Calvary Presbyterian Church is an abandoned circa 1918 church along Grand River Avenue in Detroit, Michigan. It closed in 1991 when the congregation relocated to a more suburban location.
Calvary Presbyterian Church was the outgrowth of a Mission Sunday School, which began in May 1868 in a former grocery store on Harrison Avenue. 10 In October, the school was moved to a cottage on Michigan Avenue. In mid-1869, a lot was acquired on the southeast corner of Maybury Grand and Butternut Street.
The church formally organized on October 3, 1872. 10 Work on a permanent sanctuary began in 1887 at the corner of Maybury Grand and Michigan Avenue, which opened on January 29, 1888. 9 The location became less than ideal, as it was surrounded by meatpacking facilities, and offered limited growth opportunities. 10
In November 1914, the congregation opened a mission church at the corner of Grand River and Vicksburg Avenues in a portable wooden structure that had been in use on Gratiot Avenue by another church. 10 The ground was broken for a permanent structure, designed by William B. Millar, at Grand River and Vicksburg on October 8, 1916. 6
The old church was sold to the Parker, Webb & Company meatpacking plant, and services were expected to continue at the old sanctuary until the new facility could be completed, but Parker wanted the land sooner to expand their operation. 1 The company offered the church money and the ability to store their church belongings in one of their warehouses, which the church accepted. The warehouse, unfortunately, caught fire, destroying much of the stored church items.
The new Calvary Presbyterian Church building on Grand River, finished at the cost of $70,000, was dedicated on November 17, 1918. 1
To match the growing congregation and its Sunday school, it was decided to erect a three-story educational wing at the cost of $60,000 to $80,000 in July 1931. 5 Plans had been drawn under pastor Dr. David I. Sutherland, then-pastor of the church for over 30 years, in 1928 but the campaign to raise funds towards the effort did not begin until he died. Andrew R. Morrison was hired to design the structure.
Work on the first floor and basement of the addition began after the groundbreaking ceremonies were held on June 12, 1932, 7 which was opened on October 1, 1933, 8 at the cost of $25,000. 4 It was dedicated as the Sutherland Memorial Building, named after Jean Sutherland, wife of David Sutherland. A contract to complete it with the addition of a second floor at the cost of $40,000 was let in May 1939 with work finished by October. The new facility, attached directly to the sanctuary, boasted room for 1,000 students, social and recreation facilities, and five meeting rooms.
Due to racial tensions that cumulated in violent riots, industrial restructuring, the loss of thousands of jobs in the automobile industry, and rapid suburbanization in the middle of the 20th century, Detroit began to rapidly contract. The city’s population peaked at 1.85 million in 1950 and by 1970, it had dropped to 1.51 million.
Consequently, the church’s congregation, which grew from 665 members in 1912 to 1,700 members by 1940, 1 began to contract. In mid-May 1952, Calvary Presbyterian, with 1,600 members, announced that it would merge with the four-year-old Montieth Memorial Presbyterian Church, with 450 members, at 7 Mile and Greenview Avenue. 3 After the merger, Montieth Memorial became the John Montieth Chapel. Services continued at both locations but it was expected that the John Montieth Chapel would be expanded to accommodate the congregation of both sanctuaries.
By 1963, Calvary Presbyterian was questioning whether it should close its Grand River location as it had just 338 filling the pews and 326 in the school on an average Sunday. 2
By 1990, Calvary Presbyterian and John Montieth Chapel were experiencing financial troubles. 10 The Montieth Chapel announced plans to close as its pastor of over 20 years, Ray Lumley, decided to retire. Compounding the issue was that Rev. James Mitcham, the pastor at Calvary Presbyterian, also decided to retire. It was decided to relocate Calvary Presbyterian to the Montieth Chapel location, and with the move being completed by September 29, 1991.
The circa 1918 church building was sold to the Abundant Life Christian Center, which was later vacated when it moved to another location on Grand River, becoming the Greater Faith for Deliverance Church. 1
[su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”caret”]
- “Calvary Presbyterian / Abundant Life Christian Church.” Detroit Urbex. Article.
- Ward, Hiley H. “Presbyterians Rap Fleeing Churches.” Detroit Free Press, 12 Jan. 1963, p. 6A.
- “Calvary and Monteith Churches to Merge.” Detroit Free Press, 17 May 1952, p. 9A.
- “Church Ready to Complete Memorial to Dr. Sutherland.” Detroit Free Press, 6 May 1939, p. 4.
- “Calvary Presbyterian Wing Will Honor Former Minister.” Detroit Free Press, 18 Jul. 1931, p. 8.
- “Will Break Ground for New Church on Sunday.” Detroit Free Press, 4 Oct. 1916, p. 8.
- “Span Calvary Church History.” Detroit Free Press, 11 Jun. 1931, p. 10.
- “Educational Unit of Church Opens.” Detroit Free Press, 2 Oct. 1933, p. 4.
- “Calvary church Celebrates Its First Anniversary.” Detroit Free Press, p. 4.
- “A Brief History of Calvary Presbyterian Church.” Calvary Presbyterian Church, 2014. Archive.