CENTRAL CHRISTIAN CHURCH #62
In February of 1874, Dr. and Mrs. Isaiah Whitfield of Ionia Avenue in Grand Rapids opened the doors of their home to hold the first meeting of the group that was to become Central Christian Church (Disciple of Christ) of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The following July (1874) the Church was organized with seventeen charter members. Among the charter members of this infant church were members of the Stow Family who had originally come from Stow Corners in Ohio. The widowed Edytha Stow with her sons, daughters and their spouses had moved to Grand Rapids to help found the Grand Rapids Church of Christ. Some of the Stow descendants are still members of this church (1983).
The charter members secured the services of Dr. A. E. Pearre as their first pastor. In the year of Brother Pearre’s leadership, the church outgrew the Whitfield home, making it necessary to rent the Swedenborgian Church building located on the northwest corner of Division and Lyon Street. Also during the first year, Mrs. Pearre contributed to the church growth by her involvement in organizing the Christian Women's Board of Missions. Dr. Pearre was succeeded by Brother T. D. Butler, who served the new church until 1878. In 1878, Brother J. S. Hughes, Dr. A. M. Collins, and Brother Watkins led the congregation in worship. Then Brother J. H. Hammond came to fulfill four years of successful growth.
The membership had reached 160 at the time of Brother Hammond's resignation. From December 1884 to 1898, the church flourished under the zealous ministry of Brother W. F. Richardson. In fact, the congregation grew to nearly 500. In 1887, the congregation built a new church home of its own at Lyon and Barclay Streets. This wood frame building with a seating capacity of 550 was the answer to many prayers. Pastor E. B. Widger followed Rev. Richardson, staying two years. Rev. F. P. Arthur next served as minister from 1900 to 1905. During Mr. Arthur's pastorate, the Franklin Street Church was organized. In 1918 the congregation had outgrown the church on Lyon Street.
The members then voted to purchase land on the corner of Madison and Cherry Streets and to erect a new building. On April 9, 1922, the Central Church of Christ dedicated its new church home. Rev. Clarence A. Brady called to Central's pastorate in 1920 was the first minister of the new, large brick building. Two years after the dedication, the church celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding. Mrs. Isaiah Whitfield, 88 years old, and the only survivor of the seventeen charter members, was present. During the ministry of Dr. George Walker Buckner, Jr., the church purchased the parsonage at the corner of Alexander and Benjamin Streets.
Also during this time the Christian Women's Fellowship was established. Because this was the time of the Depression, keeping the church together called for many sacrifices from both the pastor and the membership. In 1929, Mr. & Mrs. Harry Leonard presented the church with the communion table and chairs that Centralites still use. The same year, Mr. & Mrs. George Hardy gave the church a new organ in honor of the Whitfields. Mrs. Whitfield was 93 at the time of the gift. After Dr. Buckner left to become editor of the "World Call", the national church magazine, Rev. Hugh B. Kilgour and wife, Louise, came to serve CCC. One of the highlights of Rev. Kilgour's pastorate was the liquidation of the original mortgage on the Madison Ave. church. During the ministry of Rev. H. C. Fellers, a new educational wing and remodeled sanctuary were accomplished. The prayer phone ministry was begun during Rev. Don J. VerDuin's pastorate. Under Rev. Eric White's leadership, the church remodeled the basement, equipped the new kitchen and reorganized the children's department; purchased the Pels organ and secured the church's first full-time associate minister, Rev. Wm. C. Hughes. It was during the pastorate of Rev. J. T. Moore, that the congregation decided to build a new church building on the ten acres at the intersection of East Leonard and I-96. In August, 1974, the church sold the Madison Avenue building to Bethel Pentecostal Church and the Central Christian members held their last service on Madison Avenue on September 29, 1974. Centralites then worshipped for thirteen months at Beckwith School.
Finally on November 3, 1975, Central's members attended for the first time their new home at 2525 E. Leonard Street. At the present(1983), Central Christian Church now number 245 participating members as it celebrates its 109th anniversary.