Several years before Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States, (which was in 1860) a small group of people from Byron Township gathered and started a bible study class which sometimes met in homes or in the old McKenney School located one mile west of Byron Center. A Methodist circuit rider came and organized a “circuit” of this and other area groups to meet for Worship and Bible study.
Just after the American Civil War ended, a somewhat larger group of people (a merger with some of the other groups) gathered and began to plan a Methodist Church. With the war over and our nation charting a new course in history, an ever-growing congregation gathered around a pot-bellied stove and began charting a course that would take God's word into the 20th century.
In 1872 property was bought and work began on the church building located at the corner of Prescott and Freeland in the small newly platted village of Byron Center. The building was dedicated on February 18th of 1874 as the “Byron Center Methodist Episcopal Church.” During this same time the “circuit” parsonage at Kelloggsville was sold and a new one was built on the west side of the church.
During these past many years, this congregation has gathered from time to time to expand and adjust the building in order to meet the needs of an ever changing membership. Shortly after the building was completed, (1874) a need for more space became apparent. Plans for building a basement were discussed at various times and twice the project had been started and money donated. During the Depression, the funds were lost in the bank closure and plans for the basement were abandoned. Finally, in 1942, the Women’s Society for Christian Service (this name was the proud new name of the women’s group) took full responsibility for the basement project.
On March 30, 1942, the work was started to build a church basement. This basement project was no simple task. It meant that the building had to be supported while the old stone foundation was removed and then dirt under the church had to be excavated and removed before a new foundation and basement walls and floor were constructed and done with much volunteer labor. The project was completed, and amazingly during the excavating and building of the basement, worship services and all other church activities went on uninterrupted.
(A NOTE) A merger in 1939 within the Methodist Episcopal denomination changed our name to the Byron Center Methodist Church.
Also, during the last half of the 1940’s, the parsonage was sold and moved to 2443 Prescott Street, and a new brick parsonage was built in its place.
During a terrific summer thunder storm in 1944, lightening struck the steeple with considerable damage to it. Soon the steeple was rebuilt and covered with aluminum.
As the Christianity grew over the centuries and developed and redeveloped itself, it changed from being “one church” to many divisions and denominations, which in turn offered many doctrines and theologies. Around 1914 an ultra conservative group that called themselves “Fundamentalist” began to have an influence on many of the mainline denominations and local churches and even began independent local churches and or denominations of their own.
Because of this ever-growing influence, in 1955 the Byron Center Methodist Church experienced a congregational split of its own. The churches pastor Rev. J.A. Paulson wanted the BC church to leave the Methodist denomination as he felt that it was not conservative enough. After a vote was taken as to whether or not this church was to remain a Methodist Church, (which it did) Rev. Paulson and some thirty followers left and immediately formed the Byron Center Undenominational Church, later called the Byron Center Bible Church.
The Byron Center Methodist Church must have recovered nicely from this setback because, in the early 1960’s under the leadership and guidance of Rev. Donald A. Russell, two additions were built onto the church and the interior of the church was completely remodeled. There was an extension of 20 ft. to the south end of the church and the front was to be extended beyond the steeple, also the basement was enlarged accordingly. This extension provided a new front entry for the church. On April 7; 1963 a consecration service for the two new additions and the remodeled church was held.
(A NOTE) The Methodist and the Evangelical United Brethren Churches merged in 1968 to form the United Methodist Church which changed our name to the Byron Center United Methodist Church.
During the late 1960's and early 1970's growth in the church was rather minimal. There was however, a rapid growth pattern in the whole Byron Center area during the 1980s. In 1987, Rev. Bill Doubblestein became the pastor and under his leadership, and guidance the church began to experience rapid growth. The problem of adequate space was most apparent in trying to run an ever expanding Sunday School program.
After many months of serious study, it was decided that the church should enlarge our present structure. At a special Charge Conference on August 18, 1991, the congregation approved the construction of the Fellowship Hall and Education Wing. The ground breaking service was held on Sunday, October 20, 1991. Before construction could begin, the brick parsonage had to be removed. It was sold and moved to its new foundation at 2437 - 87th Street.
Construction of the new addition began during the winter of 1991-1992. Workers labored in the rain, mud, snow, and bitter cold to keep the project on schedule. On November 7, 1992 the large church addition “Fellowship Hall/Education Wing” was dedicated.
In 2004 the Rev. Cynthia Greene became the pastor and under her leadership and guidance, on June 30, 2005 The Byron Center UMC became the new owners of 27 acres. This land is west of Byron Center on Homerich Ave. and is just across Homerich from the BC West Middle School. The dream and intent was/is to use this land to build other facilities beyond this church building such as perhaps a gymnasium, ball fields, or any other facilities that would enhance and grow God’s work here at Byron Center. In the fall of 2005 the church launched a Capital Stewardship Campaign called: “Acts 2: serving family, community and world together”. Because of a bad economy and changing times the congregation continues to work beyond that initial campaign to pay off all the debt. And the “Acts 2 Team” continues to find creative ways to keep this wonderful dream alive and in “front of the people” as well as to celebrate the paying off the land purchase debt.
From time to time churches experience setbacks, hardships and struggles. Sometimes people don’t like a worship style or a doctrinal stand or a proposed goal or there may perhaps be personality conflicts. Anyone of those things or a host of others can cause congregational setbacks and struggles. The Byron Center UMC, as this history has already often shared, is no stranger to setbacks, hardships and struggles.
In the latter part of the last decade (2007-2010) the Byron Center UM Church had experienced just such a setback. Worship attendance waned to the point of returning to only one worship service on Sunday. The paid staff had to be eliminated or moved to volunteer status. As a result, many of the programs struggled for survival. It was time once again for changes.
In the spring/summer of 2010 the Byron Center UMC leadership was bound and determined that a new day was beginning, and that we would re-adjust our programs, ministries and even our worship style for a fresh new start. The contemporary/traditional worship style once offered became a blended style. The Christian Education department began to rebuild itself. Some programs and ministries were restarted. Also in the summer of 2010 the parsonage on Meadow Haven Dr. under went some major renovation (new; furnace, air conditioner, floor coverings and paint throughout) and done with mostly volunteer workers. In the winter of 2012 there was an “Interior Face-Lift” project with new carpet and paint applied in the church buildings upper level and the entries.
The occasion of the rewriting of this History is the celebration of the 140 year anniversary of the dedication of our original building (our sanctuary) which took place on February 18, 1874. In the spring of 2013 it was proposed that we should celebrate this event with multiple venues throughout the year.
We began our celebration in July with a float in the “Byron Days” parade. There was a large sign made, those riding on the float sat on old church pews, and wore period costumes. We had flyers made that were passed out to the community to announce the intention of our celebration. Then on Saturday, October 26, 2013 we offered the community a “Harvest Homecoming” with free breakfast and lunch and shared old pictures, directories, histories, and offered tours of the Church. Our next celebration event was an “Old-fashion Worship” service. On Sunday December 15 we celebrated worship with a choir musical called “An Old-fashioned Christmas”. The choir, the ushers, and many others wore (1870) period costumes. The order of worship was designed using old fashion worship ritual that is seldom used anymore.
On Sunday April 27, 2014 (just over 140 years) a worship celebration was held that included the rededication of the entire church. We invited the Grand Rapids District Superintendent, Rev. Bill Haggard, and the Rev. Bill Doubblestein to be with us. In the service we “reaffirmed our faith” and celebrated Holy Communion.
This picturesque old church, with its tall steeple pointing skyward has been a familiar land mark at the corner of Prescott and Freeland in the village of Byron Center for 140 years. The Byron Center United Methodist Church is the oldest church in the village. The Church has an amazing story (history). The ministry here began when our State, County, Township, and Town were just coming into existence. It has seen two World Wars, the Great Depression, and a host of other world and local events that helped shape it. It has faced building projects, sprits of rapid growth and expansion, times of struggles and hardships, and most often years of stable and steady ministry to God in and for this place called Byron Center.
Rewritten, updated, & submitted by Pastor Larry Nichols
(The original history was found in a 1997 Byron Center UM Church Directory and was written by Jane Stebbins.)