Unitarian-Universalist Church Likely to Move from East Lansing

Sunday, February 1, 2015, 1:29 pm
Michael Lawrence

Pending the successful resolution of several approvals and other legal matters, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing (UUCGL) will move to a new space in South Lansing in early 2016. Assuming that likely outcome, the church—which moved to its current facility (a former fraternity house) at 855 Grove Street across from the East Lansing Public Library in 1971—will relocate to the former Capital Area Academy building at 5509 S. Pennsylvania once all renovations are completed in approximately twelve months.

According to church officials, the reason for the move is that the congregation has simply outgrown the Grove Street property. For years the church has struggled with a number of shortcomings with the site, including limited accessibility, shortage of parking, inadequate sanctuary seating, and lack of enough space for youth programs and other activities.

Over the years the congregation has considered a number of options to remedy these problems, including renovating or completely replacing the Grove Street building. However, following detailed consultations with architects and builders, this option—long-preferred by much of the congregation in its desire to stay in East Lansing—was eventually ruled out due to its prohibitive cost along with the inherent limitations of the small lot size.

Accordingly, for the last several years the church has been searching for a different property. A few properties (ranging in location from Okemos in the east to Delta Township in the west) were identified as possibilities, but none panned out for one reason or another—until now.

The new building at 5509 S. Pennsylvania is situated on a roughly nine-acre parcel of land. While structurally sound, the building is in need of extensive repair, having been vacant for the past three years after falling into foreclosure. In addition, extensive renovation is required to reconfigure what was essentially a modified elementary school into a facility that will serve the needs of a large-and-growing church congregation and its various activities.

Remarking on the renovations and reconfiguration, Senior Minister Rev. Kathryn A. Bert says, “the thought of a beautiful and inviting sanctuary is very appealing. However, it is the simple things that I am most excited about: spacious hallways, storage, more bathrooms, and enough room for people to feel there is a place for them.”

A major benefit of the new property is its nine-acre size. This feature obviates parking issues and offers “opportunities for such activities as community vegetable gardens, playgrounds, meditation circles, labyrinth and a Memorial Garden,” explains Bert, who has served as the church’s minister since 2002.

Although the new South Lansing property addresses well the shortcomings of the UUCGL’s current Grove Street home, Bert says the decision to move from East Lansing has been very difficult. “Between the many hundreds of church services, weddings, coming of age ceremonies, funeral services and other events that have taken place here over the past forty-five years, we have a huge spiritual and emotional investment in this space. It will be hard to leave. But ultimately life is about change, and we’re looking forward to continuing to serve the needs of our community in our new home.”

Another uncertain byproduct of the move is what will happen with the church’s involvement with the Ten Pound Fiddle Concert and Dance Series, which has long presented many of its shows in the UU Church sanctuary.

In sum, the new facility on S. Pennsylvania will become just the latest home for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing, which over the course of its nearly 170-year history in the Lansing area has met in nearly a dozen different locations. As for what becomes of its current home on Grove Street, the church would soon place the property up for sale. Whether another faith congregation, the City of East Lansing, a fraternity or some other entity will be interested in acquiring the property remains to be seen.

Below: Exterior of the church's current building in East Lansing

UU Church in East Lansing exterior


Michael Lawrence serves on the East Lansing Info Board of Directors and is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing.

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