June 30 2010 12:00 AM

An old Old Town church is reborn with a new congregation


You could say it all started in 1863. That’s when Lansing Methodist leader James Turner sold a piece of land to 14 Presbyterians with the condition that they sort of act as missionaries in north Lansing and spread “gospel preaching.”

Now, 147 years later, Lansing’s North Presbyterian Church, seated on the corner of Grand River and Washington Avenues in Old Town, is ground zero for an ecumenical saga plotted on a theme of multiculturalism and diversity. And it’s mostly thanks to a 37-year-old former railroad worker and a 41-year-old Korean-American former commercial art professor at the Pratt Institute.

The church built all those years ago thrived, even necessitating a new building in 1916 — the one that still stands today. But recently, the congregation had shrunk to just 70, said member Shirley Doyle.

Doyle’s parents lived on Massachusetts Street. She attended Presbyterian as a child and married there, twice. Her gay brother had a marriage ceremony there, too.

“The people were loving, caring and supportive,” she said. But the church wasn’t able to attract new, younger members.

“We knew our music was for older people, and we tried making one service more modern,” she said, her voice trailing off.

they began talking with members of Westminster Presbyterian Church at
Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and West Oakland Avenue, and
ultimately decided to put the two congregations together.

hired Woong-Sik Chon, or Timothy, to serve over a cooperative parish.
Ten months later, on Pentecostal Sunday, May 23, Doyle attended her
last service at North Presbyterian.

“I kept reminding myself it was just a building, but it was a real tear-jerker,” she said.

took the 5-foot-high wooden cross down from the old altar and carried
to its new home while others followed in cars. The service continued at
the newly dubbed North Westminster Church.

It was the only move that made sense, Chon said.
There were five Presbyterian churches within a two-mile radius in
Lansing. The maintenance costs on the old buildings were high, and they
were using up their reserves.

many inner city congregations are struggling. Their members are getting
older and their buildings are not handicap accessible. But most
churches choose to die because they won’t give up their identity,” Chon

Presbyterian was only on the market a month before it was sold to The
Epicenter of Worship Church for $375,000. About $100,000 will go toward
improvements — including handicap accessibility — at Westminster.

“Unless the west side takes ownership, there is no future for this church,” he said.

House Ministries, begun 22 years ago to serve the poor and homeless, is
located inside North Westminster Church and has pledged $100,000 toward

back to the old North Presbyterian’s roots, the new church occupying
the building is already a missionary church, and it’s only 5 years old.

Sean Holland was working for CSX in Saginaw, helping out with Bible
study at his church there when a Michigan State University student
asked him to start a group in East Lansing. A handful of people started
meeting in a classroom, then expanded to a ballroom in the Student
Union, and grew into a spot in the Kellogg Center. Then, they leased
space in Christ Community Church at Capitol Avenue and Ionia Street.

time we moved, we gained people,” said Tayana Holland, Sean’s wife. She
estimates their congregation is about 300, averaging in age from 25 to
30 years old.

also has ministries. There are Bible study classes Wednesday evenings
at the church, and group meetings at Lansing Community College, Cooley
Law School and MSU. There’s also the Vision Community Development
Corp., a nonprofit formed to work with disadvantaged youth. It offers
tutoring, mentoring, summer camp and after school programs.

“That’s what Jesus was all about. You go out and reach others. Transformation begins outside of your community,” Holland said.

programs started at North Presbyterian will continue: On Saturday and
Sunday afternoons, refugees from Burundi have services. Alcoholics
Anonymous and Al Anon meet there, too. Resurrection Life Church East
has services at 10 a.m. every Sunday, and “Women of Change” meet there.

Greater Lansing Food Bank had gatherings, and Epicenter wants to
continue those with a twist. They want to offer fresh produce and baked
goods. There was also an afterschool tutoring program they are looking
at continuing in the fall.

Epicenter of Worship Church-North dedicated its building June 27. A
visiting pastor said he saw there an aspect of the kingdom of God, not
just one race, or one language, but all people together in that
service, Holland said.