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A Tale of Two Congregations

February 21, 2024
The sanctuary at Calvin CRC
The sanctuary at Calvin CRC

Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., recently celebrated their 75th anniversary. Originally they worshiped in the Calvin University chapel on the institution’s Franklin Street, Grand Rapids, campus, but within a few years they purchased a building at Ethel Avenue and Martin Luther King, Jr., Street (formerly Franklin St.), where they have been meeting ever since. Calvin CRC’s membership consists mainly of the children and grandchildren of Dutch immigrants, many of whom were students or professors at Calvin College.

St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church also has a rich history in Grand Rapids. It was the first African American church in the city, and it was the first AME Zion Church in the state of Michigan. It began as a mission and spur of the underground railroad in the 1850s, and its congregation has been worshiping in its current building at 101 Delaware Street since the early 1940s. St. Luke’s cultural roots are in the Black church, both through its denominational identity and its current congregational demographics.

In summer 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Luke discerned that their congregation was ready to return to in-person worship. However, they required a temporary home while they raised money and made plans for a different long-term building solution, given that their church building required some repairs and wasn’t adequately laid out for their growing ministry needs.

Since that time, St. Luke has been sharing Calvin CRC’s sanctuary for worship at noon on Sundays, after the Calvin congregation concludes their usual 10 a.m. morning worship service.

After a year into the sanctuary-sharing arrangement, the two congregations experimented with a combined worship service at 11:00 a.m. Members of both churches said they loved this opportunity to worship together and to learn from their similarities and differences in worship style.

“We saw [the combined service] as a reflection of the diversity of God’s kingdom and a preview of our eternal worship in heaven,” said Rev. Rebecca Jordan Heys, one of the pastors at Calvin CRC. Together the congregations made plans to schedule more combined worship services.

“Through our friendship with St. Luke, God has shown us the beautiful diversity of the church even in this small part of our city,” Jordan Heys pointed out. “St. Luke and Calvin CRC are able to minister to different people, and therefore different people are able to encounter the grace of Jesus through these churches.”

St. Luke is still in a discernment process about whether to build a new building, renovate their old building, or purchase an existing church building. But at some point they will move to another space, and there is some sadness in this reality for Calvin CRC.

“We have loved the physical closeness with our friends when they are in our building,” Jordan Heys lamented, “but we also rejoice in what will be a positive step for the ministry of that congregation.”

She continued, “We trust that what is good for St. Luke is good for the kingdom of God. Because of this time together in one building I have great hope that our friendship will grow even stronger once we are in separate buildings, and that we will have a continued commitment to learn from one another and celebrate our unity in Christ.”