United Church of Christ

People: Robert E. Schwartz

Date: 1964

City: Midland

Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, photo by Rob Yallop.

The United Church of Christ’s (UCC) dramatic sweeping roof form and transparent walls create a distinctly modern aesthetic that must have peaked the interest of local residents when it began to take form in the early 1960s. The church property, located deep within a residential neighborhood adjacent to an elementary school, is heavily shaded by mature trees. A circular drive in front of the church provides access to the front entrance while the main parking area is located to the south. The 1980s concrete block education wing is offset to the east and runs parallel to the church. The wing is connected to the church by a narrow hyphen with glazed walls. The church is anchored to the landscape by rock and juniper covered berms that have been piled against the north and south elevations. Along the east-west axis, the paraboloid-shaped roof dips down to touch grade. Metal fencing has been installed at the locations where the roof meets the ground to prevent people from walking onto the roof surface. The roof and glazed walls of the south elevation come to a sharp point and angle toward the sky. The north elevation, which consists of two intersecting curved glass surfaces, conveys a more organic form.

The United Church of Christ in Midland was established by a small group of local citizens interested in forming a UCC Church. In the late 1950s, six couples attended a meeting sponsored by the Michigan-Indiana Synod Board of the Evangelical and Reformed Church who had come to Midland to measure local interest in forming a new church. In 1958, 3.5 acres were purchased on Belaire Street within a new residential subdivision that was being developed by Lester Kent on the west side of the city. The following year, Reverend Glenn Baumann arrived to organize the church and began canvassing the neighborhood to invite local residents to join him in celebrating Mass. The first services were held in February 1959 in the Chestnut Hill School located immediately south of the church property.

The United Church of Christ was formerly organized in February 1960 with fifty-one members. Over the next several years the congregation focused on constructing a new building in which they could celebrate. The church acquired the services of local architect Robert E. Schwartz to design the new building. Schwartz’s dramatically modern design stirred controversy within the new congregation, and a few members left over the decision to move forward with the nontraditional design. With the membership nearing two hundred, the new sanctuary was formally dedicated in June 1964. The interior was fitted out with temporary walls so that they could expand the sanctuary space as the congregation grew. The red pews and purple carpet were selected to remind the congregants “of both the joy and penitence demanded of contemporary Christians” and the large expanses of glass were to emphasize that worship not only takes place within but also “out in the world.”

By the 1980s the congregation had grown to 470 members and thus a committee was appointed to study the feasibility of expansion. A fund drive was initiated to finance an education wing and fellowship hall which were also designed by Schwartz and completed in 1984.