The United Methodist Church in Holland, Michigan, had its beginnings long before the area was settled by Dutch immigrants. A number of families of English descent had come to this area for various reasons during the 1830’s and 1840’s. Some had come to work with the Indians; some had come to seek new land opportunities; and some had followed other family members. Several of these families later helped in the founding of the Methodist church in Holland. When the Dutch arrived in 1847, led by the Reverend Albertus C. Van Raalte, these earlier settlers worshipped with Van Raalte for fourteen years. The services were in Dutch and the doctrines were those of John Calvin. By 1850 there were 5000 Dutch people in the area.
One of the principles of John Wesley’s Methodism was for an individual to have a personal relationship with God and many of the early settlers wanted this. In 1861, Isaac Fairbanks, who had come to this area in 1844 as a government agricultural agent to assist the Indians, determined that a Methodist congregation might be formed, since no English-speaking church existed in Holland. By this time the town was fairly well settled, with many frame houses and stores lining the dirt streets. The Methodist Church was widely established across southern Michigan and it was considered the most “American” of church bodies because its development coincided with that of our country. By the mid 1800’s it was the largest denomination in the United States, with over one million members. Most of these Methodist congregations in Michigan were small and were served by circuit-riding pastors. Following this pattern, in 1861, Holland became part of a circuit of four charges–Fillmore, Hamilton, Holland and Ventura. It was called the Holland Circuit of the Methodist Church. The original congregation numbered eleven.
Thus, the first English-speaking church in Holland, Michigan, was founded. For this new circuit of the church, the preacher earned $300 that year. The small group met in the log fire hall, at that time located on property that is now part of Centennial Park. This building was also used as a town hall and the local “lock up”. It is interesting to note that it was not until 1862 that the Dutch established their first English-speaking church, known as Second Reformed, later named Hope Church
By 1866 Fairbanks decided it was time to form a local church, not part of a circuit. In 1869,property was purchased on what is now Tenth Street. The Methodists in Holland continue to worship on the same property purchased in 1869. The small congregation built a log chapel that same year. Due to rapid growth, a new and larger structure was built. As completion of the white frame structure was nearing, fire swept through the heart of Holland on October 9, 1871, destroying seventy percent of the city, including the Methodist church and parsonage. A formal worship service was never held in that building.
The Holland fire and the Great Chicago fire and many other fires in Michigan and Wisconsin occurred at the same time. High winds and dry conditions contributed to the fire hazards. Homes and businesses were competing for materials to rebuild, causing materials to be in short supply and very expensive. However, the Methodists started rebuilding almost immediately. A new church was completed in 1872.
Tremendous growth followed. By 1900 over 300 members were listed. The church needed to enlarge or rebuild. The trustees decided that the existing 1872 structure would be maintained, but extensive remodeling took place. The renewed brick building was dedicated in June of 1900. On February 6, 1901, the church was again completely destroyed by fire.
Great financial struggles followed, and, due to the dedication and resolve of the congregation, another new building was completed in 1902.
In the years following, a desire for a pipe organ was often discussed. Due to persistence on the part of the Ladies Aid Society, and with the help of matching funds from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation, a beautiful Hinner pipe organ was dedicated in 1910.
Additions to the church building and a new parsonage were among the projects during the following years. The windows in the sanctuary had been frosted glass, but during the 1920’s, two large windows were replaced. One depicted the Ordeal of Gethsemane and the second window depicted the Good Shepherd.
During the Depression in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s the church was the center of most people’s religious and social lives. Potlucks and ice cream socials were regular events. Organizations such as the Ladies’ Aid Society, Woman’s Society of Christian Service, Fahocha, Phileathea, Methodist Men, Epworth League, Epsilon Fellowship, Methodist Youth Fellowship, and many others have played important parts in the growth of this congregation. In 1958 an education wing was built which is still used today.
Unfortunately, fire continued to affect the Holland Methodists when, on January 24, 1979, fire once again destroyed the sanctuary. The loss of the third building meant the loss of a focal point in the Christian lives of over 900 members. A meeting was held the following evening in Hope Church for a service of unity and dedication. Planning began almost immediately for a new church building. After worshipping in Hope College’s Dimnent Chapel for two years, a new sanctuary and fellowship hall were completed in 1980 and 1981. Having been one of the few items to survive the 1979 fire, the Good Shepherd window was installed in the narthex of this new sanctuary. The congregation continues to worship in this fourth building on Tenth Street. In October of 1982, a Harrison and Harrison pipe organ was dedicated, adding its clear English sound to the music heritage of the church.
Many individuals and groups, too numerous to name, have contributed to the story of the Methodist church. As a congregation we are indebted to the sacrifice and loyalty of all those who have gone before us.
The names of this church have changed:
- Holland Circuit of the Methodist Society
- Holland Methodist Episcopal Church
- First Methodist Church of Holland
- First United Methodist Church
The buildings have changed: This is the fourth building on this site. The church remains and continues as a group of people gathered together to worship God.(compiled August, 2001, by Garnet Harrington VanderLeek)