Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaces – Detroit – John Freeman Walls Historic Site and Underground Railroad Museum, Emeryville, ON

John Freeman Walls Historic Site and Underground Railroad Museum, Emeryville ON

With the abolition of the slave trade throughout the British Colonies in 1807 followed by the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833, Canada became a safe haven for runaway slaves in the United States. The Underground Railroad was a secret network of safe houses that eventually led to border crossings into Canada. However, with the border crossing through Lake Ontario and Lake Erie there were few points for runaway slaves to cross into what was then Upper Canada. Detroit and Buffalo became the last stop for many of the former slaves before crossing into Canada during the thirty plus years prior to the American emancipation.

The John Freeman Walls Historic Site and Underground Railroad Museum is located on a twenty acre tract of land twenty-five miles safely over the border in a region where many of the former slaves settled. The Walls family log cabin preserved on the site also served as the first meeting place of the congregation of First Baptist Church, Puce.

The number of refugees fleeing to Canada from south of the border reached almost 30,000 by 1852 and the church leaders became very active in offering assistance with settlement opportunities to this influx of settlers.

John Freeman Walls had been emancipated by his owner in the south upon the owner’s death, but matters grew complicated when Walls and the owner’s widow also fell in love as interracial relationships were punishable in many southern states. With no choice but to flee for safety the young couple settled the land and offered a living example long before their time of interracial harmony and love. Today’s site is owned and maintained by their great-great Grandson, Bryan Walls OC, OOnt. Bryan is an author and retired dentist from Windsor who welcomed us most warmly to the site and opened our eyes to some of the horrors facing slaves who fled for their freedom. A horse drawn wagon on display at the museum was complete with a narrow compartment which runaway slaves would be slipped into for travel between safe stations on the Underground Railroad. Above the hidden slaves the wagon would often be filled with manure in order to throw off the scent for the dogs. Here we came face to face with the incredible inhumanity of humankind throughout the ages and continuing into our own world, but Bryan’s smile would always bring us back to the triumphant power of love that his own forebears had known.

The museum was a sacred space like few others we have ever seen. There was no stained glass or cared wood. There were no frescos or murals nor vaulted ceilings or marble columns with gilded mouldings. But all of these paled in comparison with the ring of freedom and the joy of human love made all the more sacred in the preservation of tears and the telling of tales.   I will never forget the day the late Gardner Taylor preached at Yorkminster Park and told of the elders in his childhood church who had been slaves as children and spoke of Canada as Canaan’s Land. This little corner of our country is a reminder of all that is good about who we are as a people and the power of faith and love.

One of our pilgrims, Rob Mee, a gifted musician and photographer has posted some absolutely remarkable photos of this sacred space along with the others we visited and can be viewed on his website at: https://focusonmee.com/detroit-michigan/

Grace and Peace,

Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaces – Detroit – Temple Beth El

Temple Beth El

Founded in 1850, Temple Beth El is the oldest Jewish congregation in Michigan. It’s two previous buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but in time the congregation had moved out of the city necessitating the opening of a new Temple in 1973 in nearby Bloomfield Hills.

Temple Beth El was designed by the great modern architect, Minoru Yamasaki, who also designed the original twin towers of the World Trade Centre. The Temple and the WTC were designed at approximately the same time and it is said their models were constructed side by side. As a result there are those who look for signs of the former twin towers of the WTC in Temple Sinai and indeed the Ark containing the scrolls bears some similarity.

However the inspiration for the building is clearly drawn from the Hebrew scriptures. The wonderfully bright airy feel of the space is achieved with the two side walls which appear to be made of 100 canvas like panels on each side covering the exterior glass as it rises to enormous heights. But rather than meet at the top the two sides are separated by forty panels of glass forming a skylight the length of the sanctuary that brings additional light into the space. At ground level the first 8 feet of the sides is clear glass giving a panoramic view of the beautiful park like setting. It is a wonderful inviting and inspiring space.

“What does it mean?” I asked Rabbi Mark Miller as we engaged in a conversation about the space. The forty panels in the ceiling are one clue as they correspond with the number of years Israel spent in the wilderness between slavery in Egypt and entry in the promised land. During the wilderness years, Israel lived in a tabernacle or temporary shelter in the wilderness. The great sides of the Temple are meant to invoke a tent like feel in the sanctuary to remind the worshippers they are pilgrims on a faith journey with God. The floor level clear glass exposing the park like setting is to represent the manner in which the canvas would be rolled up in the wilderness and to remind the people that the faith journey is not simply a vertical relationship with the Creator above, but also with the world around.

The park like setting so visible through the floor level glass is undoubtedly also a reminder that when God finished the work of creation, God saw that it was good. In a world where there is so much bad news, the sanctuary of Beth El invites the pilgrim to look out and rediscover the goodness of God’s world and to lets its beauty speak into our faith.

One of our pilgrims asked Rabbi Miller the meaning of Beth-El. In the Genesis chapter twenty-eight, Bethel was the place of encampment for Jacob as he fled his family having deceived his father to obtain his brother’s blessing. The only pillow he could find was a rock, but in the night he dreamt of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven and saw angels ascending and descending upon it and then suddenly the Lord was with him and renewed his covenant. Jacob anointed the rock on which he slept, made a vow to God and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it. How awesome is this place. This is none other than the House of God and the gate of Heaven.” Beth-el, means the House of God and by naming the Temple Beth-El the worshipper is called to be ever open to the presence of God, even when God seems distant and silent.

“Okay,” I said to Rabbi Miller, “But what about the one hundred panels on each side of the tent?” He then took us back to Deuteronomy 10:12 which is the root of a Jewish tradition that every day we should number or offer at least 100 blessings. In other words we should stop 100 times a day to give thanks to God. In a world where instant gratification is the norm and impatience leads to constant complaining it is wisdom that will say, “Stop every ten minutes and reflect on what you are thankful for and offer a blessing.” On a bad night with nothing but a rock for a pillow, Jacob had been awakened by a dream to the reality of God’s presence and the wonder of his blessings.

It seemed only fitting to complete our visit with the words of the hymn, O God of Bethel,
O spread your covering wings around
Till all our wanderings cease,
And at our Father’s loved abode
Our souls arrive in peace.

It was only later when looking back at some of my photos, I realized that from the back the Sanctuary of Beth El might also be interpreted as two warm and inviting outstretched wings poised to welcome the pilgrim to the safety of the nest. I thought too of the Mariner’s Church which through the years had been referred to as the Sailer’s Bethel. A sailer entering Temple Beth-El might well have a sense that the two high walls with their canvas panels are the sails upon the ship of faith’s voyage.

Temple Beth El is a sacred space made alive by one’s response to the invitation to journey in faith with the tent flaps raised, the sails set and the windows, hearts and minds fully open to the beauty and mystery of God’s abiding presence and amazing grace.

One of our pilgrims, Rob Mee, a gifted musician and photographer has posted some absolutely remarkable photos of this sacred space along with the others we visited and can be viewed on his website at: https://focusonmee.com/detroit-michigan/

Grace and Peace,

Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaces – Detroit – Congregation Shaarey Zedek

Congregation Shaarey Zedek

Shaarey Zedek is the second oldest Jewish synagogue in the Detroit area dating back to the withdrawal of many of the more traditional Jews from the Temple Beth El in 1861 for the purpose of forming a more conservative worshiping community. In 1913 Shaarey Zedek became a founding movement of the Conservative United Synagogues of America. Over its first century of existence the congregation moved five times from the heart of the city further into the suburbs until the present building was erected in Southfield in 1962.

Prior to arriving at Shaarey Zedek we had spent a day and a half visiting historic churches of a variety of architectural styles, but until we arrived at the synagogue we had not seen a modern architectural expression of faith. Shaarey Zedek was the right place to go. Designed by Percival Goodman, often called the most prolific architect in Jewish history, Shaarey Zedek, is a breathtaking shrine. The San Francisco Examiner ranked it as one of the top ten most breathtaking places of worship in North America and Philip Nobel, of the New York Times described it as a “roadside attraction that parlays a skyscraping Ark and an erupting eternal flame into a concrete Sinai on the shoulder of Interstate 696.”

As one enters the sanctuary their eyes are drawn to the tone towers rising from the Ark and representing the stone tablets of Sinai. They are surround by two stained glass windows that rise from the floor on an angle and meet high above the Ark and the tablets. The lower portions of the mirror image windows is in blues which might well represent the divided waters of the Red Sea in the Exodus account, but the red glass at the pinnacle clearly depicts the burning bush through which Moses encountered God and heard his calling. It is stunning and one can only imagine on high holy days with upwards of four or five thousand people how mesmerizing those windows must be.

Rabbi Yonatan Dahlen welcomed us warmly and opened the Ark and brought a scroll to the Bimah around which we gathered as he read to the group. He was kind and patient with many questions and when he might well have dismissed us he turned to me and said, “Did you say you wanted to read a psalm.” Yes I replied it is in our pilgrimage guide and is Psalm 126.” “Psalm 126?” replied the Rabbi. “Yes, is that okay?” I asked. “Okay? It is my favourite Psalm!”

After we read it I asked why it was his favourite Psalm and he gave us an insightful reflection on verse one, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” Imagine, out of 150 Psalms I chose his favourite for our visit that day and yet I had never met him or ever spoken to him in my life! There was obviously another at work in choosing that Psalm. We are but the instruments. I went from that place feeling younger and more alive – like a dreamer.

One of our pilgrims, Rob Mee, a gifted musician and photographer has posted some absolutely remarkable photos of this sacred space along with the others we visited and can be viewed on his website at: https://focusonmee.com/detroit-michigan/

Grace and Peace,

Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaces – Detroit – Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church

Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church

Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church was the third Presbyterian congregation established in Detroit, tracing its roots to 1854. The present day church building is also the third in the congregations history and was built in 1926 with significant funding provided by the Dodge family. The Neo-Gothic structure’s most notable feature may be it’s height at 90 feet in comparison with its 54 foot width and 125 foot length. The walls and the pews are very Yorkminster Park like, but the extended height of the clerestory windows and the balcony window are much larger.

The stained glass features the rich blues and reds commonly found in windows made in the Willet studio. The church’s carillon was the first in the city, but its Skinner organ is thought by many to be among the finest in the country. As he did in almost every church, William Maddox, introduced us to the organ and played a piece featuring some of its particular strengths. William could well have played something triumphant, but instead chose a much quieter piece as if in reverence he were letting the organ speak for itself.

The park like setting adjacent to the Detroit River also adds to the charm and beauty of the church, but it is the incredible commitment of the congregation to serve the social needs of the community around, through tutorial programs for children as well as the offering of food and clothing to those in transition that made the greatest impression. Jefferson Avenue is also a centre for music and culture. We were grateful to their young minister, the Rev. Matt Nickel, who has himself moved back into the city in which he was raised. With both the beautiful space and the wonderful offerings of Christian service, it was no wonder so many of our pilgrims were drawn to this place. It felt like the way the church should be. It felt like home.

One of our pilgrims, Rob Mee, a gifted musician and photographer has posted some absolutely remarkable photos of this sacred space along with the others we visited and can be viewed on his website at: https://focusonmee.com/detroit-michigan/

Grace and Peace,

Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaces – Detroit – First Congregational Church

First Congregational Church

The 1880’s Richardson Romanesque First Congregational Church presented a wonderful contrast following the visit to the Gothic Revival style of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral. The sandstone exterior of the church with its rounded arches is set apart by its beautiful porch and a 120’ tower modelled after early Christian and Romanesque bell towers. At the peak of the tower is an ‘8 high bronze stature of the Archangel Uriel. Perhaps the most striking feature in the Sanctuary is undoubtedly with the ribbed vault ceiling feature large canvas murals of the four evangelists painted in the Beaux Arts style by the artist, Lyle Durgin who had studied in Paris. The low half domed chancel decorated with Greek crosses also catches the eye.

The church is stunning, but also warm and inviting as were all the people we met. It’s history too is rich for even before moving into its current building the congregation played a very significant role as a station on the Underground Railroad. This important history is embraced by the congregation who offer a museum featuring interaction with character actors.

However, the exterior stone is suffering terribly from erosion to the point the porch was closed. And sadly it is not just the stone that is suffering. As in so many churches today the membership too has fallen to below 100 people on a typical Sunday. When the numbers fall the buildings often suffer as budgets can’t keep up with both the salaries and the repairs. As I sat at the front alongside my co-leader, Corey Keeble, I felt a sadness. I was noticing some of the water damage on the interior walls and hearing complaints from people that the fans were too loud and they couldn’t hear. What’s more, the organ was apparently not functioning. You could tell the people loved their church, but one couldn’t help but wonder about the future of this magnificent Christian sanctuary.

I was silently ruminating on some of these distractions when I heard Corey mention the prominence of the circle motif in the Sanctuary. I happened to have been looking at the square panes of glass in the rear doors when he said it and so I thought, ‘Circles? I see squares.’ But with Corey’s mention of circles I started to look around and in no time was finding them almost everywhere. There were circles in the stained glass, in fact circles inside circles. There were circles in the ceiling by the hundreds if not more. The quatrefoils carved into the ends of the pews were circles as were the shapes painted into the chancel walls where circles were linked into circles. I started to count and reached at least 4,000, but then the church administrator, Chelsey Rayford returned to the sanctuary and I asked her how many circles there are. “Too many to count,” she replied. I thought of Abraham and Sarah barren in their later years and convinced they had no future until God told them to count the stars in the nighttime sky. When he couldn’t count them all, God said, “So shall your descendants be!”

Circles are signs of the eternal, for a circle never ends. The unbroken circle is also a reminder of the promises and blessings of God which will never end. When I told people there must be between 4,000 and 5,000 circles, they too started to count. I was soon corrected. Others were estimating between 8,000 and 10,000 circles. When we are distracted and give way to discouragement we sometimes lose sight of the blessings of this life all around us. I left the beautiful First Congregational Church and the wonderful people convinced, they do have a future.

One of our pilgrims, Rob Mee, a gifted musician and photographer has posted some absolutely remarkable photos of this sacred space along with the others we visited and can be viewed on his website at: https://focusonmee.com/detroit-michigan/

Grace and Peace,

Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaces – Detroit – St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral

St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral.

The roots of the worshipping community of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral dates back to 1760 and the church received its first charter in 1825 making it the oldest Episcopal church in the north-western United States. The current cathedral opened in 1908 is the third church building in its rich history.

It is a beautiful Gothic Revival church designed by the great American architect, Ralph Adams Cram. We have seen Cram designs in other American cities we have visited and they are always among the highlights of a tour of sacred spaces. His designs take the pilgrim back to the great Gothic edifices of pre-Renaissance Europe. There is a transcendence of time in all of his buildings and with it an unspoken invitation to focus on the eternal and the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Apart from the enormous sense of space one feels with the length and width and height of St. Paul’s the Cram appointed furnishings are consistent and even inspiring in their own right. The decor of St. Paul’s includes treasured works of art such as the carved wooden retable above the altar by John Kirchmayer of Oberammergau and two Raphael tapestries from 1516-1519. While the stained glass features work by some of the finest studios of the 20th century, Mayer of Munich; Willet; Charles Connick and others, the glass to the left and right of the main altar was purchased from a Spanish church and dates back to 1500.

There are so many other artistic gems and architectural features from the floor to the ceiling that the list could soon become a book. However, the clerestory windows will not escape notice as they are one of the few elements in the decor with a clear modern design. They are vivid and undoubtedly enhance the brightness of the otherwise dark space, but more importantly they are a reminder that the church is not simply a remnant of a previous age. They invite the worshipper to bring their modern struggles into prayer and to let the gospel speak into the issues of the day bringing inspiration, light and hope.

One of our pilgrims, Rob Mee, a gifted musician and photographer has posted some absolutely remarkable photos of this sacred space along with the others we visited and can be viewed on his website at: https://focusonmee.com/detroit-michigan/

Grace and Peace,

Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaces – Detroit – Mariner’s Church

Mariner’s Church

Gordon Lightfoot famously described Detroit’s Mariner’s Church as ‘a musty old hall in Detroit they call the Maritime Sailor’s Cathedral,’ but nothing would seem further from the impression it made on our pilgrims, many of whom at the end of our pilgrimage would refer to it as their favourite sacred space in Detroit. Regardless of where it may have ranked, one and all described it as a gem.

It should be no surprise The Mariner’s Church makes a lasting impression on Canadians for more reasons than Gordon Lightfoot’s mention of it in the Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald. Mariner’s Church sits at the entrance to the Detroit – Windsor Tunnel and is therefore the first building many Canadian’s see as they enter the United States at the second busiest border crossing between our countries. What’s more, among the eight flags hanging in the church, four trace their roots to Canadian or Commonwealth origins.

The Mariner’s Church was built in 1842 with a bequest of land on the Detroit River by Julia Ann Taylor Anderson to be consecrated for the construction for a non-denominational church where all sailors could worship freely. Sailors had often been shunned from churches in the port of Detroit.

The church was one of the first Neo-Gothic Churches in Detroit and is the oldest stone church in the city. However it was often referred to as ‘Perpendicular Gothic’ due to the placement of the Sanctuary on the third floor above street level. The first two levels were designed for commercial use to provide additional funds for the church. Through the early decades of the church’s life the lower level was also used as one of the last hiding places on the underground railroad for escaped slaves who would exit the church and cross the river to Canada. In the 1920’s and 30’s the lower levels were used as a charitable mission for the homeless and destitute who had reached the end of a different kind of road and for whom there was little hope. During these years there were few services in the Sanctuary as the sanctuary had literally become a shelter and the wooden pews beds for the homeless.

By the early 1950’s the church was no longer adjacent to the docks of the city and the sailors were gone. The poor of the 30’s had been off to war before returning to land jobs in the busy auto sector and moving to the suburbs. The Mariner’s Church was by then little more than ‘a musty old hall in Detroit.’ What’s more the city was expanding and Mariner’s Church was in the way and so its days seemed numbered until there arose a rallying cry to save the church. But saving Mariner’s Church also involved moving the 3,000 ton stone structure. In 1955 the church was jacked up onto four steel beams that were placed on rollers and over a period of a few months pulled and pushed and slid into place two blocks away.

Remarkably in its new place the first and second floors became the basement and the Sanctuary was at street level. A tower with bells was also added and beautiful stained glass. It may only have been after the remarkable move that the church became the sparkling gem it is today, but long before its last polish it was precious and all who benefited from its open doors could attest to that.

Throughout the Sanctuary there are countless symbolic references to the sea and the sailor’s life upon it as well as to Biblical references to the sea and of course the gospel accounts of Jesus stilling the storm upon the Sea of Galilee. There is also use of the historic imagery of the church as a ship and the nave of the church as the ark. The them mariner’s theme and use of Biblical imagery continues on the two lower levels where the Sunday School and Children’s Chapel are housed. The Children’s Chapel is a must see with its altar cloth decoratively stitched with Noah’s Ark, and also its child sized wooden pews.

A number of the maritime symbols and icons are obvious, but a closer look reveals hundreds if not thousands of smaller and more subtle references all of which serve to remind the pilgrim that though the signs of God’s presence are not always obvious in the midst of the storm, in moments of calm and quiet reflection we realize we are surrounded by God’s covering wings. As I considered the countless symbols I couldn’t help but think too of the countless hosts of struggling people whether slaves and sailors of the nineteenth century or the poor and homeless of the depression who found shelter in the time of storm at Mariner’s Church

The church’s link to the Edmond Fitzgerald began not with the Gordon Lightfoot song, but when the incumbent, the Rev. Rchard W. Ingalls upon hearing the news of the Great Lakes disaster went immediately to the tower to sound the bell 29 times in memory of the 29 officers and crew lost up river in Lake Superior. To this day the church hosts the annual Edmond Fitzgerald Memorial Service at which Gordon Lightfoot has often been a guest.
The Rev. Frank Bateman and the staff of The Mariner’s Church who offered us the warmest of welcomes continue to bear witness to the love of Christ to all who seek refuge from the storms of life.

One of our pilgrims, Rob Mee, a gifted musician and photographer has posted some absolutely remarkable photos of this sacred space along with the others we visited and can be viewed on his website at: https://focusonmee.com/detroit-michigan/

Grace and Peace,

Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaces – Detroit – Sts Peter & Paul Jesuit Church

Sts Peter & Paul Jesuit Church

Sts. Peter & Paul Jesuit church is the oldest surviving church building in Detroit. Erected in the mid-1840’s it served as Detroit’s cathedral church for a generation. The classical style building is bright and spacious inside with Carrara marble with carved details, but the red brick exterior points back to more humble beginnings when stone was deemed too expensive. The name of Jesus, in this Society of Jesus church, is written into the frieze above the arches of the nave in 16 different languages. It signals to one and all that there is room for everyone. The gracious welcome and message at the mid-day mass only served to reinforce this impression. Later we recessed to the church hall for sandwiches where the congregations remarkable service towards the needs of the inner city came clearly into view.

Sts Peter and Paul is undoubtedly named for the two great apostles, yet the founding Bishop’s name was also Peter Paul Lefevre and when he died his remains were buried in the crypt beneath the altar. Yet in 1939 the Jesuits transferred his remains to a nearby Catholic cemetery. I do not know the official reasons given, but it seems to say with an exclamation mark that this community will not be marked by the death of a saint, but by the resurrection life of Jesus Christ whose love is the language of the parish.

One of our pilgrims, Rob Mee, a gifted musician and photographer has posted some absolutely remarkable photos of this sacred space along with the others we visited and can be viewed on his website at: https://focusonmee.com/detroit-michigan/

Grace and Peace,

Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaces – Detroit – Historic Trinity Lutheran Church

Trinity Lutheran Church

Historic Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown Detroit left most of our pilgrims speechless. The magnificent 1928 Neo-Gothic structure is proportionally perfect and the iconography and decor on both the building’s exterior and interior is imbedded with deep theological and historical significance. Everything from the floor tiles, many with beautiful symbols of the faith, to the rich blues of the stained glass by Philadelphia’s Willet Studios, to the acoustic of the Nave with the historic Skinner organ, considered by many to be the finest pipe organs ever built, was imbued with beauty. All about were wood carvings and murals and everything seemingly perfect.

While nothing should be overlooked, including the carvings in the Narthex and even the pastor’s study, it was the Altar Reredos that spoke to many of us. The pastor, The Rev. Darryl Lee Andrzejewsk, whose name is less German than the church’s history, took the time to explain the significance of the paintings, carvings and symbols in the reredos and as he did, it was almost as if he were singing. For Holy Trinity’s reredos is an artistic illustration of the Te Deum one of the Christianity’s most ancient hymns of praise.

The Te Deum offers praise to God and acknowledges God to be the Lord of all. It brings together in praise the voices of the Angels crying aloud with Cherubim and Seraphim and all of Heaven. It reminds us too of the company of the Apostles, the goodly fellowship of the Prophets, the noble army of the Martyrs and the church throughout all the ages. And they are all represented in Holy Trinity’s reredos screen.

My first contact with the church was Tammy Eberhard, a Canadian who for years crossed the border every Sunday to attend the church that had become her home. In more recent years, she and her husband have moved to Detroit where she now serves on the church staff. I wondered why someone would cross the border to go to church, but that was before I had been to Historic Trinity Lutheran Church.

No longer do I wonder. A visit to Holy Trinity is a glimpse into heaven, but then again that is what every church whether beautifully designed or stark and bare, should be like every Sunday. Because when we gather to give praise to God we are surrounded by the great company of saints and the angelic hosts. And the setbacks of this life and locale are replaced with visions of God’s Kingdom come and God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

One of our pilgrims, Rob Mee, a gifted musician and photographer has posted some absolutely remarkable photos of this sacred space along with the others we visited and can be viewed on his website at: https://focusonmee.com/detroit-michigan/

Grace and Peace,

Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaces – Detroit – St. Joseph’s Oratory

St. Joseph’s Oratory

I arrived a full half hour before the group for our second stop on our pilgrimage of sacred spaces. It was early Tuesday morning and mass was being said at Detroit’s St. Joseph’s Oratory. The church was built in Detroit’s Germantown in the early 1870’s and was a clear reminder to one and all of the churches back home with its 200 plus foot high spire and Gothic Revival ‘Hall Church’ plan in which the ceiling above the side aisles rises almost as high as the nave of the church. The majestic heights of St. Joseph enable the original stained glass from Meyers of Munich to truly shine. In the long arduous days of industrial Detroit the workers must have found true rest as the brightness of the place warmed them with memories of home. With more than sixty carved sculptures they would have been surrounded with encouraging reminders of the great cloud of witnesses who were still close even though they were so far from home.

The steeple which is currently damaged caused the church to be closed for a few months in 2016, but the money has been raised and the work will be accomplished this summer. At its opening the church was the tallest building in all of Detroit, but even then there was trouble with the steeple. At the time of installation the heaviest bell broke free of the pulley that had raised it to the belfry causing it to crash through multi levels of flooring beneath and then shatter completely upon impact on the ground. Undaunted the founding priest simply ordered a replacement bell weighing an additional ton. Since 1872 the building has stood as a reminder to one and all to look up in faith and tune their hearts to the true notes of heaven.

Pulleys were also used at the opening of the church to raise orchestral instruments into the gallery to provide a symphonic mass to the chagrin of the residing Germanic priest whose intent was to not only provide a sanctuary to transport the people back to the fatherland, but also the purer music of the Gregorian chant as opposed to more modern sounds. This only goes to show that the so-called ‘worship wars’ go further back than most realize.

St. Joseph’s is known as an Oratory because it is one of the places where the Tridentine or Latin Mass is offered. I was unaware of this when I arrived early that morning in time for mass. While I am equipped to identify the theological shortcomings of the Latin Mass from a Protestant perspective, I had never experienced its beauty and drama. To be there as the priest turns his back on the people and speaks to God in a language familiar enough yet beyond us, rising and kneeling, crossing himself and kissing the altar, with the Sanctus Bell ringing again and again and again at least ten times was intended not to transport the worshippers back to Germany, but to their true home which is not of this world. Gothic architecture has the same intent and so the building and the mass were one in their purpose to comfort the people with the bread of heaven which has come into the world in Jesus Christ. We were blessed to be welcomed so warmly as Protestants from the other side of the border, most of whom didn’t know much Latin or German, but who believe deeply in the same Christ and know that he is our true home.

One of our pilgrims, Rob Mee, a gifted musician and photographer has posted some absolutely remarkable photos of this sacred space along with the others we visited and can be viewed on his website at: https://focusonmee.com/detroit-michigan/

Grace and Peace,