August 12, 1927, Charles Lindbergh, having recently become the first aviator to fly non-stop from New York to Paris, flew his “Spirit of St. Louis” over Flint, Michigan – in tribute to the A.C. plant that had produced the spark plugs used in his historic flight. On the ground, twenty-seven Pentecostal believers had been meeting for prayer at the home of Lillie Underwood, and these prayer gatherings gave rise to an evangelistic association that had as its objective the establishment of an Assemblies of God church in Flint.
A tent was purchased and pitched at Lincoln School on South Saginaw Street. Rev. & Mrs. George W. Peyne, Thumb area pastors who were leading the meetings, moved directly to the site after the tent was vandalized one night. On July 17, 1927, the Central District of the Assemblies of God (Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana) set the group in order as an Assemblies of God congregation, with the Peynes as the new church’s first appointed pastors.
The congregation moved their place of worship serval times before purchasing the Riverside Methodist Church on Lewis Street, south of Dakota, in October of 1927. Shortly thereafter, Rev. John Kolenda became the first full-time pastor of the newly named “Riverside Tabernacle.”
All accounts of that period of Riverside’s history speak in glowing terms of the revival spirit of those days. The church began searching for larger quarters. In the summer of 1929, Evangelist C.E. Roberts came to Flint and constructed a large “sawdust trail” type tabernacle. Following the campaign, Riverside purchased the structure and moved it to the corner of Lewis and Dakota Streets. Eye witness accounts are given of the large crowds and many converts who were won in the days of the old “wooden tabernacle.” It is reported that “great strides were made in reaching the city, and that there was an unusual outpouring of the Holy Spirit.”
In March of 1929, the congregation purchased property at 2215 Lewis Street, and construction on the building that would house the congregation for the next twenty-three years begun on April 2nd. The rest of Pastor Kolenda’s tenure, which lasted until 1933, was a time of establishing the great growth of the 1928-29 period.
Under the leadership of Rev. Charles W. H. Scott, who arrived in October of 1933, a well-balanced offering of church ministries was developed. Additional properties were purchased through the 1930’s and the church plant was enlarged several times. These years featured notable outreaches such as street meetings, radio programs, jail services, and the founding of new churches around the Flint area.
Rev. Alton Parker succeeded the Scotts in 1941, serving until 1943, when he entered full time evangelistic work. Rev. MacArthur Jollay assumed the Riverside pastorate in December, 1943, and by the late 1940’s, the facilities on Lewis Street had become too small for the growing congregation. Plans for a downtown evangelistic center to seat 2,000 people were drawn up, and evangelistic campaigns with Rev. Tommy Waldren and Evangelist Willard Cantelon added impetus to the program.
The opportunity to purchase the Swan family property at First and East Streets was felt by the congregation to be of God and was quickly seized upon. Ground was broken for the new edifice in April, 1951, and occupied by the congregation November 9, 1952. The building, valued at $450,000, was designed by Pastor Jollay, and much of the work was done by the congregation. Ministries of the church grew. World Missions giving and Sunday School attendance reached new heights. In June, 1957, Rev. Jollay accepted a pastorate in Washington, D.C., and Rev. Tom Miller served as Riverside’s pastor until May, 1959. He was followed by Rev. Ivar Frick, whose ministry at Riverside would feature some of the greatest preaching in our Fellowship, a continuous revival spirit, and the establishment of one of the most outstanding Church – Sunday School plants in the nation. A 30,000 square foot addition was added in 1965, but much of it was lost to the construction of I-475, and additional properties were purchased soon after and the present parking lot and three story education wing was added. The updated facilities were dedicated Easter Sunday, 1972, with Thomas Zimmerman, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God as dedicatory speaker.
Rev. Frick was elected Superintendent of the Michigan District in 1976, and Rev. Morris Anderson became Riverside’s pastor. The late seventies marked a time in which Riverside actively joined with other congregations and ministries in Genesee County in the fresh outpouring of God’s Spirit that swept through the country.
The decline of the auto industry and the general economy in Flint in the 1980’s certainly had an impact on the city’s churches, and Riverside was no exception. Pastors serving in that challenging decade were Rev. Melvin Brewer, Rev. Dick Larsen, and Rev. Ronald Koland. Each communicated unique vision for God’s work in Flint, as the church addressed the needs of a changing community.