Selling the Holy Toaster
University Reformed to Harvest Mission
"The skylights leaked from day one," says University Reformed Church pastor Sung Kim.
The URC building at 1001 East Huron was erected in 1962 at the height of Ann Arbor's brief flirtation with modernism. Irreverently nicknamed the Holy Toaster because of its slab-sided design (by Gunnar Birkerts, who also did Domino's Farms), it served its congregation for forty-six years-but the marriage wasn't made in heaven.
"The building had issues," Kim says. "The sanctuary is four stories high and made of concrete, so in the winter when you turn on the heat, it was never more than sixty degrees in there."
After taking over as pastor in 2005, Kim soon concluded the building was "hindering us from doing basic ministry. Our demographics had changed from students to young professionals with children, and we needed a space that would better suit our needs." Renamed Grace Ann Arbor, the congregation now meets in the U-M Modern Languages Building.
But the URC's departure doesn't mean that the Toaster will no longer be holy: the Harvest Mission Church has bought the building. Founded in 1996 by pastor Seth Kim-no relation to Sung Kim-the congregation first met in Angell Hall with a membership Seth Kim describes as "ninety-nine percent college students and one guy who worked for GM who made forty percent of the donations.
"We rented so many different places that we used to joke that you had to have a good IQ to find where we're meeting next," Kim recalls. "Soon people started graduating and getting jobs, and then they started getting married and having kids, so my wife and I saw that we had to get a bigger home for the church.
"We have about four-hundred-plus attending folks," says Kim-four times Grace Ann Arbor's turnout. "In the beginning ninety-nine percent were Asian American, but it's started to be multiethnic because we wanted it to be beyond race. Currently we are about forty-five percent Korean American, twenty-one percent Chinese American, fourteen percent Caucasian, five percent
African American, and one percent Latino."
Harvest Mission paid $1.7 million for 1001 East Huron. "We always want to be able to reach the U-M campus," explains Kim. "The future leaders of the world are coming out of the university, and part of our vision is to be a blessing to the college students, to get them to live a life beyond themselves, to give them a larger vision of a world, larger than money and power-to give them a world view that's more encompassing."
[Originally published in December, 2008.]