A Growing Community
The development of the Greek Orthodox community of Grand Rapids followed a pattern similar to that of others in the United States. The first settlers who came from many different regions for a variety of different reasons saw the need for religious cohesion. These settlers had left Greece for a better life early in the twentieth century and those who came to Grand Rapids originally thought that they would be returning to their homeland after making money in the United States. On arrival at Ellis Island in New York, they not only found that their traditional names were shortened by customs and immigration officials, but they also found life difficult. This was in part due to the changing life style from what they knew in Greece and also because those already in Grand Rapids were not pleased to see new immigrants coming who had different folkways.
The first mention of Greeks in Grand Rapids was a full-page article in the Grand Rapids Press on March 1, 1913 which stated that they were businessmen of stature and their accomplishments deserved the respect of other city residents.
The first religious “home” for Greek Orthodox in Grand Rapids was St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Parish House where a visiting priest held services. Woodman Hall on Bostwick Avenue was the home of the Orthodox Greeks in the 1920s. It was in 1925 that the 26 Greek families elected a church council and by 1928 purchased a house at 1000 Cherry Street, SE, remodeled it and received a charter from the state as an ecclesiastical corporation. The upstairs was used as a Greek school during the afternoons.
The community also founded a local chapter of AHEPA which was the acronym for the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association in 1922; this served the dual role of preserving the Greek heritage and also promoted Americanism among Greeks. The church survived the Depression of the 1930s and then became involved in war relief activities during World War II.
Post World War II
The natural growth of the community augmented by recent arrivals from Greece displaced by the horrors of war meant that the Cherry Street location was inadequate for the community. In 1949, the church council authorized the purchase of Temple Emanuel on Ransom Avenue, giving the Jewish community two years to vacate their property. By 1955, the new Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church was ready to be consecrated by Archbishop Michael. The communal efforts of the parishioners have kept the community very close as they financed the cost of renovating the Ransom site and began plans for construction of a larger facility with adequate facilities for Greek school, Sunday school, and social functions as well as a much larger sanctuary.
Many of the organizations associated with the church worked hard to keep the community cohesive, including AHEPA, GOYA [Greek Orthodox Youth of America], Daughters of Penelope, Philoptohos. GOYA functions as a leadership training ground for the youth of the community and is involved in the many church activities.
Current Church Location
The new facility property was moved from downtown Grand Rapids to a site about a mile east of the Ransom site with adequate parking, location for a large community center, on a well-wooded lot that has been used for church picnics. A total community involvement occurs several times a year when everyone pitches in and prepares for the Grand Rapids Arts Festival the first weekend of June as well as several community dinners during the year as fundraisers. The new church was dedicated in 1976.
In 1979, a cultural organization was created, Hellenic Horizons, which combined the activities of several other establishments to provide a cultural link to other communities, culminating in the writing of a major grant to the National Endowment for the Humanities. The exhibition that came as a result of this grant was a history of Greeks in Grand Rapids and gave our community nation-wide exposure.
Around the turn of the 21st century, the Parish Council became pleasantly concerned because each Sunday almost every seat in the sanctuary was filled, particularly when the students in the Religious Education classes filed in. The Council took weekly head counts to determine if expansion of the facilities were necessary.
The community decided on an expansion plan which would realistically reflect the demographics of the congregation and ground was broken in early May. As promised, after an interim period when services were conducted in the community hall for several months, we moved triumphantly into the enlarged sanctuary in early December 2008 in a moving ceremony.
Holy Trinity has continued to develop both as a community because many new families have joined the church as members and also to provide such activities as Vacation Bible School in conjunction with the other Orthodox communities in Grand Rapids, adult Greek school, activities for senior citizens, church-sponsored excursions, youth sport events, and other activities all in the glory of God.