The story of Sylvania United Church of Christ
Early beginnings in Whiteford, Michigan
In the 1830s General David White built a saw mill on the north branch of the Ottawa River in a settlement known as White’s Ford. This little community became Whiteford, Michigan, part of the disputed area involved in the so-called “Ohio-Michigan War.” Here in 1834, White and others founded their church of 20 members, First Presbyterian Church of Whiteford. In 1843, however, the members voted to become a Congregational Church, later named, “The First Congregational Church of Sylvania.” They met in Sylvania’s first schoolhouse, The Old Stone Academy, built by General White at his own expense. Later he donated land on Summit Street where the Meeting House was erected in 1851.
Moving from Summit Street to Erie Street
As Sylvania’s population expanded, the church outgrew its Summit Street Meeting House and voted in 1951 to construct a new building. After a three-year site-search, a successful building fund campaign, and a year of construction, the first unit of our present building on Erie Street opened for worship in 1958. Wright Hall served as a multi-purpose room housing worship and fellowship for the congregation of over 500 members including about 300 Sunday school children. In 1964, the present-day sanctuary was added.
A Change from Congregational to United Church of Christ
Meanwhile, denominational changes were afoot. The Congregational Churches merged with the Christian Churches in 1931. Then, the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed (E&R) Church agreed to merge in 1957 forming the United Church of Christ. After thoughtful consideration and discussion, our local church voted in 1965 to become a part of this body, hence our present name: Sylvania United Church of Christ.
An Accessible & Green Church
In the 1990s, new offices, a chapel/multipurpose room, and a main-floor nursery were added to the building. An elevator was installed and the chancel area in the sanctuary was ramped to make the facility more accessible. In 2005, the church was awarded a grant from the State of Ohio to pay for half the cost of installing photovoltaic cells on our sanctuary roof. The solar panels were installed in July 2005 and continue on the sanctuary roof to this day. For more specifics about this ongoing project, view Solar Electricity for the Sylvania United Church of Christ.
Scientists in Congregations
In 2012, Sylvania United Church of Christ was one of 37 churches around the U.S. that was awarded a Scientists in Congregations grant through the John Templeton Foundation. Our proposal, entitled “Integrating our Faith and Modern Science,” was aimed at educating and engaging our congregation in the questions common to both science and faith. Speakers included Father James Bacik, Marcus Borg, Karl Giberson, and Robert J. Russell. For an archive of this series, view Scientists in Congregations.
Chidester Lecture Series
The Chidester Lecture Series was established by Sylvania United Church of Christ with funds donated in honor of the life of The Reverend William Henry Chidester. Bill served as pastor at Sylvania UCC for 25 years before his death in 2011. The first Chidester Lecture Series speaker was Martin Marty in January of 2013. Other lecturers have included Diana Butler Bass, Daoud Nassar, Walter Brueggemann, Philip Gulley, The Interfaith Amigos, John Dorhauer, Wil Gafney, and Rita Nakashima Brock. For more information about this ongoing series, view Chidester Lecture Series.
Open and Affirming & Glennon Doyle
On May 4, 2014, the congregation voted to become Open and Affirming, recognizing that we are open and affirming of each child of God, regardless of race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, faith background, age, and physical or mental ability. On March 21, 2015, we welcomed well-known author and speaker Glennon Doyle, who spoke on “Building Open and Honest Relationships.”
In September 2020, we welcomed The Reverend Dr. Vern Swett as our new Senior Pastor. We continue to see our mission as joining with God to share Good News in our community and around the world. We invite you to become a part of Sylvania United Church of Christ’s story.