For over 125 years, all the people of Trinity have been God’s Church on earth. Each of us is called to come together, to share the Gospel and to care for one another. Yes, we’re the church, together.
The people of Trinity English Evangelical Lutheran Church first came together more than a century ago. In April of 1896, the Board of Home Missions for the General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Churches in the U.S.A. sent two of its pastors, the Rev. W. L. Tedrow of Ann Arbor, and the Rev. C. J. Kiefer of Three Rivers, to see if there was enough interest to start an English-speaking Lutheran congregation in Grand Rapids. There had been Lutheran congregations in Grand Rapids since 1856, but they worshiped in German, Swedish and Norwegian. The 62 charter members of Trinity came from a variety of backgrounds but shared a desire to worship and study the Bible in English.
The people of Trinity conducted their first worship services on May 17, 1896, at the old Grand Rapids YMCA. In July they called Rev. Kiefer to serve as their minister. On December 9, 1896, Trinity was organized as a congregation of the General Synod, the oldest body of Lutherans in the United States.
For its first two years, the fledgling congregation existed without a home of its own. Worship services, baptisms and confirmation classes were conducted in the lecture hall of the Reformed Jewish Temple Emanuel. On November 22, 1898, Trinity’s members dedicated what eventually came to be called “the church on the hill,” a Gothic Revival brick structure at the corner of Crescent and Bostwick Streets downtown. It was remodeled in 1917, and a chapel was added in 1951. This downtown address served as Trinity’s home for 63 years.
Trinity’s membership grew steadily during its first few decades, under Rev. J. William Ott (1900 -1907), and Rev. Henry H. Roehner (1907 – 1920). During this time, almost 100 adults were received into membership, and just under 300 children were baptized into faith. This growth necessitated the remodeling of the sanctuary and the addition of an education building in 1917. The congregation published its first official membership directory in 1906, listing 76 households. Most families had addresses in the northeast portion of Heritage Hill, but substantial numbers lived on the West Side, and a few came from as far away as Sparta and Coopersville.
During this same period, many of the groups which still appear in the current directory began, including a Church Council, Sunday School, Ushers and Choir. Other early groups included a Men’s Literary Club, The Brotherhood, The Ladies Aid, The Missionary Society, King’s Daughters, Willing Workers, Luther Bible Class, the “Trinity Ten,” a championship men’s basketball team, and a youth organization called “Christian Endeavor.” Members often socialized at lakeside picnics and held 35 cent chicken dinners!
In 1918, Trinity became a member of the United Lutheran Church in America, when the General Synod merged with two other Lutheran bodies. With the merger came a new hymnal and liturgy. It became the job of Rev. David R. Huber (1920 – 1926) to accustom the congregation to the more traditional Lutheran liturgical practices which they contained. Trinity’s synodical affiliation changed two more times in the twentieth century: in 1963, when the United Synod merged with three bodies to form the Lutheran Church in America and in the 1987 merger which created our current Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. With each new body came a new hymnal, a new worship liturgy, and great opportunities for unity with our brothers and sisters in faith.
Lutherans have always been known as “the singing church.” And with the incredible longevity of one man, Gerry H. Boer (organist 1913 – 1965, choir director 1938 – 1965, and business manager 1965 – 1975), Trinity’s choral program eventually grew to include five choirs with more than 140 voices. Much of Boer’s tenure coincided with that of Rev. Ralph J. White (1926 – 1954) who served Trinity for 28 years. Together, they broadcast regular programs on the radio, inviting all of Grand Rapids to worship at Trinity.
Trinity’s members extended their hands beyond their community in 1950, to help resettle people displaced by the communist takeover of Latvia. Eventually, several hundred Latvians, most of whom were already Lutheran, were helped to resettle in Grand Rapids. They held their own services regularly in Latvian, and in 1953 started United Latvian Lutheran, a daughter congregation of Trinity. Trinity continued to extend its hand to all God’s people in need, resettling families from Viet Nam and Eritrea in the 1980’s, Bosnia in the 1990’s, and opening its facility to Grand Rapids’ Chinese Christians beginning in 1993. In recent years Trinity has continued to welcome refugees from Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo through the New Americans program of Samaritas, the successor to Lutheran Social Service of Michigan.
Under the guidance of Rev. Richard W. Alber (1954 – 1964) the congregation relocated from its land-locked downtown site to its current suburban campus on the east side of Grand Rapids. The modern structure by Harold E. Wagoner of Philadelphia was designed to reflect in its architecture the congregation’s relationship to God. Members cleared brush on the site in preparation for the groundbreaking in 1959, and joyously dedicated the building in 1961.
Several ministers have served Trinity at its new site, including Rev. Raymond A. Heine (1963 – 1980), Rev. James G. Cobb (1980 – 1988), Rev. Marvin Schumacher (1989 – 1994), Rev. Paul Krupinski (1995 – 2011), Rev. Sarah Stobie (2010-2015). and the current ministry team of Rev. Robert Linstrom, Senior Pastor, Rev. Dan Schewe, Associate Pastor and Rev, Karen Niemeyer, Assisting Pastor.
In recent decades, the members of Trinity reached out to help others in their own community through such organizations as Baxter Community Center, Luther Home – Luther Village, GRACE Hunger Walk, Habitat for Humanity, Amazing Grace Church, and God’s Kitchen. For more than 20 years Trinity has been a lead host for homeless families through the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Family Promise and provides multiple volunteer teams to serve meals at Dégagé in downtown Grand Rapids. Trinity again began to broadcast its worship services, this time by community access television.
In preparation for the congregation’s Centennial, members decided to finish the plan for Trinity’s physical plan, by completing an education wing. The “Centennial Vision for Mission” campaign resulted in the 1992 dedication of more Sunday School classrooms, Centennial Hall, gifts of benevolence, and replacement of the ailing Pels pipe organ with the new Letourneau Opus 26.
Another new initiative to care for its facilities began in the summer of 2013 with replacement of the parking lot and plans for remediation of the Cross Tower. Over the course of the next five years that remediation was completed, asbestos abatement and renovation of much of the existing building and of Centennial Hall for “Rejoice” contemporary worship was completed, new roofing and HVAC systems were upgraded and the construction of the new Courtyard Fellowship space and new West entry were completed to prepare our ministry center for its next chapter in mission and ministry.
As members of Trinity celebrate the blessing of nearly 125 years in ministry, we not only look to the past with nostalgia, but to the future with anticipation. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the future of this congregation is still ours to write. “Yes, we’re the Church, together!”
adapted from the Centennial history compiled by Christian G. Carron