The Bishop’s survey showed that an Episcopal presence was needed in northeast Grand Rapids. So on October 18, 1953 a group of faithful north easterners from St. Paul’s west side church met in Aberdeen school and thirty five signed on as charter members. The Rev. Doane Rose presided and they adopted the name Mission of the Incarnation. The first Eucharist was held at Van Strien Funeral Chapel using a portable altar borrowed from Bishop McNiel, on December 6, 1953. The present property was acquired by March of 1954 and the bishop consented to changing the name to St. Andrew’s.
The congregation grew and soon the ground breaking ceremony was held on June 24, 1955 with The Rev. Lester Thomas, priest in charge, officiating. In these early days, all the men, women, and children worked tirelessly building the church building and landscaping. Many creative fund-raising events were held. Life-long friendships, as well as mutual love and concern for each other developed then and persists as an outstanding characteristic of St. Andrew’s to this day.
The first service in the new church was held amid the rubble of the unfinished undercroft on Christmas Eve 1955, reminding one of the stable at Bethlehem. The building was dedicated June 1956. In the next ten years, the congregation grew rapidly and the enlarged present building was built and dedicated during 1965-66. There was another major building expansion in 1998 when additional classroom space was added as well as new office facilities and a lounge.
Brother Robert (Bob) Thomas is an important person in the history of St. Andrew’s. He was ordained a deacon in 1968 and is fondly remembered as a faithful servant until he retired in 1977. During this time, the church grew in the knowledge and love of God.
Another unforgettable parishioner intimately linked to the history of St. Andrew’s is Mother Berry. She epitomized the spirit of St. Andrew’s by acting as a grandmother to everyone. She literally did it all. In addition to working anywhere from the kitchen to the Sunday School, to Altar Guild, she is also remembered for frequently inviting members to her house for home cooked meals.
Father Lester Thomas retired in 1985 and was succeeded by The Rev. John Kirkman who had served as choirmaster and assistant priest previously. Difficult times followed Fr. Kirkman’s resignation in 1989 and Interim Rector, The Rev. Bobbie Parini’s resignation in 1990. Recovery began under the guidance of The Rev. Bill Paran. Finally, after a period of exhausting search and self study, The Rev. Michael C. Fedewa was called. He started his ministry at St. Andrew’s on September 1, 1992.
Since that time the parish of St. Andrew’s has thrived with many new programs and participation by many. There was a major building program in 1997 which expanded classroom area, offices, and also made the building barrier-free. In addition, the nave of the church is now more accessible to persons with mobility issues. The Memorial Garden has received much attention and is now a beautiful place of reflection.
St. Andrew’s is a hospitable place for many groups not officially connected with our parish. These include hosting Congregation Rodeph Shalom and St. Raphael’s Reformed Catholic Church as well as several 12-step programs.
St. Andrew’s Church has been an active participant in the Interfaith Hospitality Network which brings shelter, meals, and support services to families without homes. Approximately every ten weeks we host a number of guests with lodging and meals for the week. Happily, many of those served have been able to find housing.
In 2003 the Bishop of the Diocese of Western Michigan asked St. Andrew’s to provide a nucleus of members to start a new parish in the former St. Matthew’s Church in Sparta. The new church was named The Church of the Holy Spirit and has since moved to a new location in Belmont. At the time of the formation of Holy Spirit Church, Susan York was the Assistant Rector of St. Andrew’s and was called to be the Vicar at Holy Spirit Church.
Over the last number of years we have had several clergy assisting at St. Andrew’s. Mary Perrin, a longtime member of St. Andrew’s served as deacon and was then ordained as priest and serves another church in Michigan. Dan Scheid, another member, also was ordained to the priesthood at St. Andrew’s and is now at a church in Southwest Michigan. Two vocational deacons have also served at St. Andrew’s: Cindy Nawrocki and Brad Allard, both at churches in Grand Rapids. Mother Nurya Love Parish joined us as associate priest in 2011.
In 2008, a new evening of programming for the whole congregation was begun on Wednesday evenings. It has been named Oasis and begins with a light meal for all followed by events and study for all ages.