I was raised Catholic. I was baptized, confirmed, and received my first Holy Communion in the Catholic church. I found myself a good Catholic man to marry in the Catholic church. But for a while now, church-going hasn’t been on my to-do list.
The church I grew up in was built in 1869. I’m used to the tall stained glass windows, the elaborate tabernacle, the ornate statues. My mother now attends a Catholic church that was built in 1958. It has one stained glass window. It has white walls and green carpet. It’s plain. It’s bland.
Granted, God probably doesn’t care what His church looks like as long as people in it are worshipping him. And that’s fine. But for me, it’s not a church unless it’s gilded, glamorous, and–most importantly–old.
Lucky for me, Grand Rapids has plenty of churches like that. So if ever I decide that I want to start spending my Sunday mornings in a pew instead of my comfy bed, I’m going to have plenty of options to choose from.
The Cathedral of St. Andrew, shown above, would be the obvious first choice, since it’s Catholic. It was built in 1876, and it has all the grandeur of years gone by. It’s tall and long and it has beautiful columns that support its domed ceiling. Stained glass windows line the aisle ways and the tabernacle is housed in what looks like a palace. It’s like my childhood parish on drugs. Which seems like a completely inappropriate thing to say about a church.
The Catholic faith and I haven’t really gotten on in recent years, though. I am pro-choice and I believe contraception can fix so many of America’s problems, and the Catholics don’t really agree with me. So if I were to make a second choice of where I might return to God, it would have to be the Fountain Street Church.
This church was built in the Italian Romanesque style in 1924 after a fire burned the previous 1869-built structure. It has all the charm of the past with all the tolerance of the present. Previously a Baptist church, as early as 1960, the church realized it didn’t want to be any sort of denomination. Now it brands itself as a liberal church and hosts the nearby community college’s diversity lecture series. They encourage their congregation to “engage in creative and responsible action in the world,” which is an idea I can definitely stand behind.
Neither of these two churches, however, are as old as St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, which was built in 1848 and is the oldest public building still standing, according to their website. Though it’s not as grand as St. Andrews or Fountain Street Church, its location is prime. Pearl Street dead-ends right into the church, making it hard to miss as you’re roaming around the city.
St. Mark’s might be the most prime location for parishioners, but Immanuel Lutheran Church has the most prime location for a view. Built in 1890, this church sits on top of the Medical Mile hill, making it easy to find no matter where you are in the city. It adds such a historical elegance to the modern, glassy hospitals that surround it.
That’s not really even scratching the surface of historic churches in the Grand Rapids area. I’m not even sure if we have any churches built after 1900. I suppose it’s a comfort for the worshippers of Grand Rapids to know that they are following the footsteps of the many faithful who came before them.