Historic Detroit

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Mount Calvary Lutheran Church

The earliest beginnings

At the very beginning it was the now sainted Rev. W. Leitz, pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church of Halfway, now East Detroit, who in the year 1921 first recognized in this neighborhood a potential spot for a Lutheran Church . He made two attempts at gathering the people of the neighborhood for church services. Because of the lack of proper space for worship and partly because the work in his own congregation demanded time and attention, these attempts did no more than scratch the surface.

Pastor Leitz recommended the field to the Mission Board of the Michigan District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The Mission Board, convinced that here were good opportunities for the building of a Christian congregation, extended a call to Candidate Theodore H . H. Dorn, a graduate of our Concordia Theological Seminary, St. Louis , Missouri. On the afternoon of Sunday, October 30, 1921, Pastor Dorn was installed in St. Peter Lutheran Church, East Detroit, with instructions to gather the people of this area in northeastern Detroit interested in establishing a Lutheran congregation and to draw many to the knowledge of the Christian religion through the preaching of the Gospel.

Pastor Dorn' went to work with dedicated zeal. Divine services were held in the home of Mrs. William Haman, 11455 Barlow. This Christian woman was kind enough to allow the use of the front room of her home, where the first faithfuI few met for the first year.

The desire to organize a Lutheran congregation became a reality when on March 23, 1922, "Our Savior" congregation was born. Seven families were among the charter members. When the young congregation showed enthusiasm and willingness to have its own church home, a plea was directed to the Church Extension Board of the Michigan District who cheerfully granted a requested loan.

Four lots on the corner of Chalmers and Seymour were purchased. The first house of worship was erected and dedicated in October of 1922. This house of worship was a simple dwelling converted into a chapel, called a bungalow chapel, the second story of which was used as the pastor's residence. The first story served as church and school . Shortly after the completion of the chapel, the name of the congregation was changed to "Montclair Heights Ev. Lutheran Church."

In the autumn of 1922, two Sundays after the dedication of the chapel, children were gathered for the purpose of organizing a Sunday school . Before the Christmas holidays of that year, thirty-five children were enrolled. Eventually, the Sunday school reached a peak of almost 400 children.

The first steps toward the establishment of a Christian Day school were taken in February of 1923, when twelve children were gathered around the pastor's dining room table on the second floor of the chapel . Shortly thereafter, when a number of desks were obtained, school was conducted in the chapel . Can you imagine this - every Friday evening the desks had to be removed from the chapel and placed on the front porch to make room for the Sunday services, after which they were replaced for school sessions. However, relief was in sight. In the year 1924, a portable school was erected next to the chapel and was dedicated on December 7th . This building, costing $3,000.00, served the purpose of our school until the year 1930. The chapel became the parsonage and was used as such until 1942, when it was moved to the corner of Seymour and Celestine and sold.

As the congregation grew, various church organizations came into existence. First of these was the Ladies' Society which has been active in works of charity and also in giving substantial financial assistance to congregational projects. In the course of time, other groups among men, women, and young people came into being, such as the Men's Club, Mother's Club (1939), Altar Guild,Walther Leagues, Choirs, PTL, Ushers' Club - each serving a distinctive purpose. The Boy Scout Troop #295 started with eight boys in 1942.

Member of the Lutheran Church

In the year of 1924, the congregation became a member of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, and in 1926, the name of the congregation was changed once again - this time to "Mt. Calvary Ev. Lutheran Church" - which name it carries to this very day.

Under the able leadership of Pastor Theodore Dorn, the congregation had been firmly established. Early in 1929 Pastor Dorn had received and accepted a call as pastor to a congregation located in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. John Schinnerer, president of the Michigan District, provided the spiritual care during the vacancy. A call was issued to the Rev. Ernest G. Kuechle of St. Mark Lutheran Church, Detroit. Having accepted the call, Pastor Kuechle was installed as the second spiritual lead of the congregation in 1929 in the bungalow chapel.

Soon the building fever was again evident. After all, there was a deep desire on the part of our people to get into a more permanent building for worship and school. Having been assured of a loan from the Michigan District Church Extension Board, the congregation resolved to proceed with plans for church edifice. On August 27, 1930, ground was broken. However, there was trouble ahead. Because of zoning restrictions, an injunction was served, preventing immediate continuance of building operations. After eight long weeks, the court gave permission to continue. By November 2nd, the cornerstone was laid and on March 15, 1931, the first unit of Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church, the two-room school and the church basement, was dedicated. The church basement served as the congregations place of worship for ten years.

The congregation continued to make progress, and new members were gained from year to year. When Pastor Kuechle left in November of 1937 to accept a position as pastor of a large congregation in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, the Mt. Calvary congregation had attained a membership of 575 communicant members.

On December 5,1937, the Rev. Louis H . Koehler, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Berrien Springs, Michigan, assumed the duties of the holy ministry at Mt. Calvary. Once again a desire to move ahead with the building program became apparent. Step by step the congregation progressed with its buildings. On April 20, 1941, the church was completed and dedicated.

After three more lots had been purchased and the houses removed for additional space, the school adjoining the church was added and dedicated on April 19, 1953. This building provided six additional class rooms and space for more than two hundred children. And finally, after the purchase of another lot, ground was broken in 1966, and the last unit was dedicated on January 29, 1967. This included the tower for the church, additional class room space, school library, multi-purpose auditorium, and new lighting fixtures for the church.

The congregation increased in membership and reached its peak in 1966 with 1326 communicant members and approximately 1850 souls. Men and women, served on various boards and committees and thus helped Mt. Calvary congregation progress.

The year of 1955 was a bad year for the congregation. Aside from the fact that the church had been burglarized several times, the organ, part of the chancel, and the Altar Guild Room were destroyed by fire caused by arson. The damage to the church property came to approximateIy $45,000.00, of which $40,000.00 were covered by insurance. On October 2, 1955, disaster struck again. Between the two morning services, a car had gone out of control, killing one of the parishioners and injuring eleven others, four of which were hospitalized with broken limbs.

More on this building coming soon.