Battle Creek Church Born After a “Liberal” Pastor Caused a Split
On this day, February 3, 1896, Battle Creek’s brand new Presbyterian Church building was completed. The step-gabled building stood across the street from what was the Marjorie Block, at Michigan Avenue and McCamly Street. The church cost all of $16,000 to build. That might not sound like much, but in 1896 dollars, it would cost $500,000 today.
A new Presbyterian church was much needed in 1896 in Battle Creek. Just three years before, there was a real “ruckus” in the church, which from 1836 to 1883, was known as the Congregational-Presbyterian Church. Beginning in 1877, the church was pastored by the young and dynamic Rev. Reed Stuart. Stuart was fresh out of the Chicago Theological seminary.
According to the book, “Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and the Religion of Biologic Living”, by Brian C. Wilson, “Stuart began his pastorate as a Presbyterian, but his decidedly modernist and liberal theological views, strongly influenced “by the writings of such men like Darwin and Huxley, Emerson and Thoreau”, eventually led him into the Congregationalist Church” Six years later, on May 23rd, 1883, Presbyterians had enough of Stuart’s “liberal” views, and broke away and established their own church. They held their first service the next day.
Presbyterians used the church at Michigan and McCamly for 42 years until they moved to a new building on Capital Ave NE in 1928. After it was torn down, it became the site of the J.C. Penney store, which was later Coles, and soon will be re-opened by New Holland Brewing Company.
Incidentally, according to the late Battle Creek historian Mary Butler, an earlier Presbyterian-Congregational Church building was destroyed by fire in 1846. The fire engine (called “The Deluge”) was hurriedly brought to the fire but was not operated efficiently because of the lack of experience of firemen. That pointed up the need for an organized fire department, and the next evening 40 men met and formed Protection Company #1.
Also, Sojourner Truth died six months after the split of the church. Rev. Reed presided over her funeral at the Congregational Church. Some of the prominent citizens of Battle Creek acted as pall-bearers and nearly one thousand people attended the service.