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History

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. Smith   1856-1862
Rev. J.W. Harris   1862-1868
None   1869
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
None   1899
Rev. Shaw   1900-1905
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   1998-2002
Rev. Wanda & Paul Veldman   2003-2008
Rev. Paul Veldman   2003-2014
Rev. Micah Schlobohm   2014-2016
Rev. Missy Miller
2017-Present