TRAVERSE CITY — First Congregational Church’s new transitional minister has a familiar face — the retired Rev. Gary Hogue.
The former 26-year Congregational minister came out of semi-retirement Sunday to help celebrate the church’s 150th anniversary and also continue church services until an interim minister can be found.
It has not been an easy anniversary year for the 850-member church, which has been caught up in internal strife for about a year over former minister, the Rev. David Walls’ leadership style and refusal to allow a Muslim mosque leader to perform a “call to prayer” during a Veterans Day concert in November 2012. Walls announced in August that he would step down as senior pastor of First Congregational Church. His last Sunday was Sept. 22.
First Congregational is Traverse City’s second oldest church and has played an important role in community life since its beginning. It has weathered other storms during its long history and many people seemed to think Sunday that Hogue will help guide them back to more stable ground.
The congregation approved Hogue as transitional minister in an overwhelming Oct. 2 vote. It also elected a new board after the church sent ballots to 859 members and 550 voted. Hogue and his wife, Karen, have done pastoral work since his 2010 retirement.
Traverse was little more than a muddy, gritty, sawmill village on Feb. 1, 1863 when the First Congregational was founded and chartered. The nation was split over slavery then. Congregationalist leaders in the Northeast, where many of Michigan’s early settlers came from, advocated for abolition of slavery, temperance and suffrage.
The town’s first church, Methodist Episcopal on Union Street, was five years old then. It is known today as Central United Methodist. Both churches were built on land donated by lumber barons/town fathers Perry Hannah and A. Tracy Lay, who bought a failing mill and 200 acres of prime pine forest in 1851 and began turning the town into the heart of a lumbering and mercantile empire.