Congregation sizes are smaller than they once were at Lansing First Presbyterian Church, but members continue to keep alive the spirit of community action and giving of the 175-year-old institution.

They do it humbly, with the grace of humor and good intentions.

“Our celebration this year for the 175th is scaled down from what they did in (the) 150th because they really had movers and shakers on that planning committee,” the ordained elder said. Brian Koon. “They really had outstanding church members.”

He imagined that the 200th anniversary of the church at 510 W. Ottawa Street would be a “big bang,” but with the 175th anniversary in full swing and reaching the official anniversary date of December 17, he finds there still has a lot to celebrate.

Church members have held several celebratory events this year and are planning an anniversary dinner after the 10 a.m. service on December 4. They look forward to rededicating the church founded in 1847 after the 10 a.m. service on Dec. 18.

Despite the drop in membership, which now stands at around 200, Koon is happy that the membership is more diverse. The church’s anniversary logo has the words “diversity, community awareness and social justice” wrapped around a cross.

In 2015, the church began to become more involved in social justice issues, leading to a more diverse church community.

Recently, Pastor Stanley Jenkins said the church has pledged to donate $100,000 in reparations through various means to the Justice League of Greater Lansing.

Justice League of Greater Lansing:Black leaders in Greater Lansing demand $1 million in reparations by end of 2023

Additionally, the church hosted a black ministry and gained black and Lebanese congregants, continuing the work of 1879, when the first Presbyterian helped start Lansing’s oldest black church, Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Northwest Initiative, a nonprofit organization focused on the well-being of Northwest Lansing residents, uses church space for a food pantry, prison reintegration program, and others.

“We used to be known as a stuffy white church, but now we’ve become quite a progressive congregation,” Koon said. “We have Cameroonians, Lebanese, Willye Bryan, (a local black leader). We’re still predominantly white, but we’re a diverse congregation.”

Reverend Calvin Clark founded the church on Dec. 17, 1847, and held services inside a school, according to a historical marker outside the First Presbyterian. He recognizes the US Army Brig. General WW Atterbury as the church’s first pastor, beginning in 1848 and ending his term six years later in 1854.

Brian Koon, a longtime member of First Presbyterian Church in Lansing, speaks at a historical marker Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, outside the church.  The church is celebrating its 175th anniversary.

According to the marker, “the congregation held its first services at a school, the legislative chambers of Lansing’s first capital, an inn, and a storage building called ‘God’s Barn’.”

Koon said the state legislature granted the group land and built the church’s first location on North Washington Avenue and Genesee Street. The women of the church purchased a bell in 1856 that rang several times a day as the official town clock, according to church records.

A growing population in Lansing (then Michigan, Michigan) forced the church to relocate to Capitol Avenue and Allegan Street in 1889. Koon added that automobile pioneer Ransom Eli Olds was responsible for the church’s final move. church on Ottawa Street in 1947.

The location of North Washington Avenue and Genesee Street is now the site of Lansing Community College, according to parish records. The Capitol Avenue and Allegan Avenue building was demolished for a parking structure.

After:Small south Lansing church plans ‘big things’ with $100,000 addition to help community

Koon and longtime member Russell Jenkins said the congregation had grown too large for each of the sites.

Jenkins said the Presbyterian Church faces the same problem faced by all other churches in downtown Lansing – declining membership. He said the church had 800 members in 1961 when he married his wife Sue.

Rich and Jackie Blankenship’s fondest memory in the church is their marriage on October 18, 1970. Shortly after, in 1975, they became full-time members of the church. Jackie recalled that the church had two morning services on Sundays, one at 9:30 a.m. and another at 11 a.m.

The November 13 church service was attended by about 80 people.

“It would be (the Christmas service) overwhelmed, and the same with Easter,” Rich Blankenship said long ago. “And now on Easter Eve and Christmas Eve there are maybe 150 people, or so. So it’s not as full. I call those old Sundays.”

Linda Keller works on packing supplies as part of the Lansing First Presbyterian Church Food Bank Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, at the church.  The church is celebrating its 175th anniversary.

Lansing’s First Presbyterian Church moved to its present location on August 24, 1947, and fewer members meant some community outreach.

According to records, the sanctuary and church tower were built in 1953 and an educational wing in 1955. A pipe organ from 1874 is used for church services and the music program.

Jenkins said the church built Molly Grove Chapel in 1984, named after Molly Grove Wood who grew up at the church’s three sites from 1869 to 1952. Her daughter Nancy Wood Holmes left about $4 million in the grounds for the chapel, church officials said.

After:Lansing’s downtown churches offer beautiful historic architecture

A small pantry started in the 1970s, Koon said, and it continues today. Jenkins built shelves in Molly Grove Chapel for families to personalize their items.

Some people return from pantry users and are often signed up to receive Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets. One hundred Thanksgiving baskets are distributed this month.

The church opened for the community to enjoy the property. Uses include a community garden accessible to Hair United, Resistance Bookstance and other tenants in the 500 block of Ionia Street, a robust music program and other activities.

Church leaders hope their community outreach, social justice work and beliefs in inclusivity and openness will attract more people to the church.

“I wonder in 25 years whether we will have a 200th anniversary here to celebrate,” Koon said. “But I think it’s pretty good that we lasted 175 years.”

Jenkins hoped more word of mouth would spread to increase church membership. He looks forward to welcoming others into his fold.

“Some of our most recent new members and people here are here because (Koon) maybe said something in a meeting or something, or someone was looking for a church and asked the ‘one of his neighbours.’

Support local journalism and get unlimited digital access! Subscribe for just $1 for six months!

Contact reporter Krystal Nurse at (517) 267-1344 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @KrystalRNurse.