History of PUCC
Founded in 1963 Portage United Church of Christ continues to fulfill its mission to invite, inspire, and equip people for a maturing relationship with God through Jesus Christ to make a positive difference in the world. PUCC is the spiritual home of families, singles and empty nesters who embrace traditional values and come from a variety of faith backgrounds. We cherish our diversity, welcoming and accepting all people.
As early as the 1950’s, a suburban Congregational church was the dream of a group in the First (Congregational) Church of Kalamazoo. Meetings, studies, decisions, and finally action, culminated in the purchase of a piece of land on West Milham in late 1961. These were times when the merger of the Evangelical and Reformed and the Congregational-Christian denominations were taking place with the impact on local churches. The steering committee, composed of six First Church lay people, Association and Conference representatives, were aware of the spiritual needs of families moving into the new homes in the suburban Portage area. It was a beautiful, joyous day on September 9, 1962, when the Committee joined with the Reverend Arthur D. Zillgitt and his first congregation to celebrate the first service of the new church, meeting at Haverhill School.
Construction of our new church building was begun in October, 1966 (during which the wind-crumbled walls earned for us the temporary nickname of the “Jericho” Church). Services were inside the new walls on Easter of 1967, with the sky for a roof and snow falling on the worshippers. We dedicated our new building on September 10, 1967.
Portage church became a valuable and dependable bulwark for many community-based services, opening it’s doors to use by other organizations, supporting projects such as FISH, Planned Parenthood, blood drives, to name a few. This was a tribute to the founders who had been very specific in wanting the new church to be one of outreach and use to the community.
A small congregation in a small building learns to be all things. It’s members serve as planners, teachers, writers, typists, collators, missionaries, singers, leaders, followers, pastor’s aides, janitors, painters, gardeners, not to mention tile layers. Indeed Portage Church, which later became Portage United Church of Christ, in the early years absorbed the time and thought of all those involved.
A quote from Rev. Art Zillgett capsulizes the first 25 years of Portage UCC: “The generous giving and faithful worship attendance, the caring for one another, the community outreach, the involvement of youth in the life of our church, are all signs of a healthy, vital congregation. There’s much to celebrate here and give thanks for!“
Rev. Terry Tessari, pastor at the beginning of the second twenty five years in our history cited “That this church house is a house for ourselves to meet our needs we cannot nor need not deny. But that it is first and foremost a house of God built on spiritual foundations in which we learn about and worship God and from which we seek to serve others in God’s world, we must not forget.”
At present, of the 61 charter members of Portage Congregational Church, UCC, there are 3 of those 61 still active in the life of PUCC, and one out-of-town member still on our rolls. At the end of 2011, our membership was 607 members (591 active). Building additions in 1977 (education wing), in 1983 (new sanctuary), and in 2001 (new education wing and administative offices) increased the physical structure four fold (or quadrupled).
In 2009, then Pastor Scott Oberle wrote in our annual report: “2009 has been a year of uncertainty for our wider Portage and Kalamazoo community. Yet in the midst of these struggles and times of anxiety, I have found our church family to be a beacon of hope and joy. The echoes of which can be seen through the continuous stream of new visitors from the community, new members who have enhanced and grown our sense of Christian family, and an engagement in ministry with our community at an always fluid and committed pace.”
After 50 years, we can look back with both pride and humility. God has seen us through struggles, growing pains, and many successes as we have strived to be a faithful member of the Southwest Association, the Michigan Conference, and the United Church of Christ, as well as the Portage/Kalamazoo community. For all that we have been able to accomplish, we give thanks and glory to God, and look forward to more struggles and successes as we proceed into the next 50 years.