Chilson Hills Church began in the living room of Rick and Judy Kontz. Their first meeting took place on June 18, 1974. The group continued to meet each Tuesday evening for Bible study and their bonds continued as they pointed the future course of the church in the direction of loyalty to Christ and loving concern for each other and for all who need the presence and power of Christ in their lives.
On October 15, 1974, Rev. Merle Meeden was asked to be the organizing pastor of the new church. Under Rev. Meeden’s leadership, the fledgling church was able to make plans for starting Sunday morning worship services and Sunday school classes.
On the cold, snowy Sunday morning of February 16, 1975, the first public worship service was held in the Boy Scout Building in downtown Brighton. Approximately fifty adults and children attended, including guests from several other churches. Chilson Hills Baptist Church was officially organized on June 1, 1975 with 93 adults and children in attendance. At this historic service, 20 people signed the charter of the new church and 12 others were added later making the total number of original charter members, 32.
The site for Chilson’s original building was chosen because of its accessibility to several nearby towns. Since that time the congregation has experienced four building projects. The first building was constructed and dedicated in 1976.
In December 1977, Rev. Meeden retired, Gordon Schroeder began serving as interim pastor for Chilson Hills Church. Rev. Ronald Smith of Niles, Michigan was called as the first full-time pastor for Chilson Hills Church on March 5, 1978. However, due to family responsibilities and additional concerns, Rev. Smith terminated his ministry on January 14, 1979. Dr. Emil Kontz served as interim pastor of the church from January 21 to April 30, 1979.
On February 18, 1979, the church unanimously agreed to call Rev. David Swink to serve as the church’s next pastor. Reverend Swink had served previously at First Baptist Church of Birmingham as their associate pastor for 4.5 years. David Swink came with his wife, Jamie and their two daughters Margie and Betsy. The family of four was greatly loved and Reverend Swink enjoyed a long and prosperous tenure at Chilson of 32 years.
In 1981 it became evident that the Church was growing and needed more space. The second building project occurred and an educational/administrative wing was dedicated in 1983. By 1986 it was evident that the growth of the congregation would necessitate a new and larger sanctuary. In 1987 a building committee was established. A traditional sanctuary was designed but the finances for that sanctuary were not forthcoming. By 1991 the congregation was back to the drawing board and seeking to find a way to be able to meet the growth needs of the congregation. In 1994 a long range planning process was instituted to evaluate all of the Church property and programs. A new Building Committee, with Wally Qualls as Chair, was also established to form a master plan for the 12½ acres of Church property.
Following a new vision and mission objectives adopted in June of 1995, the Building Committee designed a Community Ministry Center. It was divided into two phases — Phase I was a small building project to upgrade the nursery, bathrooms, and provide a new entrance. Phase II would be the erection of the multi-purpose building.
The third building project of the congregation was Phase I in the master plan project. In 1995 we began Phase I utilizing the skills of our congregation. The project was small enough to give us opportunity to determine whether or not we could build Phase II by ourselves. A great deal was learned in this process. We learned that the congregation would respond and do projects with limited skills. We also learned that skilled trades often ended up working by themselves. There was a great deal of commitment on the part of a number of people to do big projects, but we had difficulty getting people to do some of the finish work. We had hoped to be able to pay for the entire project from the money contributed but we learned that this was not realistic. We built the addition that was projected to cost about $150,000 for little more than $80,000. We were able to collect a substantial amount of money toward paying the $80,000.
When Phase I was under construction the Building Committee planned Phase II. At an all-church meeting on May 19, 1996 the vote to proceed to build a new Community Ministry Center was wholeheartedly affirmative. With the appropriate approvals in place in June 1998 a service of groundbreaking was held and we began to build. After contractors finished the external work during the first year, he congregation took over in May 1999. Since then, with the exception of carpeting and professional dry wall installers for the ceiling in the worship center, the congregation has done all of the work. No injuries occurred during the work on this building, another sign of God’s blessing.
The Chilson Hills Memorial Garden and Columbarium
The Chilson Hills Memorial Garden and Columbarium began and was styled after a rustic campground chapel while the bell was donated by Stan and a memorial stone became a place of remembrance for persons buried elsewhere. Les Upton offered a columbarium design and in the mid 1990’s a second cross on the north side of the garden was added.
Around 2000, an anonymous gift of $40,000 was donated towards the construction of the sidewalk, the podium area, new seating, the retaining wall, and the patio. Bob Dietze drew plans for the retaining wall while Steve Funke, Rick Barnes, and the Livingston Concrete Company of Green Oak collaborated to fashion a concrete block without compromising its strength. As Chair of the Property Management Team, Wally Qualls provided oversight for the construction of the wall.
A crew led by Steve and Rick installed the benches. Later, Bob Miley and his company Pyramid Concrete, poured the walks and patio. Nick Miller and Doug Berry led the sod and grass planting while Wally and Steve laid the stone under the benches, donated by Brian Hodges. In order to complete his Eagle Scout project, Connor Grady laid the block donated by Carol and Donita Pyles and then added a nearby fire pit.
David Swink worked behind the scenes with the American Baptist state office to ensure the property, buildings, and Memorial Garden would be under the long-term care of American Baptist Churches of Michigan, if needed. Honoring its development, the Memorial Garden was re-dedicated in early summer 2008.
On October 2010, the church unanimously voted to call their third full-time pastor, Rev. D.J. Reed from Dallas, TX. D.J. came with his wife, Heather and their two sons, Danny and Lincoln. Chilson Hills Church had grown to over 250 members under Dr. Swink’s leadership and during his tenure, the church had developed a thriving small groups ministry, two Sunday morning worship services, an inspiring deacon training program and an institute of discipleship courses.
DJ Reed officially took over as senior pastor in June 2011 and has passionately led our congregation closer to Christ through countless ways. One of which, he championed many community outreach efforts including a partnership with the Severe Weather Network allowing the use of our building to house those in need. One of the many ways that Chilson has grown during DJ’s leadership was the completion of our lower level providing a comfortable space for church events, space rental opportunities and small group meetings.
2020 will forever be known as the Covid year. COVID-19 has brought challenges over the past year to our congregation members. Amazing expressions of creativity in response was experienced using Covid as an opportunity to explore virtual presence while continuing worship both indoors and outdoors in the garden as Covid or the weather permitted. Through hard work and many creative minds, videos were developed reaching out to members in their homes. Members are shown having fun in that chaotic time or sending care messages. The videos brought joy to many when Covid times were dark. We used our parking lot for parades. We worshipped together in the garden or inside when possible, and always virtually. Inspirations like “Thursday Blues” a unique retelling of the final hours of Jesus’ life set to blues music and Two Minute Devotions were shared virtually. In March we returned to our building with respect for personal choice and comfort.
DJ has been called to continue his ministry through hospital chaplaincy. Chilson Hills Church and the congregation remains grateful to DJ and his family for sharing their lives with us in Christ, we support this transition with grace and love. In order to prepare the congregation for the leadership transition, Rev. DJ Reed and the leadership of the church put together a transition plan which will allow DJ Reed and Angela Miller to serve together as co-pastors until a replacement as been found or until August 2022 has been reached.