ORGANIZATION At a special meeting on Sabbath afternoon, October 24, 1914, 42 members of the Emmanuel Missionary College Church stated their desire to organize a new church in the Village of Berrien Springs. Because of the crowded conditions at the College Church, the greater convenience of those living in the Village, and with support of the West Michigan Conference, they organized as the Berrien Springs Village Seventh-day Adventist Church.
CHURCH IN THE COURTHOUSE In retrospect, their decision was a natural development, and wise in coming. For years all the Adventists in the area had met for worship services in the Old Courthouse, the facility the College had been using for administrative offices while the first college buildings were being constructed on acreage north of town. Earlier in 1914, the EMC administration had moved into the new facilities and church services had transferred to a hall on campus. The logical step for those who were accustomed to a church in town was to form a new congregation that would continue a presence in the neighborhood.
FIRST CONVERT Only in eternity will we know what potential God knew existed in the little village of Berrien Springs. Theodosia Boone and her daughter, Virginia, were surprised by singing coming from the Garland Town Hall one cold, January night in 1915. Cold and curious, they stepped into the warmth of a series of meetings being held by the new group, with Elder Lamson from EMC as the preacher. Soon after, quarrelsome old uncle Mahlon (Bonnell), Theodosia’s uncle was baptized—the first Berrien Springs resident to join the little group that continued meeting in the Town Hall each Sabbath. Theodosia and Virginia would later join him.
CHURCH SCHOOL In another leap of faith that same year, the new church group began an eight-grade school for their children in a small building at the corner of Ferry and Cass St. Later it was moved to an old hotel building standing on the corner where Marcus McLauchlin’s home was later built. Even though pledges and tuition payments were not always forthcoming, they continued their commitment to providing their children a Christian education.
DORCAS SOCIETY Early on, a Dorcas Society was formed. The ladies met in the homes of the members until 1950 when they acquired their own small building on W. Madison Street. This was used until after the uniting of the Pioneer Memorial Society with the Village Society in 1957. They purchased a building on the corner of N. Main and East Mars in 1959. The present building on St. Joseph Ave. was built in 1970. With the growth of that ministry, two additions have been added and still more space is needed.
COURTHOUSE ACQUISITION Not until 1917 did they return to the Courthouse and lease it for 5 years during which time they continued to hope that a church facility could be built. Being practical folk they realized they were not financially ready to build, so in 1922 they purchased the Courthouse for $2,500. It provided the essentials for church life, including classroom space in the basement for their school. It became home for the Village Church for 44 years.
A FORWARD MISSION With the membership swelling to 220, the Buchanan Branch Sabbath School supporters were talking about building a church of their own. In 1938 the church celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Courthouse building, drawing guest speakers and community attention. They had a lot going for them—industry, energy, doing good, being good. They showed courage in the hardest times to launch ambitious projects when the era barely provided a living for the average person, given he even had a job.
By the 1940’s, the Village church was entering a 30-year window of national crises and unprecedented inventions that convoluted mighty changes. Wars shook the members, but they had survived the depression and TV was shown at the World’s Fair. Electricity, the telephone, automobiles and airplanes all spurred us into a whole new way of life.
Opera seats were purchased for the Courthouse church and the board voted to buy potted plants for folks laid up in the hospital. Servicemen were sent away with khaki packets containing the New Testament and Steps to Christ. But while the sons of the church fought on two fronts, the church fought a war of its own with a leaky roof, a balky furnace, rising costs, resigning officers and disruptive children. The first printed church bulletins were given to the congregation.
NEW CHURCH SCHOOL BUILDING By the 1950s, having only a one room church school presented many problems, so in 1951 ground was broken for a new school with 4 classrooms, a gymnasium/auditorium and small kitchen located on Mars street. Much of the school building process involved donated labor of members. By the fall of 1955, two classrooms, bathrooms plus the shell of the gym were complete enough to hold school for grades 1-6 in the new facility. Grades 7 and 8 attended church school on the college campus. It was the late fifties before all four of the classrooms and gymnasium was completed.
The first addition constructed in 1968, included the principal’s office area, toilet rooms, mechanical room and two classrooms. In 1973, the second addition included an expanded kitchen, storage rooms and 4 classrooms at the east end of the building. At that time it became an 8 grade school facility.
In 1989 a new gabled roof structure was constructed above the entire facility. The most recent addition was the music room with adjacent storage, office, practice rooms and mechanical room, built in 1994. The building has approximately 22,800 square feet of enclosed space. The enrollment is currently 168 students.
NEW CHURCH BUILDING In the early 1960s the impetus came for the building of a new church home. With the donation of five acres from a nearby cherry orchard, financial support from members and the encouragement and accompanying appropriations from the General Conference, Lake Union and Michigan conferences, the way was finally open to build the new church with basement classrooms. Ground breaking for the new church was held on April 14, 1964.
On May 21, 1966, many of the 471 members marched from the old Courthouse to worship for the first time in the new sanctuary. It was a memorable day. Elder Eldine Dunbar, who was one of the first young people baptized as a member of the Village Church in 1914, returned as an officer of the General Conference to represent the impact of a few hardy, independent souls on the worldwide work of God’s church. The construction cost was approximately $400,000. Seating capacity of the new of the new church building was 1,050. The question was, how soon would that capacity be used? The answer was not long in coming as the membership increased each year to a record 1,256 members by 1980. The church became debt free in 1972.
RIESS CHAPEL The new church building was not the end of building and growing. In 1982 following through with the original plan, a chapel addition was completed and dedicated to thememory of Anna Riess. This small chapel was ideal for times when meetings were smaller and is used for Youth meetings, music programs, choir rehearsal, weddings and, funerals.
CHURCH BUILDING EXPANSION AND IMPROVEMENTS The decade of the 90s was a time of raising money and completing the first phase of a Church Master Building Plan. This phase included a new exterior front, roofline, sanctuary windows, electrical system, fire alarms, Sabbath School class renovations, heating and air conditioning upgrades and a new organ and sound system. The building of the connecting corridor, provided expanded foyer space, an elevator, stairs to the lower level, two offices, cloak rooms and space below for the expanded heating and AC for the anticipated Family Center to be built. Total cost of this phase completed in 1999 was $1,554,000.
FAMILY CENTER ADDITION The second phase of the Master Building Plan was completed in a very short time of 14 months by December 2001. This was possible because of a decision to borrow approximately 78% of the total construction cost of $1,676,000. This two floor 15,700-square-foot addition provided room for a large fellowship hall and kitchen, Sabbath School classrooms, a large room for youth, added office space, new restroom facilities and a small meeting room. This facility provides needed space for the variety of ministries that take place each week.
MISSION OUTREACH In 2005 a mission trip to Armenia involved 9 village members at personal expense. By 2008 a number of members developed an interest in launching a mission trip to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Poplar, Montana. Members have continued to make annual trips each year except the year 2011. The cumulative number of participants is over 200, many of which have gone multiple times. During this same period of time, 143 participants, 50 of which were Village members, have been involved with mission trips to Brazil, Bahamas, India and Tanzania. Total know personal cost of all mission trips is over $400, 000.
CHURCH DEBT RETIREMENT By the fall of 2009 the loan on the Family center had been reduced from $1,300,000 to $332,000. With the impetus of a bequest of $27,000 from a church family, the church leaders developed a plan to retire the debt by year end. Through much prayer and sacrifice, the goal of being debt free again by year end was realized!
THE VILLAGE CHURCH STORY There is more work to do with Sanctuary renewal and Church School expansion, but the story of the Village Church is not all about properties and buildings. Our story is about God changing old Uncle Mahlon’s heart from an argumentative neighbor to a faithful member. It’s about God growing Eldine Dunbar, a teenager in the first baptism of the village group in 1914, into a servant leader for his world church. It’s about God speaking hope to little school girls through Mr. Amen’s kindness as he kept the boilers going for the courthouse school. It’s about answering John Dry’s prayers for generations of Village young people. It’s about watching over little Timothy Ruedinger as he runs to the platform each Sabbath for children’s story. The Village Church story is about people God loves and cares for and seeks to use to reach a village—and a world—who need to know Him.
We are living the story line of God doing what He does so well: He takes the likes of hardy, independent souls who wanted their church to stay in town, and converts, blesses, grows and saves. Then, to everyone’s amazement and with credit to His amazing grace, He uses us to His glory.
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Adapted from compilation by Kendall Hill from articles by
Pat Morrison, Marjorie Snyder, Steven Vitrano and
various church and school documents,