A history of Our Church 1841-2001 History of the Congregation and Church Buildings

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A History of Our Church 1841-2001

History of the Congregation and Church Buildings

Both the Congregationalists and Methodists used a log schoolhouse built in 1832, which stood on our present church property.  Alternating use of the building, one group met in the forenoon, the other in the afternoon.

Marshall’s first church building was built on the corner of Eagle and Green Streets. The 26 x 40 foot building costs $1200.  The dedication service for this Congregational Church was held August 6, 1837.  It was followed by the consecration of Trinity Episcopal Church next door on Green Street on September 3 that same year.

The architecture of our present church is very difficult to identify.  One record indicated the Church as Romanesque Revival.  It could be of the Neoclassical Period with spin-offs toward the early Victorian (1840-1870) period.

The Presbyterian Church organized June 26, 1841 at the Marshall Academy.  Thirty-six of the 38 members were from the Congregational Church of Marshall.  The Rev. John P. Cleveland was the first pastor.  For a while we found a home in the courthouse, located at that time in the Fountain Circle.  In 1843 Elder Jabez Sill Fitch built a brick church on State Street (now called Michigan Avenue) where Hemmingsen’s Drug store now stands.  The cornerstone was laid May 10, 1843.  There are several accounts of the construction. All of them state that Jabez Fitch helped build the church.  During construction a wall fell, causing an injury that resulted in his death.  The Rev. Samuel H. Hall was the pastor.

During the time of The Rev. F.F. Ford, it became obvious that a larger house was needed for the church family and so, by July 7, 1872 the cornerstone was laid for our present home at the corner of Mansion and Eagle.  The basement was opened on June 18, 1873 for a strawberry and ice cream festival and the first service followed the next evening.  The formal dedication service was held November 9, 1873.  The cost of this building was approximately $45,000.  This was a great sum of money for that time.  The Rev. Francis M. Wood was pastor.

How the design came to be is, in itself, a very interesting story.  A committee, made up of Chas. Jager, A. Lockwood, L. Downs, E.F. Henderson, G.T. Phelps, and C.B. Webster, was selected to review other churches and select designs and plans.  Only two towns were visited:  LaPorte, Indiana and Coldwater, Michigan.  The LaPorte, Indiana church was selected.  In looking at our church and pictures of the LaPorte Church, it appears that complete drawings were obtained and that very little modification, if any, was made.

The bell that rings in our tower today originally hung in the first church on State Street.  This bell of 1600 pounds was shipped to Marshall by rail and was first rung in 1848.

In 1903, a great windstorm so severely damaged the steeple that it was necessary to remove it.  In 1978 the Education Wing was built.  The aluminum roof on the church was installed in 1988 after severe leakage by the old roof had damaged the sanctuary.

At the Annual Meeting of 1945, it was determined by vote of the congregation, that we would tear down and replace the present church with a new building.  However, by the Annual Meeting of 1950, it was determined that this effort should be abandoned because of insufficient funds.  At this time a remodeling plan was begun.

  • All of the stained glass windows were replaced in 1945.

  • The ground floor “lecture room” (the present office complex) was extensively remodeled in 1956.

  • The Sanctuary was remodeled in 1958 and the pipe organ was replaced at the cost of $65,000.  The Rev. Douglas G. Trout was pastor.

  • In 1978 a new unit was added with church schoolrooms, assembly hall, and kitchen.  Remodeling of the ground floor included preschool rooms, offices, lounge, board room and restrooms.  Construction costs were $311,700.  The Rev. John W. Marvin was pastor.

  • James Lauck of Otsego, Michigan built the new pipe organ in 1991 using twenty-five percent of the old pipes.  Openings were cut into the sanctuary walls for the organ chambers.  Ken Reddick, was Chairman of Pipe Organ Committee and The Rev. James Uhley was pastor.

  • In 1992, under Pastor James Uhley, the church opened the Presbyterian Center for Children (PCFC) to offer nurturing care for children from infants through the fifth grade with developmentally-appropriate curriculum and other activities in a loving, Christian environment.  It has grown from an idea to our present enrollment of 82 full time children.

The Chancel Modifications

In the nearly one hundred twenty-eight years of existence our present church has had four very different chancel configurations.  The original chancel was very stark with the pulpit in the center and a small pipe organ behind it.

The first modification to the Chancel was completed with a dedication of the new organ on June 1, 1902.  This modification included massive use of wood, with beautiful millwork, and the brass rails and pulpit which were given to the church in memory of Mr. & Mrs. Charles Gorham by their children.  The Gorham pulpit now sits in the rear of the sanctuary and holds the memorial book.

The second modification was accomplished during the time that The Rev. Douglas G. Trout served as our minister from 1957-1962.  This modification was by far the most dramatic.  The pulpit was moved to the left and the lectern to the right as you face the chancel.  The massive paneling was removed and a newly rebuilt organ installed with pipes located to either side of the chancel in louvered sound chambers (lofts).  The organ was originally in the Albion College Chapel.

The new communion table, made of white Vermont Marble, was placed in the center in front of the red dossal cloth.  The choir pews were moved to both sides, facing the center.

A great deal of thought went into this modification, especially in the mill work of the pulpit, the lectern, the reredos (ray-re-dose), and the wooden frame and panels surrounding the dossal cloth.  On the front of the pulpit is a carving of an open Bible.  On the lectern are the Greek letters Alpha and Omega. The reredos panels and frame contain seven symbols of the church, three represent the Holy Trinity and four, the Gospel writers.  Other carvings include the “Hand of God,” “The Lamb of God”, and the “Descending Dove”.

In addition, the gospel writers are represented by carvings of a winged man, a winged lion, a winged calf, and an eagle.

The third and most recent Chancel renovation was begun in the fall of 1989.  The organ was removed and rebuilt.  The choir pews were moved back to the center, facing the congregation.  A Communion table given in memory of Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Cunningham by their seven children in 1942 was put back into service. The stationary marble table was dismantled and removed.  The entire sanctuary was re-carpeted (with the exception of the floors under the pews), repainted and new covers were made for the pew cushions.  The original pews and wainscoting were retained.  The rebuilt organ was returned and set on a platform with rollers for mobility.  The console was reworked and the blower retained.  Originally a 1929 Moller, it was renamed an Opus 27 with a total of 1,722 pipes.  The majority of the pipes are new and the console has all new electronic circuits.  Four by eight foot openings were cut through four courses of brick (16 inches) on each side to let the sound flow out into the church. The “new” organ was dedicated in the regular worship service December 16, 1990.

The Carvings

The Sanctuary contains many decorative wood carvings.  Some are purely decorative but several have Biblical significance.

Behind the parament on the pulpit is a carving of an open Bible.  This symbolizes the written Word of God, and its placement on the pulpit signifies the importance of teaching the Word to the world.

On the front of the lectern are the Greek letters for Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters Greek alphabet which symbolize the “beginning and the end”.

The rear wall, called the “reredos”, contains symbols representing the Trinity and the four Gospel writers.  The Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) is represented by “The “Hand of God” above the west door, The “Lamb of God” over the east door, and a “Descending Dove” in the center.  The gospel writers are represented by the carvings of a winged man for Matthew, a winged lion for Mark, a winged calf for Luke, and an eagle for John.  These symbols signify the humanity, royalty, sacrifice, and divinity of Christ as depicted by each writer.

At the front of the chancel is the Communion table.  Carved on the front apron of the table are the words “In remembrance of Me”.  Atop the table is a brass cross on which is embossed “ihs”.  These are the first three letters of the Greek spelling of “Jesus.”

Stained Glass Windows

The largest stained glass window in the First Presbyterian Church is located above the balcony.  It contains a descending dove which represents the Holy Spirit, and a cross inlaid with lilies.  This reminds us of the death and resurrection of Christ.  The lilies symbolize life springing forth from a seemingly dead mass, as the flower bursts forth from the bulb.

The ten remaining stained glass windows in the Sanctuary are all identical except for the images in the round medallions at the top of each window.  Facing the chancel, beginning on the west (left) side of the Sanctuary and starting front to back, the medallion in the first window contains a cross encircled by a crown.  This symbolizes the promise of life after Christ’s death on the cross.

In the medallion of the second window is a torch with the words “The Lord is my light.”  The torch is symbolic of our witnessing for Christ and carrying His love and light into the world.

The chalice with grapes and vines in the third window’s medallion remind us of the Lord’s Supper and the New Covenant with God, bound through the blood of Christ.  The vines refer to John 15:5 where Jesus says, “I am the vine, and you are the branches.  Those who abide in me shall bear much fruit…”

The fourth window bears a Noah’s Ark and a dove.  These are symbolic of the covenant of God in the Old Testament following the flood, and of peace and the promise of new life.

A sheaf of wheat appears in the last window medallion on the west side of the Sanctuary, symbolizing the Bread of Life, and God’s promise to fulfill our daily needs.

The first window medallion in the front on the east side (right) of the Sanctuary contains a cross on a rock surrounded by a stormy sea.  This symbolizes that Christ is our Rock through life’s struggles and storms.

A bunch of grapes is the image in the second medallion.  They remind us of the single bunch of grapes cut from the vine in Canaan, when God gave that land to the people of Israel.  This represents one of God’s promises fulfilled.

A castle on a rock in the sea appears in the fourth window medallion.  An inscription above the castle reads, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”.  This is a quote from a favorite hymn by Martin Luther.  Psalm 18:2 says, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress…”

The rear-most window on the east side contains a bouquet of flowers.  These could be lilies, representing the Easter resurrection, and new life coming from a dead mass (a bulb).

Our windows have been documented and are on the historic registry of stained glass windows at Michigan State University.

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