Monthly Archives: July 2018

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:

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:

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:

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:

Grace and Peace,

Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaces – Detroit – Islamic Centre of America

Islamic Centre of America

Our first stop on our Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaces to Detroit was the Islamic Centre of America in Dearborn, Michigan, where we were welcomed with warmth and respect and kindness. The Islamic Centre is the largest mosque in America, and built in the most densely populated Arab community in North America. However, being known as the largest mosque in America has made this faith community a target most notably by a fundamentalist preacher from a tiny church in Florida who announced to the world he would burn a copy of the Koran in front of the Islamic Centre a few years back. While this hate filled fanatic hid behind his constitutional right to religious freedom, he failed to see that his actions were a direct assault on the religious freedoms of another. Where one group’s religious freedom is violated, religious liberty is violated for all. The good news is that on the day before the assault Christians, Jews, and even atheists held a rally in support of the mosque, in which they held hands in unity around the exterior while on the day of the fundamentalist preacher’s visit, quite deliberately, no one was there.

It was a wonderful reminder that on many levels we must work together. As it turns out the mosque is very adept at this. Some time after the mosque was completed there was still decorative work to be done on the interior. The community sent several leaders of the mosque to Lebanon to seek out a professional person with experience in decorating such a space. The ideal person happened to be an Armenian Christian who came, but only after insisting he not be paid and that whoever worked with him do the same. He built a significant team of volunteers to assist him and again he insisted they represent a broad range of religious traditions including Christian, Jewish and non-believers. We were blessed to see the decorative work fully completed.

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:

Grace and Peace,

Dahlias Are…

Dahlias were dead at first fall frost,
all but the tuberous roots were lost.
Cleaned, sorted and stored in the dark
their future surely seemed quite stark.

But shortly after Easter Day
Planted were they in pots of clay
with soil, light and water they grew
up through the soil in a week or two.

By Victoria Day they’d moved outside,
soon in the garden with stakes to guide.
Some were in bloom by the end of June,
the rest will be showing very soon.

Gardener stand back and be awestruck!
Not your doing and not just luck.
Summer’s blooms are a gift of grace,
their bursts of colour to Eden trace.

Their victory over winter’s tomb,
sings out through every bloom.
A song for times we can’t cope
calling us all to live in hope.

JPH 05-07-18

Grace and Peace