Fountain Street Church was founded in 1869 as Fountain Street Baptist Church. Gradually embracing more liberal ideals between 1896 and 1962, the church went from being Fountain Street Baptist Church to being Fountain Street Church - a non-creedal, non-denominational, liberal church.
A succession of clergy from 1896 to 1944 - John Herman Randall, Alfred Wesley Wishart, Milton McGorrill, and Duncan Littlefair, all Baptist in name and training - moved the church toward the conclusion that no profession of denominational faith was needed to be a person of faith. One could worship here as a Christian, an agnostic, or an atheist, because the task of organized religion is not to secure unity of belief, but to demand integrity of mind and spirit.
In 1962, under Dr. Littlefair's tenure, the church dropped the name Baptist, and for a time considered affiliating with the Unitarian Universalists because of similar liberal views. They opted, instead, to maintain their independence. Dr. Littlefair had Unitarian Universalist ties, as did his successors, though this was not expected or required. David Rankin served from 1982–1998. Brent Smith served from 1999–2001. W. Frederick Wooden has been the Senior Minister since 2005. Historically, other clergy have come from the United Church of Christ, Church of the Brethren, The Reformed Church in America, and United Methodist Church.
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 own funds.
- With the Dutch Reformed Church, we believe that church must be ever reforming.
- With the Church of the Brethren, we believe ministry is for all members, not just the clergy.
Our current Italian Romanesque church building was built in 1924, following a fire that destroyed the previous structure in 1917. At the time, the rebuilt church was designed to be a public auditorium, as well as a church, and it has served in this capacity many times over the years. It is currently the home of the Grand Rapids Community College Diversity Lecture Series speakers, a venue for ArtPrize and LaughFest, and the home of the Duncan Littlefair Great Speakers Series.