History of Iroquois Avenue Christ Lutheran Church
2012: In the movie "Sparkle," Whitney Houston sang "His Eyes Are On the Sparrow" at Iroquois Avenue Christ Lutheran Church.
Members of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church decided to form a new congregation on the east side of Detroit. Indian Village, “a first class residential neighborhood on a generous scale” was selected as an ideal location. The name Christ Lutheran was chosen and a temporary home was rented. Later that year, a parsonage was built on the corner of Iroquois and Waterloo (now Vernor). By Nov. 5, 1911, the Reverend John A. Dietzer was installed as the first pastor. Iroquois Avenue was added to the name two years later to distinguish it from other area churches with similar names.
Ground was broken for a permanent church in Feb. of 1913. As soon as the basement of the new church was completed, the congregation moved into the partially built structure. The first worship service was held there on Oct. 19, 2013. The main church building was completed and dedicated to the glory of God in three services, with capacity attendance on Nov. 13, 1913.
The parish house, a large addition, was added to the church in 1928. Designed by Beckett and Akitt, it was constructed on the site of the currently existing parsonage which was moved one lot north. Construction was overseen by church member Clarence Figel. The cost for the parish house was almost $100,000. At that point, the congregation numbered over a thousand souls.
The parish house provided much needed space including a large daylight basement for the Sunday School. On the main floor are offices, a narthex, a coat room, a choir room, an oak paneled large lounge, a smaller ladies lounge, a nursery (now a pantry), and a small kitchen. On the second floor is a commercial size kitchen and gymnasium with a stage. The top floor contains a women’s locker room and a more sizable men’s locker room.
Years of benign neglect have taken a toll on the church building. An extensive repair plan was launched in 2010. The sanctuary roof was completed in 2013 and plaster work and painting were completed in 2014. As of fall of 2015, roof repair over the gymnasium has neared completion. Fundraising is still being conducted for more necessary repairs on the remaining portions of roof. Donations are most welcome!
The congregation continues in its mission. We have seen many changes in recent years. Exciting things, like being a location in the movie Sparkle and temporary home to Cornerstone School and Detroit Prep Academy. Challenging things, like changes in pastors and declining membership. We see new hope as Detroit starts a long awaited renaissance and dismay at people being left out. Our growing diversity helps us in our mission of service. With God's help, we will gather together and share life abundantly for many years to come.
The Church Building
In 1913, the church sanctuary was designed by member Louis Keil. He was best known as a designer of steamship interiors. Henry Malo, also a church member, supervised the construction of the original church building.
Mr. Keil had traveled though out Europe and sought to capture the feel of an old world church. The windows with pointed arches and woodwork around the altar are inspired by gothic churches of the middle ages. The general structural design also shows the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement popular at the turn of the last century.
In keeping with tradition, the long nave (center part of the sanctuary) is crossed by a transept. This results in a cruciform, (cross shaped) floor plan. Instead of a steeple, over the center of the transept soars the church tower. Clerestory windows in the tower allow light to enter the nave. The battlemented parapets around the exterior of the tower call to mind the favorite Lutheran hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The cost the original church building was $25,000.
The Stained Glass Windows
During the Middle Ages, new structural techniques allowed for the construction of large buildings with tall, thin walls, and large windows. This style came to be known as Gothic. Advancement in glass manufacturing, including the introduction of brilliant colors, lead to the stained glass windows we associate with cathedrals and large churches today. Vibrantly stained glass added great beauty and light to churches. Additionally, it served as a perfect medium to illustrate bible stories to a mostly illiterate population.
Most of the stained glass windows at Iroquois Avenue Christ Lutheran are in the gothic revival style in popular in the 19th and early 20th century. Manufacturers offered a wide variety of designs to choose from. The windows often have a pointed gothic arch and architectural details on the top or bottom. Faces and other details were painted on the glass.
The large Good Shepherd window, the Rose Angel window and Easter Lily window show the influence of the Arts & Crafts movement. Slightly marbled glass was made by folding and merging layers of color. Each piece of glass has a range of colors that adds depth and beauty to the windows. Painted details were limited or eliminated; the Easter Lily window contains none. The influence of the famous Tiffany studio, in New York, is obvious.
Stain Glass Windows, starting over the altar, going clockwise.
The Christmas Nativity (Luke 2:2-20)
Cruxifixtion of Jesus Christ (Luke 23:26-43)
Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Luke 24:1-12)
Jesus Talking to the Rich Young Man (Luke 18:25)
Jesus Walking on Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:22-33)
Trinity Window (Trinity is referenced at the baptism of Jesus in Luke 3:21-22)
Angel Rose Window (Luke 2:10)
St. Paul with Double Edged Sword (Hebrews 4:12)
Jesus and the Little Children (Luke 18:16)
Jesus Knocks (Revelation 3:20)
Good Shepherd Window (John 10:11)
Jesus at Gethsemane (Luke 22:39)
Lily Window (Lilies are symbols of purity and Virgin Mary)
The church’s first organ was a three manual (keyboard) Roosevelt. In 1952, the Roosevelt was replaced by the four manual Austin organ we have today. The Austin organ, manufactured in 1921, was purchased from Detroit’s West Methodist Church which was demolished for an expressway.
Pipe organs developed during the middle ages. By the 1500’s, they were one of the most complex machines ever developed. In the twentith centruy, pipe organs were electrified and the bellows, that force air through the pipes, were no longer manually operated. Complex pipe organ settings influenced the developement of the first computers.
The Austin organ console, in the sanctuary, has four manuals of keys and a thirty-two pedal keyboard played with the feet. There are “32 adjustable combinations pistons…six toe pistons and right masters controlling all divisions.” The shipping weight of the organ was 15 tons.
The “chest” of the organ is a room to the right of the altar. All of the organ pipes can be accessed from there. The wooden walls of the chest actually move when the organ is being played. Pipes may be made of wood or metal and range greatly in size. Leather is still used for moving parts. The brass colored pipes visible to the congregation are only for decoration. The organ underwent extensive repairs in 2008.
The parsonage was built as a home for the pastor in 1911. It was moved one lot north in 1928 to provide room for the parish house addition. The tudor style home was designed by members Louis Keil and Henry Malow. It contains 10 rooms and is about 3,300 square feet. The original cost was $5,000.