Hersey Congregational Church celebrates 145 years

HERSEY — More than a century has passed since the Hersey Congregational Church was established. In fact, at 145 years old, it's one of the oldest churches in Osceola County.

"I think our congregation is very proud in the fact that we've been here this long," said current pastor and Reed City native Ed Raby, Sr. "This building represents the people and the community."

The church itself was formally organized in 1870, with the Rev. P.B. Perry serving as its first pastor and hosting services in the local schoolhouse for three years. In 1874, the current church building was constructed for $3,000 with the help of lumberman Delos A. Blodgett. A basement and furnace was added in 1909, while electricity came a year later. The church's spire, said to be the tallest north of Grand Rapids, was destroyed on June 24,1924, by lightning, but was replaced with the steeple seen today.

Through Revs. Elza and Lou Beery, the Hersey Congregational Church became a registered historical site with the Michigan Historical Commission in 1980. In 2000, it became an independent, non-denominational church.

The building still contains the original pews, stained-glass windows and pulpit, but after 145 years it's showing its age.

Through the years and still to this day, the church has undergone renovations. Recently, a new roof was installed and the building's four turrets were restored. Now Raby is doing his best to raise funds to repair and protect the rest of the building, which is not an inexpensive feat. He said the building's wood structure is slowly decaying and needs restoration, old paint needs to be stripped and reapplied with new, basement windows need to be replaced and its entrance needs to be updated for handicap accessibility.

Estimated costs for simply the outer building is between $50,000 and $60,0000, Raby said.

Funds are slow in growing. Grants have been applied for, but the cause has been passed over many times. Looking to community members has been the focus of how to gather donations.

"The big thing is preservation," Raby added. "But there's not a lot of extra money and that's why we keep going to the community for help. The relationship between this church and the community has always been pretty strong, so we're counting on that.

"The problem is, though we're important to Hersey residents, we're small on the Michigan importance scale. We're not high priority for the state's historical commission, which already is tapped out by other projects."

Taking out a loan isn't something the church wants to commit to, either, as Raby said it has never before been in debt. However, he believes history speaks for itself. In the past, when the church has hit low points, an individual or group rallies others together to make the seemingly impossible happen.

"It's a do-able goal and I believe in the people of the church," he added. "We have probably 20 different denominations represented and we worship together, care for each other and have become a family. I've always said this is the best church I've ever pastored."

As a larger anniversary nears, Raby has many hopes for the building and church itself.

"In five years we'll be celebrating our 150th anniversary and we definitely want to look sharp for that," he said. "What we really want on that day is for the church to be fully repaired."

In addition to the building, planning for the date has begun. Raby said he is currently looking for historical church documents to possibly be compiled in a book, and hopes local residents who have such items will come forward.

Individuals or organizations who wish to donate to the church project can call Raby at (231) 832-9958 for more information or send a check directly to the church.