First Sabbath in the new building. The structure has three-wings which are based on the Holy Trinity: A Sanctuary wing for worship and praise of the Father, a Classroom Wing from to learn from Christ our teacher, and the Fellowship Hall to bond believers as the Holy Spirit bonds us together and to the Godhead. Photo credit: David Shull and Jason Lim
As you face the new Grand Rapids Central Church building, you can’t help but point your thoughts to the Savior. The rough stone base is a reminder that Jesus Christ is our true rock and foundation. A full red roof provides the unforgettable image that our confessed sins are covered by His shed blood. Vertical siding, large glass planes, and the soaring ridge of the sanctuary all lift the eyes of believers toward heaven and the hope of Christ’s return.
This new structure opened for worship on Sabbath, June 3, and despite some more finishing touches needed, there was much to celebrate.
"We are praising God for his goodness and providence in leading us to construct a church that represents His beauty and grace," said Head Elder Michael Mattzela.
The need for a new space was necessitated by multiple factors. By the mid-1990s concerns grew about the increasing amount of repairs the historical building needed and would need in the future. The steep stairs made attending difficult for members. The church shared a parking lot and having access was becoming difficult. The neighborhood around the church was less safe. These many concerns brought Central’s members to make a difficult decision in spring 2017 to find a new church home.
The church building was sold to the LaGrave Christian Reform church next door and the search began for another church building while continuing to rent from the new owners. The prayer was that the Lord would open doors and close doors on where Central should move. Working with a commercial realtor the search dragged on for nearly two years. There were two promising options, but the Lord made it clear that the church home was not to be there by closing those doors tightly.
While looking for a church building to purchase, the committee began looking at potential property for a new church building. This time, the Lord opened the door and the church members voted unanimously to purchase the property and build a new church home.
The new address is 4250 Remembrance Rd., Walker, Michigan and in July we are inviting the community to two special programs:
After the decision was made to look for a new church home in 2017 and the building was sold, a committee was formed to begin looking for another church to purchase.
The committee chair, Kathy Price, asked the committee members to keep in mind that, "We need to have our church close enough to Grand Rapids Adventist Academy so we can be a benefit to them. We want to be available for them to have a variety of different programs at our church."
While the team looked at several churches, there were only two that looked promising and were within close proximity of the school. The team prayed that the Lord would open the door for the church that they should purchase and close the door for the one they should leave alone. Then the door closed on both churches.
The team continued to look for another church, but as none of the options offered great promise, they also began looking for a piece of land where they could build a church. Again, asking for the Lord to make the decision obvious.
A short time later the team began considering a piece of land that was three miles from the academy. This land had been for sale for the past 15 years. Every previous plan for this land, had been rejected and the price of the land had declined over time.
The people in the surrounding neighborhood were pleased with the idea a church would be built near them. The Walker City Hall, library, police and fire stations were across the street from the land. The city was excited to have a church join their city center.
A building committee was formed to envision the new church building.
Committee member, Doug LaFave, made it clear, "Our church needs to all be one level. We have members who have not been able to come to church because of the difficulty of climbing the steps."
Another committee member, Andrea Gomez, voiced a desire from the church members, "We need a foyer where we can meet and visit with each other." The current church had only a small foyer, many corridors and stairways but no real gathering area.
Jessica Bevier and the children’s ministry teachers on the committee voiced their vision and requested that, "The Sabbath School rooms need to be in one area, where we can easily see all the children." Tabatha Mattzela added, "We would like to have a Children's Garden right outside the children's Sabbath School rooms, where we can take the children outside to learn from nature."
After many work sessions with architect David Shull, the building committee had a design to bring to the church members for a final decision to move forward with building a church. The members voted to build.
In July of 2020, the earth movers began preparing the land for the church’s foundation. The committee considered waiting a year before building, due to the uncertainty of what would happen because of COVID-19. With prayerful consideration and stepping out in faith, the decision was made to continue building. Financial gifts came from a broad number of members. A loan was obtained from the Lake Union Revolving Fund, a request was made for MAP Funds, and members made pledges of financial help for the next five years. More funds are still needed but stepping out in faith has allowed the church to be built before much of the increase in building materials occurred. Some contracts were signed just weeks before the cost increases would have prohibited moving forward with building.
Church members volunteered in places where they could help reduce costs. Men cut down and removed trees. In the cold of December and January, the weathering protection coating was painted on the outside. In spring 2021, members helped paint the inside walls, install the sanctuary ceiling, provide food for volunteers, clean the windows inside and out, thoroughly clean construction debris, remove trash from around the building, and help install the sound system.
On June 3, the church was given a Temporary Occupancy Certificate which allowed them to move in and worship in their sanctuary and classroom wings. Even though the building was still under construction, church members worked together to move out of their church home for the last 80 years and into the new building. Seventy-two hours later, including a 24-hour rest on Sabbath, the old church was empty, cleaned, and ready for the owners to use. This effort avoided another rent payment on the old church. God gave strength to make this move happen.
The new church is designed with a single barrier-free level throughout, it reminds us that God is accessible to all people.
The structure has three-wings which are based on the Holy Trinity: A Sanctuary wing for worship and praise of the Father, a Classroom Wing from to learn from Christ our teacher, and the Fellowship Hall to bond believers as the Holy Spirit bonds us together and to the Godhead. These three wings represent the three identities that exist in spiritual unity. The three wings of the building unite in a triangular foyer where church members may enter and gather in harmony with one another.
The northwest windows of the church look out on a natural wetland and mature trees, creating a psychological retreat from the world and inspire peaceful contemplation of our Creator.
The downtown Grand Rapids Central Church with its beautiful sandstone exterior and elegant stain glass windows is now Central church set in a neighborhood with walls of soaring clear windows letting God’s light stream through and reminding us that, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. … it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16.
“While we are pleased to have a new home and to offer a new lighthouse in the community that draws others to Christ,” said Shull, who also serves as treasurer. “It is our fervent hope that this is but a temporary stay until we can be reunited with our Creator in the clouds of glory.”
The church has a membership of over 500 with a weekly attendance of less than 200. The new church can seat 350 comfortably with space for additional chairs to accommodate 50 more attendees. The Sabbath School wing has six classrooms and a chapel with restrooms and drinking fountains in this area.
The fellowship hall and kitchen shell has been completed and will be finished as funding becomes available.
In the summer of 1888, an evangelistic series was held in a large tent in downtown Grand Rapids. The result was the baptism of the first members of what would become the Grand Rapids Central Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The first church was a rented room on the second floor over a saloon. Two years later the church moved to a more appropriate location, renting the Great Templars Hall.
Eventually they built their own church. Then a second church was built, next to the first sanctuary. As membership increased, various spaces were rented while continuing to look for a permanent home. After renting for 13 years, in the fall of 1939, the All Saints Church was purchased and Grand Rapids Central Seventh-day Adventist Church found a permanent home in the downtown.
As the membership continued to grow, a classroom building addition was added in the 1960s. The membership grew still more, but now, instead of finding a new building, the members began starting new churches in the community. A Spanish-speaking congregation, the Wyoming Park, Sparta, and Bethel churches all began with members from the Grand Rapids Central Church. In more recent years were added Three Angels, Lowell Riverside, and Elwell Fellowships, and the Kentwood SDA Church, as well as a regional Korean group meets in the church’s chapel.
Judy L. Shull, Grand Rapids Central Church Communication director