Gorham to grace: 100 years of God’s faithfulness
JACKSON – On September 10, 2023, our church gathered to celebrate its 100 Year Anniversary. The occasion was met with much joy by our members as we had a special worship service to praise God for his faithfulness to our congregation. This was accompanied by a special recognition from Tony Lynn of the BSCM.
The many hands of Grace members who worked together to make this anniversary happen cannot be thanked enough. But ultimately it is our good God and Father who is due all praise and honor for redeeming and preserving this body of believers for a century.
What follows is a condensed version of the history that was provided for attendees of the anniversary event. It is our hope that by sharing an account of the history of our church would be an encouragement to you and your congregations as you continue to bear witness to the goodness of our God and the hope found only in the gospel of Christ.
Gorham Baptist Church began as a mission founded in 1910. Soon it became affiliated with Memorial Baptist Church, on the corner of Griswold and 3rd St., and became known as Memorial Baptist Mission.
The small mission, with a membership of 30 people, originally began meeting over a bowling alley on Michigan Avenue. Shortly thereafter, a small lot on the corner of Gorham and Ganson was purchased for $300 with the purpose of erecting a church building there. The lot at 140 N. Gorham St. was secured and construction of the building began in 1913. The church building, which still stands today, was completed in 1914 and the dedication was held on June 28th of that year.
Frank Osborn was the first pastor of Gorham Baptist Church, serving from 1915-1917. In 1923 the church on Gorham St. was constituted as Gorham Street Baptist Church. In 1927 Gorham became associated with the Franklin Association of Southern Illinois, becoming the first Southern Baptist Church in Michigan. Prior to this date Gorham had been a member church of the Northern Baptist Convention, but had withdrawn from it for some time. Although it functioned as an independent church, it was still formally associated with the NBC. Gorham affiliated with the Western Association of Michigan after the latter began in 1957.
In 1957 the Southern Baptist Convention of Michigan was organized, at which point Gorham officially became an affiliating church and was recognized as the first Southern Baptist church in the state. Though there are four other churches in Michigan with earlier constituting dates, Gorham has been a Southern Baptist church longer than any other church in Michigan.
In 1936, Virtus L. Buzbee, originally from Southern Illinois, was called as pastor. He faithfully served in that capacity for 36 years, retiring in 1972, giving him the honor of being the longest serving pastor in our church’s history. His ministry is remembered for preaching with a quiet strength, placing an emphasis on the Bible as our source of doctrine and instilling in the church a love for the Word of God.
In the 1940s, Gorham sponsored its own mission, Page Avenue Mission, which would later be renamed Harmony Baptist Church which eventually constituted in 1959. In 1961, Gorham, along with nine other churches in central Michigan, committed to forming the Central Association of Baptists. This was to be a cooperation of Southern Baptist churches in the central Michigan area that would work together in order to promote efforts in and through the churches in the Association in their work of evangelism, education, and benevolence. On October 14, 1961, the first annual meeting of the Central Association of Baptists was held in Jackson at Gorham Street Baptist.
In February of 1972, Pastor Buzbee retired and in November of the same year Milton L. Wood from Georgia was called to lead the church. Pastor Wood would go on to serve the church for twenty-two years. His ministry is remembered for placing an emphasis on individual commitment and focusing on the unity of the church family.
On September 23, 1973, the church voted to purchase ten acres of property on N. Dettman Rd. as the site for a new church building. Groundbreaking took place within the year and the building was finished and dedicated in January 1976.
During the mid-1980s, Grace began a second mission in Napoleon on the corner of M-50 and Wheaton Rd. This mission would eventually be incorporated as Faith Baptist Chapel in 1996 and remains as such to this day. The successful planting of Faith Baptist Chapel makes it the second church plant undergone by the efforts of Gorham Church and its partners.
In 1994, Pastor Wood resigned to move back towards his childhood home and pastor First Baptist Church in Social Circle, Georgia. Pastor Mike Lee was called as pastor in June of that year.
In 2001, the membership voted to change the name of the church from Gorham Baptist to Grace—A Southern Baptist Church. Pastor Mike would pastor from 1994-1998, at which point he accepted a call as an evangelism consultant from the Baptist Sunday School Board. Pastor Rich Ratts was called to pastor in 1998 until 2004 when he resigned to plant a church in Traverse City.
Pastor Mike returned to pastor Grace in 2004 and would remain until 2010. Under Pastor Mike and Pastor Rich, Grace Church grew numerically and financially. During their time here the vision cast was for missionary zeal, evangelistic fervor, and Christian compassion as guides in the tasks of the church, namely worship, witness, education, ministry, and application of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In 2011, Grace Church extended a call to Pastor James Walling to pastor Grace. He accepted this calling and remains the primary preaching pastor at Grace to this day. His ministry has sought to emphasize the importance of expository preaching and implement it in practice as well as emphasizing the missional nature of the church and reflecting that in our church philosophy.
We must recognize that our history has and will never be without its hardships. Leadership changes, building projects, and educational initiatives are just some of the things within a church that provide ample room for disagreement and oftentimes strife. It is helpful for us to acknowledge and accept this reality. Yet, throughout the years, during the highs and lows, one thing that seems to mark the congregation of Grace is a dedication to seeing the gospel preserved and passed down to following generations.
The legacy of the church and understanding the local church as family have been central to our members over the course of this past century, allowing for moments of tremendous sacrifice, service, and genuine growth in mind and spirit for our congregation. Being a church in existence for a century allows for our longtime members to see these generations of new believers grow, inherit, and cherish the same truths and commitments they themselves have held dear. This is certainly a rare and special blessing and encouragement from the Lord, for which we pray all true churches in Michigan will one day be able to celebrate.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dustin Elliott serves as a deacon and the Coordinator of Family Ministries at Grace Church in Jackson, MI. He is attending Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he is pursuing his MDiv in Christian Ministry. He and his wife have two children and make their home in a small town outside of the city of Jackson.