Week 47 – Immanuel Lutheran

This week I spent some time photographing Immanuel Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids. It’s “surrounded” on several sides by the Butterworth campus of Spectrum Hospitals, a beautiful old building amid a mix of more modern one. Perhaps the continuity is that both church and hospital are concerned with healing, spiritual and medical, respectively.

The congregation dates to 1857, the current facility to 1890. With steep rise of the hill a Michigan Avenue rises from the Grand River, it was hard to get some of the angles of view that I might otherwise have used to show the church in the context of the Butterworth complex. Here’s a straight-forward image of Immanuel Lutheran, looking west, away from the “medical mile” toward the river.

As you might expect, if you follow this blog, I found some nice mirror images of the church in the buildings on the north side of Michigan Avenue. Of the three images, two in “portrait” and one in “landscape” view, I think that I like the first one best.

I also did a couple of windows/reflections images of a walkway from one of the hospital buildings to a parking garage across the street. One shows more detail inside the parking garage. The other is dominated more by perpendicular lines of the building and bridge. I like that one better.

Finally, two last images of the church in its context. One is the cover image of the blog post, repeated here so you can see a larger version of it. The other is more subtle, the west side of the church on the right of the image, and the shadow of the steeple in the building on the north side of Michigan Avenue.

The steeple of Immanuel Lutheran once was the highest building in Grand Rapids. Today it feels, if not dwarfed, at least a bit over-whelmed by the medical complex around it.

Such images–of old churches in downtown areas with sky-scraper office and bank buildings towering over them–often are used to symbolize secularization. The intellectual and institution power of medicine, or big business, has replaced the power of religion and the church. Perhaps so. But as with most things, reality is more complex.

Those small churches sometimes continue to be homes to vibrant communities of worship and care, and not just in mid-size “heartland” cities like Grand Rapids. And most scholars of religion today reject simplistic decline-of-religion views of secularization in favor of accounts that emphasize the changing place of religion in society and the changing experience of religion in pluralist cultural settings.

Stay safe, and stay warm!

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