Coloma UMC celebrates 175 years

Coloma United Methodist Church is celebrating its 175th anniversary with a series of events.

COLOMA — Coloma United Methodist Church, 144 S. Church St., is marking its 175th anniversary as a Methodist congregation this year. It will celebrate with a number of events and festivities.

At 9:45 a.m. Sept. 15, the church will host an old time hymn sing.

An outdoor community open house party – complete with food, games, music and time capsule burial – is set for 1-4 p.m. Sept. 21.

And a covenant renewal service is planned at 9:45 a.m. Sept. 22.

The congregation dates back to 1844, to a log house west of the current church, according to a news release. The congregation called itself Mt. Hope Class, which was part of the Silver Creek Circuit of Methodists.

In 1855, the local Congregational Church began constructing a building, and Mt. Hope Class united with them.

The building, completed in 1859, was dedicated as First Congregational Church, and the relationship between the two sister churches started.

Methodists held services there until 1879, when their first church building was constructed next door thanks to a combination of initial “subscriptions” by members providing $553, 24 hours of team labor, 92 days of hard labor and 500 feet of hemlock logs.

The building housed a sanctuary and classroom heated by a big round oak stove. The first bell cost $107, and was paid for by subscription.

By 1915, the horse sheds had been removed from the property. The winter of 1928 saw expansion and remodeling, including new windows, carpet and rear exit.

In 1950, a “beautification” project was begun that led to a 1954 vote for an educational wing, plus basement, at a cost of $30,000. The 1950s were high attendance years for Sunday school with student attendance recorded at around 200 at times.

The Revs. Royal Synwolt and Paul Blomquist pastored the congregation in the 1950s and early 1960s during continued high attendance periods.

The Women’s Society for Christian Service (now United Methodist Women) was strong, contributing to the spiritual growth of women as well as to financial health through their fundraising chop suey and turkey dinners and fall festivals.

In 1968, the congregation decided to build a new parsonage in Timberbrook Terrace. The Civil Rights Movement prompted Rev. Leon Andrews to initiate special services and meals with the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Benton Harbor.

1971 brought pastoral change from the Rev. Carl Hausermann. His were years of increased youth activity, emphasis on Christian camping and creative worship that included liturgical dance, drama and musicals.

The Rev. Perry Elizabeth Nord was mentored toward ordination by Hausermann, becoming his associate in the then Coloma/Riverside charge.

Attendance showed a slow decline in the latter part of the 20th century as families became less intentional about Christian education and pastoral strengths lay in other areas of service.

Two houses adjoining the church property to the north were purchased and moved or demolished with an eye to expansion of worship and fellowship facilities.

The Rev. Dwight Benner and Associate Pastor Perry Nord were followed by Timothy Closson in 1981, with Nord pastoring Riverside UMC full time.

The sudden departures of Closson and Nord in 1986, presented challenges to the stability of the respective congregations. Former Watervliet UMC pastor Emerson Miner served a two-month interim post, followed by the mid-year appointment of the Rev. Laura Truby.

1991 brought another pastoral change in Richard Rossiter. He initiated disciple and covenant disciple groups as well as spiritual gift identification groups.

Consecration of the building addition and refurbishment was held place Oct. 17, 1993.

Watervliet First UMC’s pastor, Len Schoenherr, was appointed to serve both churches in 1996.

In 1999, Schoenherr was reassigned and Pastor David Hills helped move the congregation to new worship patterns featuring updated music with the newest UMC hymnal and mission trips.

Hill was followed by the Rev. O’Ryan Rickard in 2007, and then pastor William Chu.

Early in 2011, before Chu left, the Watervliet congregation was given a difficult ultimatum to join with another UM congregation or the Kalamazoo District UMC would assume ownership of their properties.

Earlier efforts to unite the two congregations had failed, but in a renewed act of faith both congregations voted to unite.

The work of unification caused an added element of challenge for incoming Pastor Ron VanLente, having little awareness of who came from where, who was new in worship and who needed attention.

Unification was accomplished and symbolized by a new bell tower in 2013. Bells of the former Watervliet and Coloma congregations now hang, topped by a third unity bell.

In 2018, Pastor Christine Beaudoin was appointed to serve the Coloma congregation.

Hope Resources, the food pantry whose roots go back to the 1970s at Coloma UMC, will move into its own space on Main Street in the fall.