History of St. Luke A.M.E. Zion Church

St Luke AME Grand Rapids, MILess than a century after the founding of Zion, a church of this denomination had been established in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Known today as St. Luke AME Zion, in its early stages it was “a mission that harbored runaway slaves.” Locally it was called Zion Colored Church and was located in the sparsely populated area south of town. According to Z. Z. Lynden’s History of Grand Rapids, the mission was “a minor spur on the Underground Railroad.” Records of the Kent County Historical Society indicate that the church (mission) could have existed as early as 1854 [since a thriving congregation housed in its own building existed in 1863].

Zion Colored Church was the first African American church organized in the County and the City of Rapids, Michigan. And was the first African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in the State of MI. It was, also, instrumental in the establishment of Zion in the mid-west. Bishop Walls in his book The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church: Reality of a Black Church states, “When the Missouri [now, the Mid-West Conference] was established. We had no church in Detroit, the largest city in the State. The three [mid-west] churches were in Chicago, Grand Rapids and Windsor, Canada.”

The early ministers at Zion Colored Church were circuit preachers. In 1869 Rev. David Butler was assigned as the first full-time pastor. It was during his tenure that the ARTICLES OF INCORPORATION OF THE FIRST AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL ZION CHURCH IN THE CITY OF GRAND RAPIDS, COUNTY OF KENT were filed in 1872. Signers of the document were Lidey James, Luvy J. Brice, George Anderson, Amelia Wilson, Caleb Brice, Jud Marshall, John Logan and others. The church’s official name, then, was The First A.M. E. Zion Church.

First AME Zion made slow but continuous progress. In 1881 the church was destroyed by fire, but by 1882 it was rebuilt. In 1904 Rev. A.P. Miller, known for his expertise in race relations, was assigned to Grand Rapids. An influential and effective speaker, Miller made significant impact in addressing issues of color prejudice. In 1911 the church was located at 123 Franklin SE and changed its name to John Wesley AME Zion Church. In 1915 the current name, St. Luke, was adopted.

A series of pastors, too numerous to name, have since been at the helm of St. Luke. Rev. Maurice Jacob Jones in 1927 made great improvements and introduced many progressive programs. Rev. Maurice Joseph came in 1933. He planted the seed for building anew church. However, Joseph died in 1939. The idea he had planted with the congregation was taken up by his successors Rev Lowe and Rev. Shepard. Shepard’s dialogue and relations with South Congregational Church resulted in a deal to purchase the current building at 101 Delaware SE. But, like Moses of old, Rev. Shepard was not to lead the congregation to the “promised land” – the new church. Thus, Rev. C.C. Noble was privileged to oversee the move. A large crowd, including many church, city and denominational leaders, marched from their Thompson Court location to the new location at 101 Delaware S.E. The procession was led by the North Star Lodge. who also laid the church cornerstone.

In 1957 Rev. H.V. Hutcherson was appointed the pastor of St. Luke. His administration was marked by strong leadership, increased membership and building improvement. The covering of the wooden exterior with sandstone gave the exterior an impressive and brand new look. Under his administration a new roof, outdoor lights, carpeting of upstairs including the sancturary and numerous other improvements were made. Membership improved, so did the teaching and preaching of the word of God.

In 1986 Hutcherson retired after 29 years. He was followed by Rev.George Stewart, Rev. Leonard Cammack and Rev. Gwendolyn Strickland. Rev. Eleazar Merriweather took the helm in 2000. Under his leadership the themes “Its time to build the church” was initiated. Substantial progress was made in the spiritual and financial life of the church. Property to build a new building was purchased during his tenure, and a substantial number of individuals entered the ministry under his leadership. In 2009, as economic woes plagued the country, they also were experienced in the church. Building plans were put on hold, but major repair were undertaken to the existing building and are on-going.

In 2013 Rev. Gaylyn Wilson was appointed to lead the Church. Healing and restoration has been her constant message. Her encouragement to St; Luke, the City of Grand Rapids, the Western Michigan District and the Michigan Annual Conference has been infectious. Rev. Wilson leads by example. An excellent teacher her favorite expression,

“ Let the winds blow, the fire burn and let the Glory of the Lord come down,” challenges all who meet her.