A Brief History The First Methodist Church of Grand Rapids was organized in 1835 by pioneers who came to the Grand Valley by covered wagon.
The first church building was built in 1840 of hand hewn timbers cut from the nearby forest. It was a crude meeting house with wooden benches. In 1867 it was replaced by a new building. Since that time, two other structures have been built to house the congregation of the church.
The present church building, completed in 1916, is a modified fourteenth century Tudor Gothic style. The plans were drawn by Robinson and Campau, assisted on the interior designing by William Holt. The contractors were John McNabb and Son.
The square tower rises 115 ft. from the first floor and is 40 feet square on the base (roof line) The predominant material for the building is Sandusky limestone.
An addition on the north end of the building was completed in 1969 and has provided educational facilities, offices and space for community service, as well as housing the Community College Preschool Center and student lab.
The Narthex The narthex is the church vestibule leading into the nave(sanctuary). The narthex contains furniture from the "old" church and features a Tiffany window on the west end. A matching window on the east end was created by Willet Stained Glass Studios of Philadelphia. Two brass plates on the walls of the narthex list members of the church who served in World War I and in World War II and other U.S. conflicts. The floors are terrazzo, inlaid by Italian artisans who were brought to Grand Rapids by the Art Mosaic and Tile Company of Toledo, Ohio for the installation.
The Sanctuary The pews are of solid oak and were built and installed by American Seating Company in 1916. The sanctuary was originally estimated to seat 900, but present day count is approximately 800.
The jewels of First United Methodist Church are its stained glass windows. The Chancel Windows were designed and executed by Tiffany. This window is Favrile Glass and consists of seven large Gothic lancets with tracery. It is 14 feet high and 26 feet wide and is placed between the two sections of the organ at the front of the sanctuary. It is an interior window, originally lit by forty-five 60 watt light bulbs.
The stained glass windows on the east and west sides of the sanctuary are the work of the Willet Stained Glass Studios of Philadelphia. Each window is a three lancet traceried window with a theme. All painted portions were fused in the kiln a sufficient number of times to render them absolutely fadeless as the glass painting of the medieval glass artists. The choicest mouth blown pot-metal glasses and Norman slabs were used. (No enamels were introduced.) The windows above are called "clerestory" windows (second story) and each one depicts a different Psalm from the Bible. The newest window in the sanctuary is at the rear of the second balcony and depicts the Trinity.
The "candliers" are solid brass of octagonal design with Gothic pinnacles, and have north direct and indirect lighting.
The Organ When the church building was constructed, the sanctuary featured a four-manual Felgemaker Organ of 43 ranks and was installed at a cost of $10,000. In 1954 a new three manual, 47-rank organ was built and installed by the M.P. Moller Organ Company of Hagerstown, Maryland. In 1973, the church bought a small, two-manual Moller Organ of the same vintage from a church in Detroit and installed it in the top balcony to function as an antiphonal organ.
In 1991 the refurbishing of the organ was undertaken at a cost of $230,000. The 1954 design was completed and the original Echo organ (with pipes that had sat silent in the attic for 20 years) was given a new windchest and mechanics as well as other improvements. This project has produced an exciting new instrument that is one of the finest in the city.
The Chapel The chapel was originally a third parlor which in later years was used as a Sunday school room. In 1961 it was remodeled to provide the church with a small chapel. The double entrance doors are hand-carved with a relief of praying hands. The theme of the windows on the east side of the chapel are related to the uses of the chapel and each lancet portrays a scene from the life of Jesus. The stained glass window in the west door is titled, "Children of the World".
The Parlor The original "Ladies Parlor" consisted of two rooms with a small square arch opening between the two. The fireplace at the west end of the parlor was installed by the Grand Rapids Marble & Fireplace Company. In (circa) 1950 the room was "opened up" to create a large open space and a small kitchen was added to accommodate receptions, and other small events.
Much of the art displayed in the church is original art by Michigan artists, purchased through the annual Celebration of the Arts, an art show sponsored by First United Methodist Church each spring. A variety of oil paintings, watercolors, sculpture, weaving and photographs are in the permanent collection of the church and on display throughout the building.
Artifacts, furniture and historic items are on display in the parlor for special events.
"Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God's handwriting."
Ralph Waldo Emerson