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Our History & Memorial Garden

North Hills Christian Reformed Church began as a dream in 1961 when several Christians gathered in a living room. Together these friends wanted to start a church in the Northern suburbs of Detroit which would give Reformed expression to the faith. After organizing, the group met in several different locales and used the services of several seminary interns. The current land was purchased and the current buildings were built in 1971. In November of 1981, North Hills opened its Child Care Center serving preschoolers.  Today our  Child Care Center is thriving and welcomes not only preschoolers but infants and toddlers as well.

The building and sanctuary of North Hills Church were designed by architects Straub and Van Dine on the former farm grounds of the Caswell family, a founding family of the city of Troy. The magnificent oak trees on the campus are from the original farmstead, and the church building is built on the exact site of the farmhouse which has been moved to the Troy Historical Museum. The North Hills Church building has won several liturgical and architectural awards. The center of the worship space is the hexagon communion table which we gather around in four sloping bays. Contrasting with the communal and intimate feel of the space are soaring walls and high celestory windows which flood the space with light.

The worship committee has assembled and arranged several artifacts that remind us of North Hill’s rich history. The Rev. John Malestein’s preaching stole, used by him each Sunday for over twenty years, is preserved in an oak shadowbox made by Elliott Woodworking. The first extant photo known of North Hills Church is placed high and in the middle of the wall (note the sign in the picture: “Future home of Christian Reformed Church” with the Caswell house in the background). Finally, the “golden shovel” used for three ground breaking ceremonies, and now used to dig graves in the memorial garden, is placed on a mounting bracket with a triptych photo above showing the shovel used at the three ground breaking ceremonies. Completing the display is Chris Overvoorde’s “12 stones” giclee print inspired from Joshua 4, whose words are in the display cabinet: “And when your children ask, What do these stones mean? Tell them what the LORD has done for you!”



Paul Andriese; Landscape Architect,    Grissim Metz Andriese Associates,
(The late) Douglas Chick; Sculptor, 
Fine Arts Sculpture Center of Clarkston; Foundry, 
John Grembowski; Michigan Landscape Lighting,
W H Canon Company; Landscapers,   Chris Jezske; Teak Benches

Dedicated Easter Sunday, April 11, 2004, by the Rev. Randall D. Engle and the North Hills congregation

History of the Garden

The North Hills Memorial Garden was a gift from the Leistra family to memorialize Philip Walter Leistra, Jr., 1946-2002. Phil was a long-time caretaker of the church and served for many years as its Grounds and Building Committee chairperson. Phil’s cremains were the first to be interred in the garden on Easter morning 2004. The Garden was dedicated by the church the same day, April 11, 2004.

Purpose of the Memorial Garden

Situated in the courtyard of North Hills Christian Reformed Church, the Memorial Garden is designed to be an oasis of remembrance and a visible symbol of the eternal life promised to Christians.

Landscape architect Paul Andriese placed a perfect half-arc brick path in the Garden to symbolically lead back to the church. Not only is this walkway an architectural echo of the circular lines of the sculpture, but it is also a metaphor of the cycle of life for the Christian believer. The perfect symmetry of the walk beautifully contrasts with the angular lines of the church. Simplicity of ground cover, azaleas, and magnificent red bud trees, invokes a quiet mood of reflection while providing a dignified setting for the burial of cremains. Two teak benches invite visitors to rest and reflect. The two copper birdhouses are gifts from Phil Leistra’s two grandchildren, Paige Leistra and her baby brother Brady. The garden is beautifully lit at night with shimmering lights on the trees, walk, and sculpture.

The PSALM 84 Sculpture

Cast of solid bronze, the PSALM 84 sculpture stands at the center of the garden. Designer Douglas Chick sculpted five swallows, each depicted in flight to heaven. The flight of the birds is metaphorical of the Christian’s journey from earth to heaven. The sculpture’s orb (the circle, the church’s symbol of God), is also found in Edgar Boevé’s Resurrection sculpture on the interior Chancel wall, the same wall whose exterior we see in the Garden.

USE of the garden

Members of North Hills and their families may inter cremains of loved ones in the Garden. There is no cost. Arrangements and permission for all interments of cremains are to be made through the Pastor.

Families not associated with the church who wish to have cremains interred in the Garden should contact the Pastor who will take advisement from the Church Council.

Names of persons interred in the Garden will be etched on the glass wall of the foyer. Cost for the etching, to be professionally done in matching font style and size, will be paid by the families.

The Memorial Garden is maintained in perpetuity by the church using funds from the annual Grounds Committee budget.