United Methodist Church of the Dunes by Alden B. Dow
Alden B. Dow began the design of the Methodist Church of the Dunes in 1957 and completed the working drawings in 1960. Construction bids amounting to $276,468 were accepted and the ground-breaking ceremony was held on April 2, 1960. The completion of the church was celebrated in February of 1961.
The architect took full advantage of the wooded site overlooking Lake Michigan, as described in the opening paragraph of an article from the Grand Haven Tribune:
“Fitting snugly into the contours of Grand Haven’s sand dunes, the new First Methodist Church reflects the architectural genius of Alden B. Dow and the Methodists’ aim of ‘A Living God.’ Blending into the quiet simplicity of the woodland, the church seems to have been gently laid in place by the time-worn hands of the Creator himself.”
The exterior of the church is a sandy pink brick that suits its lakeshore setting. The pitched roof sits low and overhangs the brick walls, but increases gently in height from front to back. The roofline forms a deep peak directly over the recessed entry doors. Upon approach, the church almost appears to be a graceful bird about to take flight.
The building’s 17,374 square feet includes seating for 340 in the nave and choir. In the diamond-shaped floorplan, the pews are set at right angles and focused upon the altar. Tall glass window walls alongside the pews foster closeness to nature. As the ceiling rises toward the altar, a curved brick wall also rises behind it to form the choir loft. Above it, a simple free-standing cross is illuminated by natural light from tall windows on each side. The angled walls alongside of the cross contain the organ chamber and are covered by narrow columns of offset irregular-shaped wood blocks of comb grain white oak.
An ell that extends to the left of the church entrance includes the church offices, a library, and nurseries. The lower level features a social hall, youth room, classrooms, and a kitchen. On the outside, the ell and adjoining church wall form the borders of a small landscaped courtyard.