to continuing growth, a larger sanctuary was added to the building in 1980, an educational wing was added in the 1990s, a dedicated Youth wing was established in 2006, and the Nursery remodeled and expanded in 2012.
An Alternative Church Experience
From the beginning, the GUMchurch congregation felt called to be a vital part of the community and provide an alternative to the existing church choices in the community. Rev. Robert Hinklin, GUMchurch’s founding pastor, says this congregation sought
“…to openly attempt to communicate a caring for even the less than perfectly righteous.”
The GUMchurch congregation comes from many areas, backgrounds, and ethnic groups. At its start, only half were even of Methodist heritage. The early settlers of West Michigan were largely Dutch immigrants who left the Netherlands because of what they felt was an accommodation with liberal religion. As such, this group brought with them an uncompromising Calvinist faith not typified by the modern “liberal” image one has of the political and religious climate of the Netherlands. Many of these immigrants identified with the Reformed Church of America upon arriving in West Michigan and later the Christian Reformed Church. Rev. Hinklin wrote of the new GUMchurch’s place in the community:
“In our congregation and community [there are many differences] between the Dutch cultural and religious expectation and the more liberal, non-Dutch expectation.”
Early Values Bear Fruit in Today’s GUMchurch
Many of the values of the charter members of GUMchurch are still vital parts of ministry at GUMchurch today:
- We still offer a welcoming, open atmosphere that makes people feel at ease.
- We still see value in offering a Wesleyan Christian experience in a predominantly Calvinist area.
- Our worship services are still participatory and characterized by a sense of warmth, fellowship, caring, and a call to commitment.
- We have a vibrant Music Ministry, strong Children’s and Youth programs, and excellent Pastoral leadership.
- We still hold a commitment to spiritual growth along with caring for the surrounding community.
GUMchurch’s 40th Anniversary 1976-2016
In 2016, the people of GUMchurch celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first worship service held on January 11, 1976.