The nation was embroiled in a Civil War that pitted brother against brother. As the war raged on, 17 people met, several of whom were Scottish immigrants, on January 24, 1864 at the McLellan School, now at the intersection of State and Midland Roads. These enterprising individuals came together to consider organizing a Presbyterian church and decided to “go forward upon condition that a sufficient number should be found willing to unite toether as a Christian church to afford reasonable promise of permanency and success.” A Presbyterian clergyman, Reverend J. A. Griffes, presided at the meeting and spoke words of encouragement.
Two weeks later, on February 7th, this group met at District No. 2 School and voted to organize the First Presbyterian Society of Saginaw Township under the guidance of Reverend Griffes and a colleague named Reverend William C. Smith. At this meeting Smith preached a sermon and administered Holy Communion and Griffes conducted an election. According to election results, Robert Ure, Benjamin McLellan, and Alexander McBratnie were elected elders and Donald Fraser the deacon. Griffes, who also preached at the Salina and Carrollton missionary churches, became the pastor.
Mr. Benjamin McLellan
Mrs. Emeline McLellan
Miss Hannah Goulding
Mrs. Isabella Fraser
Mrs. Amy H. Henry
Mr. Alexander McBratnie
Mrs. Margret McBratnie
Mrs. Agnes Ure
Miss Agnes Ure
Mr. Donald Fraser
Mrs. Margery Fraser
Mrs. Isabella Reid
Mrs. Ann McBratnie
Mr. John Leighton
Mrs. Elizabeth Leighton
As one could imagine, this new church faced many difficulties in its early years. These issues included everything from small attendance to such poor financial support; the church could not afford to pay a full-time pastor. It also had trouble attracting a pastor, due to the size of the congregation and the church’s location in the country. Additionally, the church lacked a permanent home and worshipped in nearby schools for its first 20 years. It was not until 1872 that a meeting was held to draw up plans for a “meeting house.” The dream was realized 11 years later. The little congregation dedicated its new building, located at its present site, on June 17, 1883.
Now that the congregation had a permanent home, the next action was a name change. On January 21, 1884, at a corporation meeting, it was unanimously voted to amend Article 1 of the Articles of Association so that “this association shall be called the First Presbyterian Society of Saginaw, State of Michigan” at a corporation meeting. Unfortunately for the little church, three different churches in the Saginaw area claimed “First” as part of their names. As its contribution to remove the confusion, the congregation voted on September 9, 1894 to assume the name “Second Presbyterian Church of Saginaw.”
The small church continued to struggle, however. Young adults were moving from farms to the city and the area was sparsely settled and possessed poor roads. Supply ministers were not always available and some of those who served had one or more churches. Attendance plummeted during World War I, furthering the church’s problems. Worship services were discontinued in 1917. Two years later, in 1919, the Sunday School was also closed. For 16 years Second Presbyterian church was closed, its doors barred and windows boarded.
This was not the end of the church, however. In 1935, a group of neighbors and a handful of the original members, reopened the church. A “work bee” was held to clean and prepare the sanctuary. It seems fitting that the first service held after its rebirth was on Easter Sunday of that year. More than 50 people attended that first service and the church flourished after this reopening. On December 5, 1935 the Ladies Aid was organized and Mrs. Ure was the first president. To raise money, the Ladies Aid held ice cream socials on the lawn and ham and chicken dinners at the Saginaw Township Hall. In 1938 the Ladies Aid raised $250 to paper the church and wire it for electricity. The Sunday School was officially organized in 1939.
The congregation began to feel the need for additional space. In 1944, with a membership of 48, the congregation voted to set aside $100 toward a building program. It was not until 1946 that plans were made for a basement building addition. Earl Shepherd was chosen as chairman of the Building Committee; also serving on the committee were Fred Brandt and Reba Hersem. The ground breaking was held on May 10, 1948 and the cornerstone was laid on October 24, 1948.
It was during these growing years that the church ordained a full-time pastor. The Reverend Warren S. Shelly, a retired Congregational minister, preached his first sermon at the church in the fall of 1946 on a supply basis. He was installed three years later on November 13, 1949, as the first full-time pastor.
The new sanctuary, with Sunday School space, kitchen, and dining room in the basement, was a cooperative project. Members and nonmembers living in the neighborhood donated many hours of labor towards excavation, masonry work, roofing, and completion of inside trim and paint work. Mrs. Fay Roberts headed a project to sell homegrown fruits and vegetables from the gardens of the congregation, which netted the building fund more than $1,000. Reverend Shelly, a warm and friendly man, served as an inspiration to the congregation during the long process. The new $50,000 house of worship, which took five years to complete, was formally dedicated on May 24, 1953, at which time membership had reached 237. The original sanctuary was used for an overflow room when services were crowded.
Already in 1955 the church began to experience growing pains, so the congregation formed an Expansion and Planning Committee, even though the new sanctuary was just competed in 1953. As a short term fix to the problem a two story house next to the church, known as the Russell House, was purchased and remodeled to be used as Sunday School classrooms. This house became known as Shelly Hall.
Sadly, soon after the building project was completed, Reverend Warren Shelly died on August 27, 1956.
On January 10, 1957 the church installed its second full-time pastor, Reverend Robert Lakey.
The church continued to flourish and grow. A manse was built across the street in 1959 and, due to lack of space was also used to house three to five Sunday School rooms in the basement. Finally, in 1963 a building committee was formed. That same year the house next to the church, known as Shelly Hall, which also contained classrooms, was moved one lot to the south and became the manse. The manse across the street from the church was sold.
One year later, in 1964, while the church celebrated its centennial, ground was broken on a new building, which resulted in our present day sanctuary. The old sanctuary was renamed Shelly Hall in memory of Reverend Shelly and used as a dining hall and kitchen. The original 1883 building was removed, due to the widening of Midland Road. The new state-of-the-art building was formally dedicated in 1965 and allowed all activities to finally be held in the same building.
Exponential growth caused increased fellowship at Second Presbyterian Church during the 1970s and 1980s. Many fellowship groups were formed including; Keenagers Klub, Couples Club, Koinonia Klub, Jolly Friendship, a baseball team, and the Selma Frye Circle of Prayer. Additionally, the Youth Drama Conferences, a tradition that would last 25 years, were immensely popular. In fact, they were so well attended that a church bus was purchased. Youth took a week-long trip each summer to deliver drama performances to churches in Michigan and surrounding states.
All of this activity caused more people to join the church which ultimately meant a need for additional space. In 1976 Westminster Hall (later renamed Fellowship Hall) was completed. The hall was designed so it could be divided into eight Sunday school classrooms and also used as a dining hall when necessary. A new kitchen was also added. Growth also necessitated an Associate Pastor to meet the needs of the growing congregation. Those serving during this time period were Stephan Weinberger, Steven Thayer, Patrick McMahon, and Asa Compton.
The church continued to improve facilities. In January 1989 another major building improvement project was completed. This project included a remodeled church sanctuary, with increased seating, new carpeting and pews in the sanctuary, a relocated narthex, additional parking, and the remodeling of Shelly Hall. In addition to the completion of the building project the church also celebrated its 125th anniversary during 1989.
During the 1990s new opportunities for worship, learning, and fellowship abounded. In 1991, active membership peaked at 786. Reverend Robert Lakey retired on April 30, 1992, after 35 years of service. In 1995 the church’s third full-time pastor, Reverend James R. Neumann was installed. In 1998 the vision statement “Seeking and Serving Christ, We are a Place for Grown Christians” was adopted and continues to guide the church today.
In 2004 the church began its most recent building renovation, which was completed in 2006. In this addition the church built new classrooms, modern offices, and new Chancel and Bell Choir rooms.
Today the church continues to grow and thrive. Thanks to be God who calls us together! Thanks be to God for our past, our future, and our hope!