Lansing Downtown Churches: a Reflection of Spiritual Culture
Churches and Their Relation to State Government and Culture
Throughout downtown Lansing, one is as likely to encounter religious edifices as governmental functions. There are a multitude of churches reflecting all the mainstream Christian denominations. Although there are other houses of worship throughout the capital area, for example Jewish, Moslem, Hindu and even Sikh, close to the heart of government it seems as if the Christian faith in all of its manifestations holds sway. This gives rise to the thought that there may be a possible conflict of interest between the state government and the spiritual agenda of these churches. However, as will be seen, there is also a balance between churches as possible lobbies for political pressure and a reasonably secular political tradition. This article seeks to clarify the different perspectives of this always thorny cultural question.
Christ Community Church
This church, also known as the First Baptist Church, is just up Capitol Avenue from the State Capitol. It was completed in 1894, but a more recent Children's Center was added in 1955, without compromising the original Romanesque Revival style made popular by Henry H. Richardson in Boston with Trinity Church. It gives the Baptist community in Lansing a strong united focus as well as access to the state government. It is not as socially directed as other downtown churches, but it serves a useful central purpose.
Central United Methodist Church
Central United Methodist is immediately next door to Christ Community Church. It is another example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture in the capital area. It was designed by Elijah E. Myers, the architect of the State Capitol diagonally across Ottawa Street. Myers was also the architect of the Colorado and Texas state capitols, but did not do many ecclesiastical structures. This church, therefore, counts as one of his best religious efforts. The original body dates from 1889-1890, with a Temple House addition completed in 1922-1923. It features many novelties, such as a conical copper round tower and unique stained glass windows. It was constructed of dark red Ionia sandstone, a rock found in Michigan. Total cost of construction was only $50,000, representing a real bargain in architecture! This is one of Lansing's more dynamic ministries, with a radio audience and a Christmas Eve service broadcast to the community. At the holidays, a fabulous production is rolled out, including toy trains, Nutcrackers and a dazzling electric light display that could rival anything in New York or Chicago. There is also a Thursday morning lunch served to those less fortunate in the community. John and Charles Wesley (the founders of Methodism) would have been very proud indeed!
St. Mary Cathedral
St. Mary Cathedral is the seat of the Diocese of Lansing and the center of Roman Catholic worship and spiritual activity in the capital area. It was designed by Edwyn A. Bowd, a prominent Lansing architect who did not typically do church architecture. It was executed in the Gothic Revival style popular at that time (1910-1913), but is more austere and angular than many similar edifices. With Diocesan offices nearby and the Michigan Catholic Conference just down the street, the Catholic faith enjoys a potent presence in the capital of Michigan.
First Presbyterian Church
The First Presbyterian Church of Lansing may be thought of as quintessentially Protestant mainstream. It even looks that way with its formal portico and tall steeple. Like many churches of its time, it even conceals its basic Christianity with a weathervane at the top instead of a cross. However, it carries forth a very Christian mission. It has a Food Pantry for the hungry and features chamber music concerts for flute and strings at various times as only two examples of community service and uplift. Its close proximity to the State Capitol complex gives it an added viscosity in downtown Lansing.
St. Luke's Lutheran Church Christ Campus
Finally, there is one other church with an outreach mission which deserves mention: St. Luke's Lutheran. A physically small church near the intersection of Pennsylvania and Michigan Avenues, it undertakes several initiatives that make it noteworthy. Among these are a Saturday lunch every week and an annual Coat Bank every fall to aid the community needy. There is a spiritual warmth inside this church simply not found in other area houses of worship. The visitor seems transported to a mountain village in Bavaria with the overhead wooden beams and intimate scale. Naturally, this seems reinforced at the holiday season, but at any time of year, a visit to St. Luke's is well worth a short trip away from the downtown governmental congestion. Martin Luther himself would have been happy to preach here!
Separation of Church and State
This preceding list of churches does not presume to be all-inclusive or exhaustive. Many more could be included, and not just those that cater to Christians. Despite the proliferation of churches throughout the capital city, there does not seem to be any danger of Lansing morphing into a theocracy in the near future. Rather, the churches reflect a cultural pluralism and myriad of spiritual choices available to those who worship according to the dictates of their own conscience, as the founding fathers put so well in the early documents of the republic. The churches have influence, of course, and an input into state and local government, but only to a limited extent. At the present time, they present no threat to the delicate balance of separation of church and state.