Dexter United Methodist Church celebrated their 187-year history with the grand opening of their new construction this past Saturday.
“Over the last two years, we’ve been seeking to build more than just buildings, but to build people’s hearts”, Senior Pastor Dr. Matt Hook told the gathering moments before the ribbon was cut celebrating the grand opening of their new construction project.
“There’s been so many people working on this and such a convergence of what we believe God is seeking to do that there’s a sense of unity here that we just can’t describe, except to say, it’s the Spirit of God as we think about the faithfulness of people over the last 187 years,” added Pastor Hook.
Dexter United Methodist Church (DUMC) has a long history in the community.
In 1832, eight years after Judge Samuel Dexter founded his namesake settlement, his wife Millisent (Gordon) Dexter began hosting Methodist Church services in their home on the Huron River. Andrew Jackson was finishing up his first term and would be elected for a second. The first wagon train headed west to Oregon. It is four years before the Alamo falls and five years before Michigan becomes a state. Ten years later Dexter’s popular cider mill would be built just down the street from Judge Dexter’s home.
Now, almost two centuries later, the church is still going strong with no end in sight. The current project, first conceived in 2014 with construction beginning in 2017, features a large multi-purpose/recreation/social hall the size of two basketball courts. The Methodists have constructed the multi-million dollar facility in an effort to fulfill their mission of providing a place that fosters community in a world where individualism and division are on the rise.
“Sociologists tell us that in recent years there is an increasing epidemic of loneliness,” Senior Pastor Dr. Matt Hook told the crowd at the ribbon-cutting. “There are major psychological and sociological studies on the loneliness of people, including young adults. The largest group of people struggling with loneliness are between 18 and 24 years of age. We can do something about that with God’s power and that’s exactly what we are doing.”
The Settlement of Dexter grew into the Village of Dexter and the Methodist Church outgrew Millisent’s living room and built their own place on Central St. They carried on for decades with services, meetings, and socials as life passed through Dexter with baptisms, weddings, and funerals.
At one time churches were often used as meeting halls for a variety of community events – common ground for everyone in the area to gather socially. The community hall, aptly named “Newkirk Commons”, isn’t the only enhancement made under the new construction.
A commercial kitchen was built to adequately serve future events. There is a new lounge complete with fireplace and coffee bar for folks to come and hang-out in throughout the week. More meeting rooms where constructed to help ease the demand for space in their educational building on Sunday mornings.
The Methodist Church was struck by lightning and burned to the ground sometime around 1930. The congregation rallied themselves, raised funds, and built a new structure that still stands today on Central Street. The congregation moved out years ago and instead of mending souls, it now repairs teeth having been converted into a dentist’s office.
The driving idea behind the spacious Newkirk Commons construction was to provide a place for wedding receptions, funeral dinners, and other celebrations that people have but maybe need a place to have it. Recreation also plays large in the future use of the space. Activities such as volleyball, basketball, yoga, and pickleball have been scheduled and already begun play, open to anyone.
A wide range of uses is exactly what DUMC had in mind with the construction. “People gave sacrificially in order to make sure that we wouldn’t just have a community center for ourselves,” says Pastor Hook, “but that we could be the center for the community, just like the church was 150 years ago…when big things happen in their lives, they have a place to go.”
In 1984, the people of DUMC purchased an old boy scout camp, Camp Newkirk, along the banks of the Huron River, almost opposite the site of the home where they had their humble beginnings 152 years earlier. The property was slowing developed and twenty-five years ago an educational building was built onto the old lodge. With its completion, the church left behind its beloved location on Central St. and permanently moved to its new location with an eye for the future.
Services were originally held in the old lodge as were other events. A new sanctuary was eventually built as well as a few more additions including a completely different building for youth dubbed “The Edge.” Most of the construction for each project was the result of the congregants rolling up their sleeves, getting dirty and blistered with each new effort. They were empowered by the vision of building a place where people would come together, a place where people could turn when they needed help.
The church continues its long-standing involvement with area needs. Recently, DUMC heard that 25 men, who had no homes of their own, needed a place to stay. The people scrambled through a quick reorganizing of scheduled holiday events and facility reservations to help out.
“So just as we’re putting on the final touches, we got to open this place for 25 homeless guys to come and spend the nights here as it kind of cold,” says Pastor Hook. “We want to keep doing things like that.”
Just a few days ago, the church received word that a volleyball facility in Saline had burned down. The very next day those volleyball players were in the new space practicing volleyball.
“That’s what we’re talking about,” says Pastor Hook. “They later told us, ‘Your being here is no accident and we are so grateful that you are here.’”
This past Friday night, Newkirk Commons hosted Nerf Club for kids. It is like paintball with Nerf guns. There were 130 kids in attendance and one observer said, “The sound was deafening. Those kids were having so much fun.”
“The energy was something like I had never seen before,” said a bleary-eyed Jeremy Hannich, Youth Pastor for DUMC. “To have that much space available for so many kids to come and have fun with other kids, meeting friends and by the looks of it making new ones, is exactly what we were hoping for.”
After Nerf Club emptied out, the confirmation class had a sleepover. “Being able to shoot a few hoops and toss a ball or two around is so much better than just sitting around,” Hannich says. “You could just feel a whole different energy around the event.”
DUMC is working hard to make this just the beginning of a whole new dynamic in the Dexter area.
“We’ve come to the moment today where we get to celebrate opening all of this in a whole new way,” Pastor Hook said. “And my prayer is that this opening isn’t just a symbol of buildings, but that it’s a symbol of our hearts opening up to people with the strength of God.”