“History is institutional memory, and if we forget our history, we erase
where we have been, how we got here, and the knowledge created—
often at a high price—along the way. For all these reasons, our history is
an important institutional asset.” — The History Team
The History of C3
C3 began as the First Reformed Church of Spring Lake in 1870 under the Muskegon Classis of the RCA. The first Minister was Reverend James J. DuPree who served for ten years. Rooted in the theology of John Calvin, the First Reformed Church of Spring Lake was devout and conservative. A larger church was built on Exchange Street in 1938 and was paid off in seven years. (The church on Exchange Street is still there, with several subsequent additions).
Seventeen ministers served over the first 100 years, some for only a year or two and others for a decade or more. In 1971 Richard Rhem came to the First Reformed Church of Spring Lake. Studying under Hendrikus Berkhof, Rhem gained a non-dogmatic view of Jesus, and a wider view of God’s Grace. Over the next two decades, Rehm encouraged a more open and inclusive view of doctrine. Along the way we changed our name to Christ Community Church; we invited divorced people, Alcoholics Anonymous, and other disenfranchised groups to join our community. In the 1990s we welcomed everyone regardless of sexual orientation.
In 1997 we separated from the Reformed Church in America. In 2004, after Rehm’s retirement, Reverend Ian Lawton came to us with his family from Australia. His teachings focused on Values about being our best selves rather than stemming from a doctrine.
In 2008, Lawton and the Board of Trustees proposed and —after extensive discussion and consideration by the C3 Community—decided that the cross outside the sanctuary should be removed because it no longer reflected the practice or mission of C3. With much local attention and notoriety, the cross was taken down and was respectfully given to another church. This change attracted new people to the C3 Community and sent away others who felt less at home. The Community decided to change its name to C3 Exchange to clarify our new theological position.
In 2013, Ian shared with the Community that he was an atheist. This revelation shocked some and was welcomed by others, again resulting in some members leaving while attracting others. Eventually Ian felt he could no longer be a pastor, and he and his family moved back to Australia.
In 2014 Barbara Lee was hired as interim leader and served nearly 18 months. During this period the Community created a membership process, formed a Sunday Gathering Team, established democratic procedures for elections, and took part in safe community/safe kids training. Barbara was our Speaker/Teacher twice monthly, with guest speakers on the alternate Sundays. Although originally driven by financial concerns, Community members have come to enjoy the variety of teachings the other speakers offer. The Community also selected and voted on a new name, C3, West Michigan’s Inclusive Spiritual Connection.
Our interim period ended with a successful search for our new leader, Jennifer Atlee-Loudon in 2016. Jennifer had recently returned from 30 years of work supporting social justice and environmental rights activists in Central America. However, with the election in 2016, her talents were needed more in Washington as well as Central America, as activism in general for gay rights, women’s rights, water protectors, and black lives gained momentum.
In 2017 Kent Dobson was hired as the Lead Teacher, following the same leader search process we used for hiring Jennifer Atlee-Louden. Kent’s background was in conservative Christianity, however, at the same time we were looking for a new leader, he was also searching for a new direction. He had recently published a book, Bitten by a Camel, chronicling the evolution of his spiritual journey. He maintains the pattern of speaking every other Sunday, allowing for other local, spiritual voices to remain a vital part of our Sunday Gathering.
Our core values—Common Humanity, Diversity, Open Inquiry, Compassionate Action, Environmental Sustainability and Well-Being.
We have an elected Board of Trustees and two committees chaired by board members. These are the Community Life Committee and the Outreach Committee, organizational structures that parallel our Vision Statement. We have over 250 members, and a Sunday Gathering attendance of about 100 people.
C3 is a member of the International Charter for Compassion and creates events that promote compassion and peace in our local area. C3 has built a bridge that takes many in our Community to Muskegon Heights for mentoring in schools, volunteering in school libraries, supporting the Muskegon Heights Branch Library, and being open to opportunities to help.
C3 continues to build relationships with other progressive churches, with communities in need, and with organizations that can advance agendas of social justice in West Michigan.
We hold each other in an embrace of warmth and caring. We share our stories, hopes and losses, and learn together what it means to be our best selves and live a good life.