Woodside has a long and rich history.
“Welcome to a church with a liberal tradition, with a freedom of worship and discussion which makes room for persons of every religious background and every vital conviction. We believe in a creative God who has made us all to grow in wisdom and in stature--and that we are at our best when we are growing in our outlook and expanding our thinking. We attempt to create a fellowship of sympathy and imagination in which the individual is encouraged, even compelled, to search within for the glory and the truth which every person believes lies at the heart of creation.”
Those words, from a 1959 pamphlet, describe a congregation that desires to be at the heart of culture, in service to a counter-cultural message.
Woodside Church was re-born in 1956, when members of First Baptist Church of Flint (already then more than 100 years old) welcomed members of the Congregational-Christian Churches to become something more than it had ever imagined. The congregation renamed itself Woodside Church in 1961.
“We feel this new direction will give very real expression to the open-mindedness and breadth of vision which characterizes our church life. We will be standing where all can clearly see that we are committed to the larger interests of the Christian world, and to the broadest possible service in our community,” wrote its pastor, Rev. Dr. Franklin Elmer. “This is not a spectator church. For those who do not wish to become involved in the difficult issues confronting our contemporary world, or for those who do not wish to be disturbed about their own condition or the general state of the world, this is an impossible church. Participation means more than attending worship services, being responsible to our pledges or serving on a committee; it means joining in on the adventurous and exciting process of life itself.”
From its earliest days, Woodside has been a community force. A stop on the Underground Railroad in the time before the Civil War (when we were still known as First Baptist Church), Woodside in the next century put itself on the line as an advocate for fair housing, civil rights, an end to Jim Crow. In recent years, Woodside has ruffled feathers and faced public fury over its welcome of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Lately, Woodside has been catalyst for examination of policies of incarceration, poverty, water rights. There may never be an end to the ways humans oppress one another. By the grace of God, in the name of God, we will continue to speak and advocate for a human community reflective of divine imagination.
Thus it continues. “The adventurous and exciting process of life itself” can be baffling, maddening, gratifying, exhilarating, stifling, compelling. As a member of both the American Baptist Churches and the United Church of Christ, Woodside continues to speak its mind, to raise questions, to invite unconventional answers.
In 2016, we determined that selling our Saarinen sanctuary was the best way to keep our mission strong; we sold it to Mott College in late 2017, and now are in between, searching for our new home and doing what we believe we are called to do in the community.
It is not the first time. This congregation has had prior homes at Second and Beach, at First and Lyon (where there is still a historical marker), and even above a scotch store on Saginaw Street back in the very beginning. We've owned and rented, we've done typical church and pushed churchy boundaries to imagine a new way.
So, we're in the imagining phase. If you come and join in at 727 East Street, you'll find us in borrowed space, in orange plastic stacking chairs, with a scaled down version of almost everything, since most of our stuff is in storage. But in the scaled-down, we're learning what mission requires and who we are called to be.
You're welcome to help us discover.
our "flag of humanity"
As you enter the worship space, you can see the Flag of Humanity, a home-grown Woodside symbol of what we believe – that we are in the world to make it a better place. The flag has been our calling card at any number of protests, from Selma to Standing Rock, from Washington DC to Vassar, Michigan. We’ve rallied for immigrant children, for marriage equality, for an end to race-based injustice, for fair housing, for healthcare, safe and affordable water, income equality, for civil rights issues wherever they are. And they never seem to end.
We do all this because we believe the church is supposed to be about something bigger than itself. We have events like our book groups, the "Let Those With Ears" preaching series, featuring preachers of color, and our not-really-annual fall community festival to spark conversation, but we also gather for worship every week, learning to connect the dots of faith and citizenship, of personal and public belief, of the reign of God on earth and in heaven. We invite people to consider questions of faith: who is God, what does Jesus have to do with us, what does it mean to believe in something – in anything?
Besides all that, we like each other for the most part. We don’t just carry the Flag of Humanity around; we also try to show up when a fellow worshipper is in need of care, and we do what we can to help with more tangible needs in the greater community. As part of our worship each week, the Flag of Humanity is one more reminder of the cause of God: tikkun olam, world repair.