I found this little abandoned country church on M-43, between Hastings and Woodland, Michigan. There was nothing by which I could identify the place, but it made for some nice shots.
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I see this building from the expressway (I-96) every time I venture into Detroit. It was a beautiful fall day so I knew I had to go out of my way to see this once special place that is little more than ruins. It was open, so I was able to walk around. I had no idea when I went through the open front door, and up the stairs into the sanctuary, whether I would encounter a bunch of drug addicts, whether I’d startle a homeless person, or step on a dirty nail. The worst I saw in there were a few half pints of cheap vodka.
I’m not the poetic of figurative type too often, but this church is one (of tens of thousands) of reminders of the past glory of the City of Detroit. As the city has gone, so have places like this. I don’t know whether churches, theaters, businesses, schools and other important places in the community fell completely apart because her people did, or her people fell apart because such places were allowed to lapse into complete and total decay. As bad of shape as the building is in, I literally had a rush walking around inside it. I’d like to go back and explore it more thoroughly someday. Sure, it’s probably trespassing, but I didn’t see any signs, and there were certainly no attempts made to keep people or the elements out.
Given it’s current state, “Abundant Life” couldn’t be a more ironic name for this house of worship.
There are several “Abundant Life Christian Center” churches in the area, one in Detroit, the other in Redford. I cannot tell whether either of these places was formally located in this particular building. Oddly enough, though, this abandoned church is still listed in the Yellow Pages online. My best guess is that the phone there no longer works.
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I drive by this great building everyday, sometimes 5-6 times a day. I’ve meant to visit, take communion there during Wednesdays mornings, but I’ve just not gotten around to it.
The only thing I really know about this church is that I like the edifice itself. It reminds me of pagoda, but still has western elements. The enclosed garden, with the large cross, is very tranquil.
The church’s home page is http://www.stjohnsplymouth.org/
The “About Us” page is helpful. If you’re like me and you’ve never worshiped in an Episcopal church, you might not know what to expect as a visitor or prospective member. The about page lays out how the worship service goes and who can take communion (open table.)
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First United Methodist Church in downtown Dearborn, Michigan, is one of those churches, from a physical point of view, makes me think of “church.” It’s classical in the sense that there is no mistaking it for anything other than a house of worship. It’s very American, yet very European. It’s not an uncommon style. That it is made of stone makes me think of strength and courage.
The church’s website is found at http://www.gbgm-umc.org/DearbornFirst/
A bit about the congregation’s history, as well as the history of the area…
The seeds of Methodism were first planted in Michigan in 1810 along the banks of the Rouge River in Dearborn. And it is from this beginning that First United Methodist Church of Dearborn traces its roots.
Michigan made its first appearance in the official records of the Methodist Church in 1809, when the Rev. William Case of Massachusetts was sent here. It took Case a month to make the 600-mile trip on horseback, much of it through trackless wilderness.
One of the converts of Case’s sermons was Robert Abbott, auditor and treasurer of the recently organized Michigan territorial government. A nucleus of converts was formed around Abbott, and his home became a hostel for Methodist preachers.
Abbott, his wife and five other men and women organized Michigan’s first Methodist Society in 1810. Within a year the group had grown to 30.
But just as Methodism began to grow, the War of 1812 broke out. The seven founders continued to hold services in their homes, and when the war ended, the Methodist circuit riders returned. On March 31, 1818, the Methodists had enough faith in their future to build a church.
The exact location of this 20-by-30-foot building is not known. But it was built on an acre of land donated by settler Thomas Sargent, who had cleared land for a farm along the Rouge River. A study of land records indicates the site was probably just east of the present intersection of Greenfield and Butler roads in Dearborn.
An article in the April 3, 1818 Detroit Gazette describes the church:
“The first Protestant Church in the Territory of Michigan was erected at the River Rouge on the thirty-first ultimo (of last month) by a society of Methodists, a body of corporate belonging to the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States. The said society was established at the River Rouge in the year 1810, and through the mercies of God has remained inflexible through the storms of war, and various trials; and by the divine blessing is still in a prosperous way.”
The article was signed by Robert Abbott, who identified himself as a trustee of the church.
The rustic building was used until 1828, when members again began meeting in homes. The church was later set afire and lay in ashes until 1851. In that year a delegation from Detroit carried away some of its timbers, from which canes were made and sold at the following Michigan Annual Conference, an annual meeting of Michigan Methodists. A cane still handed out today to the Conference’s oldest minister contains wood from the logs of that church.
In 1838, a frame church seating 200 was dedicated on the same property. Its pastor was William H. Brockway, the first minister licensed by the Methodist Episcopal Church in Michigan. That church continued to be used until 1892, when under the leadership of Rev. M.H. Bartram, a better location was purchased for $250 on Chicago Road, now Michigan Avenue. The lot was between Mason and Howard, where the Calvin Theater later stood. Here, a brick church was built.
Construction of the Chicago Road church was made possible in part by the gifts of William Ten Eyck, a member of a pioneer Dearborn family who operated a famous inn at a stagecoach stop near the present Michigan Avenue bridge over the River Rouge. Because of his generosity, the new building was called the Ten Eyck Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church.
In 1923 this church was sold for $90,000 and torn down to make room for the Calvin Theater. This money was invested in the present day church building at Garrison and Mason streets.
Services were conducted in a nearby high school until the new building was completed. Committee meetings and social functions were held in members’ homes or other nearby churches.
A pamphlet published during the period described the church this way:
“The new Dearborn Methodist will be a real church in the best sense of the term. It will be a thing of beauty to satisfy the eye. It will be an educational opportunity to furnish the mind. It will be a friendly shelter to cheer the heart. It will be a temple of worship to refresh the spirit.”
Construction of the church began in 1925, and it was dedicated in November 1926. The cost of the stone English Gothic structure: $139,000.
An educational building was built 1949 at a cost of $150,000, and was expanded in 1951-52.
In 1955, the church began studying expansion again. By 1963, the church had added its North Transept, which that expanded the sanctuary’s seating space from 650 to today’s 1000, as well as a large church parlor. Several adjacent properties were also purchased for parking, and stained glass windows were added to the entire church at a cost of $55,000.
Most recently, the church in 1996-97 added its new Pickett Memorial Organ, one of the largest pipe organs in the Detroit area , at a cost of roughly $100,000.
Today’s First United Methodist Church of Dearborn serves as it promised to in the 1920s, meeting the needs of its 900 members’ minds, hearts and spirits, and fulfilling the mission of all churches everywhere: Create disciples of Jesus Christ.
I’ve been by this place dozens of times but did not notice it until yesterday. Normally I wouldn’t be in this area two days in a row, but I drove past it again and had to stop and take a closer look.
Quite obviously, this is not a beautiful building by any standard or measure. It’s small, has obviously not been used in years, and sits completely enclosed behind a barbed wire fence.
As churches go, from an aesthetic point of view, this place is little more than a shack. But I’m drawn to it because I know that if it could talk, it would have stories to tell.
When was it built? How many babies were baptized there? How many couples married inside those walls? What did its people believe and how did they worship God? Why did it close? Did the congregation simply die off? Was there a church split?