The Rapidian

Aging well: Westminster Presbyterian Church celebrates 150th birthday

Westminister Presbyterian Church celebrates its 150th year with events for the community and congregation and commits to continue fighting injustice.
Westminster Presbyterian Church at 47 Jefferson Avenue SE celebrates its 150th birthday

Westminster Presbyterian Church at 47 Jefferson Avenue SE celebrates its 150th birthday /Carol Lautenbach

Underwriting support from:

World-renowned composer Stephen Paulus will attend performance of commissioned anthem

The Sanctuary Choir sings "Christmas Bringeth Jesus" by composer Stephen Paulus.

Date: Dec. 11, 2011

Meet & Greet: 10:00 am

Time: 10:55 am & 7:00 pm

Place: Westminster Presbyterian Church, 47 Jefferson Ave. SE

 

Choir members of all ages participated in Celebration Sunday on October 16

Choir members of all ages participated in Celebration Sunday on October 16 /Carol Lautenbach

Lee Copenhaver composed and conducted "Celebration and Devotion," a commemorative anthem

Lee Copenhaver composed and conducted "Celebration and Devotion," a commemorative anthem /Carol Lautenbach

Reports of its birth vary: Either Westminster Presbyterian Church began with 10 members--or with 25; with a minister who was paid $500--or $1000; as a group that became Presbyterian because of views that were broader than the others in the congregation--or as a band that “left in an unseemly manner." A 2002 history of the church written by William Bennett chronicles these varied perspectives on the church's origin. What isn’t disputed is that the church began in 1861, making 2011 its sesquicentennial year.

Birthdays are worthy of celebration, and this one was no exception. 2011 was a year full of events, including these that benefited both church and community:

These anniversary events point to one of the ways that Westminster is distinctive; the church does not divide the world into sacred and secular but instead lives out an inclusive vision summarized by a greeting often used to welcome visitors to its worship services: "All are welcome here. We don't presume you to be Christian. We desire only to act as Christians to you."

Westminster was planted when Abraham Lincoln was President, and its roots have produced branches that are as informed and involved as its first minister, Reverend Courtney Smith. He was an abolitionist who prepared sermons using a dual-text Bible, an indicator both of his intellectual bent and of his understanding of the value of interpretation of Scripture for today’s--his day's--circumstances.

In keeping with these roots, October’s events included a sermon by Reverend Chandler Stokes highlighting the devotion and mission of those past and present: "Our founders trusted God’s promises in the deep waters of injustice, [and our] hope is grounded solely in God’s faithfulness.”

That faithfulness inspired and informed the ambitious anthem written and directed for the occasion by Lee Copenhaver and sung by the six choirs of the church in October's Celebration Sunday. Lyrics for adult, youth, and children's choirs were created using the church's "Devoted, Dynamic, and Downtown" statement of faith and statements that young members had written during the anniversary year. Entitled “Celebration and Devotion,” the choral pieces were accompanied by an orchestra. Many musicians in the orchestra also are part of the Westminster congregation.

A luncheon and commemorative program for over 225 guests capped Celebration Sunday events, a fitting way to celebrate a birthday and round out a year of remembering a hopeful history and anticipating a hope-filled future committed to being in and of the city. Reverend Stokes reminded the congregation that the branches of Westminster roots are yet to be known: "Injustice is still with us. Let not our hope be too small.”

Details about the few who gave birth to the congregation 150 years ago may conflict, but it is likely that those who were there in 1861 would rejoice in the way their roots have grown and flourished in downtown Grand Rapids.

Disclosure: The writer is a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church.

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