Early Eastpointe church celebrates 170th anniversary

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published July 2, 2015

 The current St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, located at Gratiot Avenue and Aurora Street, was constructed in 1949 before officially opening its doors the following year.

The current St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, located at Gratiot Avenue and Aurora Street, was constructed in 1949 before officially opening its doors the following year.

Photo by Kevin Bunch

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EASTPOINTE — St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Eastpointe turned 170 this year after being founded in 1845 — a mere eight years after Michigan became a state.


According to church member Cindy Odren, the church’s origins actually started in modern-day Detroit at Eight Mile Road and Gratiot Avenue. German settlers had started a church there in 1841, but an argument over what name to put on the altar led to the church splitting in 1845.


“They actually went to court to win the dispute, and they won, except the next Sunday that they got there, they were met with clubs and everything,” Odren said. “They decided it wasn’t for them, so they purchased a piece of property on Nine Mile and Gratiot for $10.”


There, they built a log cabin church, which was completed and dedicated in 1846. The following year, they formally joined the Missouri Synod to become a Lutheran church.


That log cabin was replaced with a brick church in 1860, and in 1868, the first one-room church school was built next door. That brick structure remained the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church until midway through the 20th century, when the current building was dedicated in 1950, Odren said.


The church then had an addition completed in 1957, and the Early Childhood Center was added on and dedicated in 2008.


The church continued to hold German services up until at least 1964, she said, when records show that the German services were moved into the gymnasium. They eventually stopped in part because there were fewer German speakers, but primarily because the church was not getting pastors who could speak the language.


“There used to be a woman in the congregation who translated the English service into the German,” Odren said.


The English service started in 1896 at the church’s 50th anniversary celebration and continues to this day. The Rev. John Merrill, the vacancy pastor at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, said they still have some artifacts from those early days, including a German-language Bible used at the Nine Mile church and a Communion set.


Merrill said the church has celebrations planned this year for the 170th anniversary. On June 28, they held a special service that was arranged like the ones from the 1800s, followed by a pig roast picnic.


“We had some games of that age, like racing the hoops, potato sack races,” Merrill said. “It was something just to remind our people that it’s not just the present age, but that the past has for us a great meaning, as well.”


In September, the church is working on a more ornate celebration, he said, with a dinner and featured guests. Past members of the church who may still have a connection with St. Peter’s are being invited back, Merrill said.


The church currently has a display featuring a number of historical artifacts, Odren said, including a shovel from the current church’s groundbreaking, the original $10 deed for the Nine Mile location, photographs and documents. The basement features a lectern from the old church, and out front is a rock with a commemorative plaque from the original Eight Mile location.


The church is smaller now than it used to be. Odren said part of that is simply demographics, as the church grew alongside the area when Detroit started being built up — as did the village of Halfway, which eventually became Eastpointe. She added that people are not having as many children as they did during the baby boom, either.


Merrill said there are roughly 1,200-1,300 people served by the church currently, a number they are working on maintaining and attempting to grow.


Based on the “pretty complete” records the church has kept since it was founded, Merrill said they can provide an in-depth history of the area as it became settled. Those records are in the process of being digitized, he added.


“They have a good archive of baptisms, deaths, marriages,” he said. “It’s one of the early churches, so it had many of the early settlers as part of the church.”

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