Immanuel Reformed began as Hope Mission in 1906 under the sponsorship of Third Reformed and Bethany Reformed (itself a daughter of Third) and was organized in 1907 with 36 communicant members and 34 baptized members. Property was purchased at Eastern Avenue and Thomas Street, where the church remained until 1984.
The fledgling congregation purchased an existing church building, which had to be dismantled and moved. Used pews with cushions were purchased in Detroit. The building was dedicated on January 8, 1908.
By 1913, the congregation was already looking to enlarge its facilities, and the vote to do so passed in 1915. The old building was moved to the back of the property and the new building constructed where the old one had been. This was dedicated on April 16 and 17, 1916.
The congregation continued to grow, and in 1932 the church added a balcony to increase seating, and in 1942 the congregation helped launch Hope Reformed, with 51 members joining the new church. Immanuel began broadcasting Sunday worship services on WLAV radio in 1943.
In 1945, the church voted to build a Memorial Building to honor those serving in the military. This space included a chapel, gym, consistory room, Ladies Aid room, and balcony area and seems to have been finished in 1948.
In 1951 Classis Grand Rapids South asked Immanuel to "mother" Everglade Reformed, which was organized that year. Church records indicate that 20 to 30 members transferred to Everglade. Immanuel's membership peaked at over 1,100 members in the late 1950s.
By 1960, the congregation was again discussing expanding its facilities - and again in 1964. The "last addition" to the building was completed in 1965 and provided much needed classroom space. The congregation's centennial booklet notes, "The early 70s brought an exodus to the suburbs, and Immanuel's membership dwindled."
In April 1977, the congregation was fortunate to purchase 28 acres of land at the northeast corner of the East Beltline and Lake Drive for $45,000. This was a big step of faith for a declining church. In 1980, the congregation voted to build on the new property, and the mortgage on the old building was burned on January 3, 1982.
In 1982, the congregation issues a call to Dr. Robert Charnin, who was then serving the Homewood (IL) Reformed Church. He declined, but ten years later the church would call him again.
The stained glass windows from the old chapel were moved to the under construction sanctuary in early 1984, as was the organ. On June 24, 1984, worship was begun in the old building and concluded in the new one. One highlight for the congregation was having members of the church run the pulpit Bible to the new church in a relay.
Already in 1986 the congregation was looking at the possibility of two morning worship services, which began that November, and the church realized it needed more classroom space in 1989.
The congregation entered a difficult time in 1992. With Rev. Miedema retiring, the church called Dr. Charnin, who was installed on March 17, 1992. The church's centennial booklet is refreshingly honest in covering this painful time (my family was part of Immanuel during the Charnin years):
"A group of members dissatisfied with the congregational meeting and the choice of Dr. Charnin and/or dissatified with his ministry, especially his emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit, made a complaint to the classis. Several meeting were held between leaders of the dissatisfied group, leaders of Immanuel and members of the Church and Pastoral Relations Committee of the classis. Classis concluded that no violation of the Book of Church Order occurred and that no formal charges or trials were justified. Classis did appoint two consultants to conduct a study of Immanuel's situation in an effor to bring about reconciliation. Unfortunately, the effort was not very effective and many members chose to leave. This was a very sad time in the history of Immanuel Reformed Church."
During this period, the congregation cut back to a single Sunday morning worship service.
In 1995, the congregation paid off its mortgage and had another mortgage burning ceremony. In 1998, the church adopted casting lots for selecting elders and deacons. It also skirted the issue of "women in authority" by creating a new class of "care elders" that would minister but not be involved in consistorial decisions. All four care elders were women.
Dr. Charnin resigned in 2002 after a fruitful, challenging, and difficult decade for him and the congregation. Due to membership declines, one idea that was floated was uniting with Fifth Reformed, which was (and remains) landlocked. When Fifth officially proposed this, the consistory tabled it in 2003.
Richard Bates served as interim pastor in 2002-03 and helped Immanuel Church study its history and determine what steps were necessary to move forward. Rev. Brian Smilde became senior pastor in 2004, and the chuch used the 40 Days of Purpose program that year (as did many other churches around the US and Canada).
- Hope Mission
- 654 Eastern Ave. SE at Thomas, 1908-84
- 1300 East Beltline SE (north of Lake Drive), 1984-present
- Ralph Bloemendal, 1907-12
- Siert F. Riepma, 1911-14
- Isaac Van Westenberg, 1914-18
- Jacob G. Brouwer, 1920-30
- Edward H. Tanis, 1930-73
- Jacob Prins, 1938-45, evangelism, 1945-59
- Gary De Witt, 1945-52
- Theodore R. Oegema, 1952-58
- Donald J. Brandt, youth, 1958-61
- Jerome B. De Jong, 1958-71
- Lloyd A. Arnoldink, 1971-75
- James H. Baar, associate, 1972-81
- Wayne M. Hall, 1977-81
- William J. Miedema, 1983-91
- Thomas F. Schwanda, care, 1987-
- Dr. Robert Charnin, 1992-2002
- Richard Bates (interim), 2002-03
- Brian N. Smilde, 2004 to present
- Hope Reformed, 1942
Heavy lines: green (lower) shows membership in families; blue (middle), professing members; red (top), total members. Thin lines: magenta (middle), non-professing members; orange (lower), inactive members; black (top), average worship attendance.
Red line (middle) shows nonprofessing members as a percentage of total membership (inactive members exluded); green (lower), inactive members as percentage of total membership; and blue (higher) average worship attendance of total membership.
Five Year Growth RateEdit
Red line shows five year growth rate. A five year growth rate between 10% and -10% is considered stable; greater than 10% indicates a growing congregation; one below -10% indicates a church in decline. This makes no allowance for daughter churches.
Data source: Acts of Synod of the Reformed Church in America. Dates are year prior to publication date since data is gathered at the end of one year and published in the next.