HISTORIC EASTERN MARKET TOUR
ST. JOHN’S – ST. LUKE
THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
The German Evangelical Church (later to merge with the Reformed Church, known as the E&R, still later to merge with the Congregational Christian Church, itself a merger of the Christian and Congregational Churches, to form the United Church of Christ) was originally a break off from the Lutheran Church.
The present congregation grew out of the old St. John’s Evangelical Protestant Church, which first met on August 18, 1833. About 25 people assembled in John Hais’ carpenter shop at the corner of Woodbridge and Bates (now the site of Ford Auditorium). The Rev. F. Schmid, a Swiss pastor on his way to Ann Arbor, sent there by a missionary society in Basel, met with them.
As the congregation grew, services were moved to the session room of a Presbyterian church on Woodward Avenue where the City-County Building now stands. By 1836, the growing congregation was able to purchase a lot at the southeast corner of Monroe and Library, and a 35’ x 50’ wood church was constructed. A school was erected behind the church in 1845 where lessons were conducted in the German language.
By 1853 the members had outgrown the small wooden church which was sold and moved. In its place a new brick church, 56’ x 75’, was built which seated 850 and was dedicated on January 9, 1953. At midnight on August 6, 1854, a fire destroyed the interior of the new church. Charles W. F. Haas had been the pastor of the congregation since 1852, but left one month after the fire. He was replaced by Rev. C. F. Soldan, and was succeeded by Rev. Herman Miller after one year. Rev. Miller’s pastorate resulted in a fit in the church, and in 1861 he and part of the congregation left the society and organized a German Presbyterian church. Following the split, Pastor Haass was again called to serve the society, and did so until his retirement 38 years later.
By the early 1870’s the congregation had grown to about 1500, again overtaxing the existing facilities. A branch church, “Die Deutsche Evangelische St. Paul’s Gemeinde,” was founded in 1872. To date some other 30 congregations were also spawned by St. John’s.
In ?????? a German school was built on Chestnut Street just east of Russell. The society met in the school until the present sanctuary was ready. St. John’s was dedicated at its present site on September 20, 1874 with the German school to the rear.
By 1870 there were more than 12,000 German-born people who made up 16% of Detroit’s population, by far the largest ethnic group in the city. By 1880 that number had grown to 17,000. The area known today as Greektown is the major remnant of that old German community.
At the turn of the century when Pastor C. W. F. Haass concluded his ministry, St. John’s was a strong, vital church of 2500 members, including 30 millionaires. The size of the membership continued through 1916 when massive renovations to the church were made. An executive of Detroit Edison was a member of the congregation and saw that the wiring of the church was state-of-the-art. That lighting system which was added at that time remains one of the striking features of the church. At the same time the painted exterior bricks were covered with rock-faced ashlar. If you look to the rear of the building (the school portion) you can still see the portion which was not covered.
During the First World War, anti-German sentiments came close to hysteria. Anyone of German descent was suspect. Expressions such as “hamburger” were dropped from the American vocabulary in the name of patriotism. German-sounding street names were changed. Individuals changed their family names to conceal their German background. It simply did not pay to be German. At St. John’s where the service was still conducted in German, and where the congregation was obviously Teutonic, the climate was disastrous. Attendance and membership plummeted as people disassociated themselves from an organization so visibly German in character. Many people never returned.
As the city expanded and suburban development began, St. John’s branched into new areas, its parishioners founding more than a dozen new congregations. During the Second World War, Rev. Charles F. Kesting joined the church at a period of declining membership and support. After his sudden, unexpected death in 1969, the congregation was faced with the task of finding a pastor on very short notice. St. Luke’s Church had also undergone a disheartening decline in membership, and therefore their pastor Rev. Armin Frohne (close friend of Rev. Kesting) came to St. John’s bringing his congregation with him. This alliance created St. John’s – St. Luke.
Slowly the neighborhood around St. John’s had become run down and unsightly. The once stately Victorians became perceived as slums. The church, designed to be a landmark, lost its spire in the 1930’s and thus reduced its visibility. Then in the 1950’s came Lafayette Park which is directly adjacent to St. John’s. Lafayette Park was to be a luxurious community on the site of a slum. People were slowly enticed back into the area. Lafayette Park is now an established neighborhood (it will attain a historic designation this year (note year was ???) ) comprised of residents who have discovered the advantages of living in a great city. Across Gratiot, Eastern Market has changed from a grimy environment of garbage and slaughterhouses to an interesting and unique place to shop and draws shippers from the whole metropolitan area. St. John’s – St. Luke has gone through many transitional periods but always remained a vital part of the neighborhood.
St. John’s – St. Luke was a center of the Abolitionist movement, and a station on the Underground Railway. The church still possesses a casket which was used to carry slaves to Canada in mock funerals. (The casket is on display on the second floor.)
The Gothic Revival building was designed by a local architect, Julius Hess and constructed in 1874 with a seating capacity of 1500. It was build to red brick, but covered with rock-faced ashlar in 1914. In 1883, at the 50th anniversary of the organization of the church, three bells in the steeple were dedicated; the largest weighed 2907 lbs. And carried the inscription, in German “Glory to God in the Highest”. (Where are the bells now?)
The once-dark woodwork has been painted white, but the front of the balcony was always white. The row of lights was probably installed during the addition of electricity in 1914. At one time there was stenciling on the ceiling and organ, but has since been covered. Pews and the wide boards of the flooring are original. At the liturgical east is a typical German Protestant arrangement with the altar, pulpit, and organ, one above the other. (Martin Luther taught that the altar, the preaching and the music are all central to worship, hence the wall pulpit hangs over the altar and the organ is over the pulpit.) Galleries surround the other three sides in show boat fashion. Room treatment is an adaptation of the hammerbeam truss.
The organ stands in a gallery above the altar and wallhung pulpit, housed in a typical Gothic Revival case now painted white and gold. The console is attached at center, largely hidden from the floor of the church by the elaborate canopy of the pulpit.
The exact date of the instrument is uncertain, but evidence suggests that the organ was built shortly after the church was built, about 1870. A pewter or German silver plate above the Great manual reads: “G. E. Votteler, Cleveland, Ohio.” Manual compass is fifty-six notes, and pedal compass is twenty-seven, with a flat pedalboard. Stopknobs are arranged on vertical boards to right and left. Original knobs have square shanks and ivory plates. There are 1077 pipes.
Areas on the console not painted gold and white show a light brown finish on oak, suggesting an original color for the case. Façade pipes are painted light blue with gold bay leaves, but there have been at least two sets of stenciled decorations on the pipes previously.
The sound of the organ is said to have a brash and ringing quality, but since the organ has given a 100 years of service with no major mechanical rebuilding, the organ is playing well and we would hope that it has a long life in front of it (particularly given the devotion of the congregation.)
During 1984 the organ was completely restored and then rededicated on the 300th birthday of Bach, March 21, 1985. Years of service by someone unfamiliar with cone tuning had left the pipework a shambles, and tuning an impossibility. The pipes have been repaired and straightened, and the organ returned to what was apparently its original pitch.
The central window in the upper gallery is the Judaeo-Christian Memorial Window and was dedicated in 1947 to the spirit of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. It features the Star of David with the figures of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and has won a national citation.
Transept gallery – (two lateral arms of a cruciform church) The North transept gallery features “The Holy Trinity” and the South transept window is entitled “the Cardinal Virtues”.
Each of the Clerestory Memorial Windows has a different Cross of Christendom featured.
All of the windows were installed by the Detroit Stained Glass Works*, which presented a plaque honoring the Rev. Schmid.
* THE DETROIT STAINED GLASS WORKS 1861 – 1970
The Detroit Stained Glass Works was established in 1861 by Charles Friedericks and Peter Staffin, under the name of Friedericks and Staffin. In 1878 “Detroit Stained Glass” became part of the firm name. Friedericks was born in Germany in 1838 and came to the United States in 1844. Staffin was born in Erie County, New York, in 1841. Together they engaged as glass stainers for churches, dwellings, steamboats, and railroad cars as well as producing decorative stained glass products of all other kinds. They advertised that “customers may furnish original designs, which will be produced in stained glass without extra charge, and such designs will not be duplicated by the firm for other orders.” In 1896 Staffin left the company and moved to Ann Arbor and Edward Wolfram joined the firm which then became Friedericks and Wolfram. (note – this is correct according to the book.) In 1909 they incorporated as the Detroit Window and Stained Glass Company. Wolfram left the firm in 1914, and the firm became known as the Detroit Stained Glass Works, the name it retained until it closed its door in 1970.
From: Discovering Stained Glass in Detroit by Nola Huse Tutag with Lucy Hamilton (page 150)
Text from SB’s initial Eastern Market tour script (circa 1996)