A little more than a year has passed since Monroe Community Church, a Christian Reformed congregation in Grand Rapids, Mich., moved into its new ministry center—a renovated 1960s-era industrial building that once housed an automotive parts stamping plant.
Now the church has received two public honors. First, its ministry center was named the best venue for Grand Rapids’ 2022 ArtPrize festival. The congregation has hosted a venue since ArtPrize began in 2009. Second, the architect firm behind the transformation of the former AutoDie plant, Grand Rapids-based Elevate Studio, received a commercial design award from the American Institute of Architects for the ministry center work.
Monroe Community Church is one of only two churches in Grand Rapids that have continuously hosted art displays during the ArtPrize festival’s 13-year run. This year, more than 20 artists displayed their work inside what the church calls “the gallery”—the lobby between the entrance into the building and the worship space, said Steve Fridsma, a Monroe church member who is co-owner of Elevate Studio and also leads the church’s ArtPrize team.
In addition to having the artists’ work on display, the church hosts an annual sermon series tied to ArtPrize that includes interviews with some of the artists.
Related: Serving as ArtPrize Venue Sees Michigan Church Engage Art and Culture (Sept. 22, 2017)
“We select Scripture and the sermon theme and the music theme to go with that,” Fridsma said. “The artists that we interview for (the services) and involve in the services aren’t necessarily people of faith. I think the most profound thanks we get are from those who aren’t from a faith background who see their work reinterpreted through Scripture. It’s a pretty cool thing.”
The church also hosted a “Crucial Conversations” panel discussion with three artists whose work explored their healing after having been victims of sexual abuse, including the role art played in each being able to express their grief, loss, and hope.
Jim Boer, who has been pastor at Monroe since 2017, sees ArtPrize as a signature part of the church’s outreach to the community.
“ArtPrize gives us an opportunity to be a salt and light ministry,” said Boer, who has been a pastor in the CRC for 33 years.
ArtPrize isn’t the only time art is on display at the Monroe church. The congregation is part of the rotation for the Grand Rapids Avenue for the Arts, a monthly gallery-hop event.
In the design of the church, including the worship space, church leaders wanted to make the building a community gathering place. The ministry center has hosted a comedy festival, theater productions and master plan presentations for the city’s downtown organization. The children’s ministry space is used by the YMCA during the week for child care. The ministry center also serves as a worship space for City Hope GR, a nearby combined church plant of the CRC and Reformed Church in America that specifically ministers to people of all abilities.
Included in “the gallery” is a prayer area that offers some seclusion without being isolated. “We want prayer to be evident and visible, but not public. We don’t want people to feel like they’re either on display or whisked away to a separate place,” Fridsma said.
The design theme for the ministry center was “Dignify the Ordinary,” which involved the use of off-the-shelf materials such as plywood, exposed fastener siding, and raw concrete in decorative ways. Some of the finishing materials, like carpet tiles and light fixtures, were donated from one of Monroe’s original parent churches, Sunshine Community Church in Grand Rapids. Fridsma notes that the project’s “final design effort, taking bids and permits, the capital campaign, and construction all occurred during the 15 months that MCC was meeting on Zoom, not gathering in-person.
“Now, we're larger than we were before the pandemic struck. This is a testimony to both God's faithfulness and a remarkable degree of trust and resilience on the part of the congregation,” he said.