Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

Trumbull Avenue Presbyterian Church

This church, the last Venetian Gothic church in the city of Detroit, was dedicated Feb. 26, 1888.

Its story begins with the Fort Street Presbyterian Church, which was looking to serve Detroiters in the expanding neighborhoods of the city.

Fort Street Presbyterian bought two lots on Trumbull Avenue and Brainard Street from the Hodges brothers on Oct. 24, 1879. A 500-seat chapel designed by architect Julius Hess was built on the site and dedicated July 3, 1881. Fort Street Presbyterian's two-story chapel, built of brick with stone trimmings and in a Gothic style, cost $7,300 (including furnishings).

With 70 members, it was clear that the congregation of this satellite location was deserving of being its own church, and Trumbull Avenue Presbyterian Church was established Aug. 28, 1881. Half of those members came from Fort Street Presbyterian. The Rev. Allan M. Dulles became its first pastor, and the church was incorporated in October 1883.

In 1886, with the congregation continuing to grow, its members began work on a plan to construct a larger church. The property was transferred Dec. 8, 1886, from the Fort Street Presbyterian to Trumbull Avenue Presbyterian, the same day the new church's cornerstone was laid. The new 800-seat church, designed by the firm Hess & Raseman, was built in front of the chapel at a cost of either $27,000 or $36,000 (sources differ). The Rev. Robert J. Service was its pastor, and the Rev. A.T. Pierson followed him soon after.

The church was built of orangish-red brick with cut stone trummings and rough-faced stone foundations. It has a Greek cross plan, with four equal arms. Among its most iconic features is its cylindrical bell tower with an inscription up the side. The top of the bell tower is square with paired arched windows, and is crowned by a four-sided pyramidal spire.

Also of note is the church's pipe organ, which was made by Granville Wood & Son of Northville, Mich., and dates to 1889. It is a two-manual, 29-rank organ and was built at a cost of $4,000. It is the largest known surviving organ built by the firm.

At the time of its opening, the church served a number of upper-class Detroit families, many coming from the upscale Woodbridge area. By the turn of the 20th century, the church had been expanded to a seating capacity of 1,200, reportedly making it one of the largest Presbyterian churches in the Midwest.

A church house/activities building was built next door to the church in 1914 and designed by the firm Smith, Hinchman & Grylls.

Over the years, the congregation's membership dwindled, reflecting the city's decline in population and prosperity. In 1992, Pilgrim Church of Detroit took over the building, and not long after became known as I Am My Brother's Keeper Ministries. For years, it had a hole in the roof over the sanctuary, but its flock endured the elements and continued its ministry and serving the community. The church and its pastor, Henry Covington, were prominently featured in popular newspaper columnist Mitch Albom's book "Have a Little Faith," and led to the formation of the A Hole in the Roof Foundation, whose mission is to help faith and relief groups that care for the homeless or victims of disasters. Donations came in from all over to repair the hole at My Brother's Keeper. On Nov. 23, 2009, construction began, and work was completed Dec. 9, 2009. Covington died a year later, on Dec. 21, 2010.

"Despite no heat, despite a wintry cold that forced his members to gather inside a plastic tent draped over the pews, Henry led his flock of mostly poor followers in prayer and hope every week. He fed the hungry. He sheltered the homeless. On freezing nights, 80 or 90 people might sleep inside that church, fed by its kitchen and warmed by the spirituality of the heavyset pastor with the sweet voice and easy laugh," Albom wrote in the Detroit Free Press in June 2019.

Covington's friend Anthony "Cass" Castelow, who Covington had rescued from the streets, stepped in to lead the congregation, but died himself in 2015. Covington's wife, Annette Covington, then took the reins.

Despite the media attention, the congregation continued to struggle with its aging building, which continued to show extensive signs of decay. In early June 2019, the City of Detroit's Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department (BSEED) deemed the building unsafe and unfit to be opened to the public. All religious services and food bank and volunteer services were ordered to be halted. Though the Woodbridge neighborhood's fortunes and property values have been soaring, the decline in church membership in faiths across the country and the poor condition of the building put this historic structure's future in doubt.

The church is listed both in its own local historic district and in the Woodbridge Historic District.

Last updated 27/12/2020