Our Baptist forebears were devoted to freedom of conscience, which— more than a century ago— this church took so seriously they even questioned whether one needs to believe in God or Christianity to be part of a religious community.
Although founded as early as 1842, between 1896 to 1956 Fountain Street Baptist went from being a mainstream Baptist church to being a non-creedal liberal church, ultimately severing its ties to the American Baptist Church and eschewing any denomination.
A succession of preachers, John Herman Randall, Alfred Wesley Wishart, Milton McGorrill, and Duncan Littefair, all Baptist in name and training, successively moved the church toward the ultimate decision that no public profession of faith was needed to be a person of faith. One could worship here as a Christian, an agnostic, or an atheist, as the task of organized religion is not to secure certain beliefs but to demand integrity of mind of soul regardless of belief.
Since the ministry of Dr. Littlefair, who changed his clergy affiliation when the church left the Baptists, the senior minister has been Unitarian Universalist, though this is not expected or required. David Rankin served from 1980–1996. Brent Smith served from 1998–2001. W. Frederick Wooden has been senior minister since 2005. An assortment of sermons from several ministers are available by visiting the Library .
Our current sanctuary and church house were built in 1924 following a fire that destroyed the previous structure in 1917. At the time it was designed to be a public auditorium as well as a church, which it has done many times over the years. It is currently the home of the GR Community College Diversity Initiative speakers and the GR Women's Studies.
Though autonomous and non-denominational, Fountain Street Church is connected to a variety of institutions via their ministers:
- The University of Chicago Divinity School where six of the seven ministers trained.
- Various Baptist churches such as Hyde Park Baptist (now Union) Church in Chicago where John L. Jackson (Randall's predecessor) served following his tenure at FSC, Mount Morris Baptist Central Baptist Church of Trenton New Jersey where Wishart served prior to coming to FSC, and First Baptist Church of Boulder Colorado, where McGorrill served prior to FSC
- Nine Unitarian Universalist churches in California, Georgia, Indiana, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, New York, Wisconsin and Texas where Rankin, Smith and Wooden served prior to their arrival at FSC. Smith is now the founding minister of All Souls UU Church of Grand Rapids.
Other clergy who have served us have been Congregationalist, Church of the Brethren, and Dutch Reformed. They have served churches in Connecticut. Indiana, Michigan, New York, and Texas in addition to their service at FSC.
All these connections have nourished our current spiritual identity:
- With the Baptists we share a commitment to absolute liberty of spiritual conscience and the rigorous separation of church and state.
- With the Unitarian Universalists we share a commitment to examining all claims of religious truth and testing each against the evidence of science and other disciplines of knowledge.
- With the Congregationalists we share a commitment to spiritual democracy, meaning that the local church should govern itself, choose its clergy and raise its funds.
- With the Dutch Reformed Church, we believe that the Holy Spirit lives in and can speak through everyone.
- With the Church of the Brethren, we believe ministry is for all members, not just the clergy.