Westminster Presbyterian Church BY Rev. George Cleaver Published about 1912 Pioneer
The history of Presbyterian religious life in our city (Big Rapids) dates from the period susequent to the Civil War. about that time the religiously inclined people united in building a house of worship to be used in common for religious services. This building occupied nearly the site of the present First Methodist Episcopal Church. This union church building served the needs of the growing number of families of Presbyterian persuasion until such time as they made an effort to secure a separate place of worship.
The first pastors were Rev. James Minor who came in 1868, to be succeeded by Rev. Theron L. Waldo two years later. About 1871, during the pastorate of of Rev. Charles A. Munn, who succeeded Rev. Waldo, the substantial church building now owned by the Baptist scoiety was erected at a cost of $10,000. For many years this was the most expensive church building in the city. The next pastor was the Rev. Hugh Lamont. Before his coming the church was reorganized and the name changed from the First to the Westminster Presbyterian Church.
The petition for the formation of the Westminster Presbyterian Church bears the date June 25, 1878. Among the signers of this petition we find the name of Peter Waite as the only surviving member now in the city. At a meeting held in the parlor of the Mason House on the evening of July fifteenth a constitution was adopted for the society. A month later the following were elected as the first set of trustees: F. Fairman, W. S. Gray, J. O. Hudnutt, Michael Brown, C. C. Fuller and W. E. Overton. A petition had been presented to the Grand Rapids Presbytery and a commission from that body organized the church August 13, 1878. John B. Upton and F. Fairman were ordained as the first elders of the new church.
Not long after the coming of the Rev. Hugh Lamont the church disposed of its building to the Baptist society. For the next three years services were held in one place and another until we find that the project of a new church building took form in the appointment of a committee to secure site for a church building, July 1881. From time to time members had been added to the rolls of the church till the report for 1882 showed that the membership had grown to 68.
From this time on the church records show various items relative to the growing project of building a new church. The committee to be entrusted with this important matter were C. C. Fuller, F. Fairman and W. S. Gray. The church was dedicated Sept. 2, 1883. the report showed an expenditure of $4,829 but this did not cover all the expenses. In the meantime Rev. E. C. Winslow was called and remained as pastor until 1885. The following year Dr. Henry Webb Johnson became the leader of the people. the arrival of Dr. Johnson ushered in a period of prosperity in the life of the church and it was keen regret that the church parted with this gifted man to accept a call to the church at South Bend, Ind. His many friends will be very sorry to learn that Dr. Johnson has passed to his reward after a life spent in great usefulness in the services of his Master.
The next two pastors did not remain long with the church. Rev. J. A. Sherrard left within a year and Rev. T. J. Gibony was taken sick almost as soon as his work began and he never rallied. In the fall of 1891 Rev. D. E. Williamson was unanimously called to the pastorate. After a stay of three years he was succeeded by Rev. R. T. Lynd who remained almost a like time with the church.
Rev. Chas. E. Blanchard was pastor for four years and left to accept a call to the church at Pontiac, from which place he recently went to fill an important place on the publishing staff of the Continent, our church paper.
During this time the church did not make a phenomenal growth but the membership steadily increased and valuable additions were made to the beauty and convenience of the church property. Decided steps in material advancement were made during the pastorate of Rev. H. D. Borley when the reception hall was added to the church, the whole rebuilt and beautified in many ways. Mr. Borley left the field with the membership increased and all debts paid.
The present pastor Rev. George Cleaver began his work Sept. 1, 1910. During the year and a little over a half since his coming the church has welcomed twenty-nine members. Soon after his arrival the matter of the need of a pipe organ was mentioned and he wrote to Andrew Carnegie in behalf of the church. After further correspondence the church was delighted by the intelligence that he woud help the church secure an instrument. The Adjutor Society with rare generosity and heroism declared its willingness to assume this burden itself and our church now enjoys the beautiful appearance and sweet tones of an instrument that is entirely adequate for all our needs and is a constant source of plasure.
Any history of the church would be incomplete that did not seek to render to the different ladies' societies their due for the success of the enterprise. From time to time the aid society during the over thirty years of its existence has come to the aid of the church nobly and contributed funds to over the amount of $3,000. The Woman's Missionary society has helped the cause of missions in the church over $500. The Adjutor Society was organized twenty-one years years ago and has been a great help to the church in bearing its financial burdens. The Young Woman's Mission Band have also done their part. The last year the aid society purchased new hardware floors for the church and new carpets so that now we have as neat and commodious a church property as is found in many cities.
The present officers of the church are as follows: Elders - Herbert Ladner, Peter Waite, JOhn Gilmour. C. P. Judson, Gerrit Masselink, Francis Bennett, R. A. Bannon and N. Earl Pinney. Trustees - A. V. Young, Harry Ladner, G. Masselink, D. Roben, George Bevier, Fred Hood, A. J. White, H. J. Ward and F. E. Hardy.
The Presbyterian church stands for vital godliness and so long as its spire shall point to heaven it shall continue to uphold the truths of the Gospel and its aim shall be the coming of the Kingdom of God into the heart of men. The church is glad at all times to welcome to its services all who are seeking the way of truth and desires to help in so far as the way shall be open to make this community such that the blessing of God can rest upon it.