Kirk in the Hills was the dream and vision of Colonel Edwin S. George, a Detroit businessman whose gift of his home and estate (Cedarholm) in 1947 made the Kirk possible. As early as 1933 he saw the need for a church in this area and established the George Foundation for that purpose. The Presbytery of Detroit organized the congregation in 1947, and the first services were held that year in Cedarholm Chapel (formerly Colonel George’s music room). The cornerstone for the church was laid in 1951, the same year Colonel George died. His remains are entombed under the narthex of the Kirk's sanctuary.
Services were held in the undercroft beginning in 1952 and continued during the construction of the church until a disastrous fire destroyed most of the roof. During the 18 months following the fire, the congregation worshipped at the local high school. Exactly eleven years after it was organized, the Kirk held its first services in the sanctuary on November 23, 1958.
The Reverend Dr. Leslie Bechtel was the Kirk’s first pastor and served the church for five years (1948-1953). As the former Executive Secretary of the Presbytery of Detroit, he first met with Colonel George in 1946 to discuss George’s plan and vision for a new church. Fully supportive of Colonel George’s cause, he fought for its acceptance by the Presbytery, and later accepted the call by the Pastor Nominating Committee to become the Kirk’s first pastor (installed on November 21, 1948). Dr. Bechtel and his wife, Gertrude, encouraged members of the new church to form groups according to their interests. Membership grew from its original 79 in 1947 to 705 in 1953. Dr. Bechtel retired on September 1, 1953; he died in 1978.
The Reverend Dr. Harold C. DeWindt, serving from 1953-1971, took on the tremendous task of not only ministering to his congregation, but also supervising the construction and furnishing of the church. A powerful preacher and personable pastor, he led the church single-handedly for seventeen years (during which time the congregation grew to nearly 1,800 members) and introduced many traditions still practiced at the Kirk today. Church officers focused on building the Abbey for Christian education and the refectory for fellowship (completed in 1965). Dr. DeWindt died suddenly in 1971, a faithful minister to an ever-growing, Christ-centered congregation.
Dr. DeWindt was succeeded by The Reverend Dr. James F. Anderson, who ministered from 1972 until his retirement in 1994 (he died in 2015). Dr. Anderson’s accomplishments included the establishment of endowment funds, pastoral care groups, and a strengthened, growing program for our children and youth. Women were elected to Session, and girls joined the Acolyte Corps. Kirk in the Hills Nursery School (now the Kirk Preschool, for children ages 2-5) was established in 1983 by a group of Kirk parents and grandparents. The Kirk was a founding member of the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival in 1994 and continues as a host venue for this annual event. The Kirk began its Parish Unit program under Dr. Anderson’s tenure, for members to develop caring ties within their neighborhoods and communities. The Kirk also became the largest church in the Presbytery of Detroit.
The Kirk's fourth senior pastor, The Reverend Dr. Norman M. Pritchard (a Scotsman) arrived in January 1996 from Melbourne, Australia. Under Dr. Pritchard’s direction, the enhancement of our physical facilities and access to all Kirk facilities was undertaken, the most ambitious of which was the installation of an elevator to serve the seven different levels that comprise our campus. The Columbarium was expanded, and a second sculpture by the late American sculptor, Marshall Fredericks, was added. Women were first elected to the Board of Trustees, and a multitude of Home Bible Study groups were established. The Kirk launched its first website in November of 1996; further communications enhancements continue today for our members and beyond. Dr. Pritchard retired on November 16, 2014 with a celebration that included bagpipes, a nod to his (and the Kirk’s) roots.
The Kirk’s fifth senior pastor, The Reverend Dr. Nathaniel D. Phillips arrived in 2017. Under Dr. Phillips’ direction, outreach and mission blossomed and a new Vision Statement was born (We Envision A World Where Every Heart Experiences God’s Transforming Love). Dr. Phillips also led efforts to establish partnerships with other local churches and even a senior living community (lovingly called “Kirk West”). And when COVID-19 hit in March 2020, Dr. Phillips would remark that his call in retrospect was to see that the Church survived the pandemic, and he fulfilled that call.
Today, the Kirk is on the right track, with thanks to its pastoral and lay leaders who have worked hard to pave the way for a partnership with its sixth installed senior pastor. To name a few recent successes, the Kirk has celebrated a wonderful 75th anniversary, a successful capital campaign, and annual-giving campaign with 50 new pledges, outstanding outreach and mission work, and important facility, safety, and security improvements.