Mariners Church, Detroit, Michigan, USA

Mariners' Church, Detroit, Michigan, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: Musical1
Church: Mariners' Church
Location: Detroit, Michigan, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 3 January 2010, 8:30am

The building

A gray stone and brick Gothic Revival building constructed on land formerly occupied by the mansion of two wealthy sisters who wanted to establish a spiritual outreach to Great Lakes sailors. The church was consecrated in 1849. In 1955 the building was moved approximately one-sixth of a mile to make way for a new civic center; the tower was also added at that time. The west facade is symmetrical almost to a fault: twin black wrought-iron railings frame steps leading to the great west door, topped by a rose window and flanked by blocked-in window openings. The tower sits off to the left. Inside there are some beautiful stained glass windows as well as several maritime-themed artifacts.

The church

They were chartered by the State of Michigan in 1842 as an autonomous church ministering to sailors who plied the Great Lakes. In the early 1990s, however, they were the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Episcopal Church claiming jurisdiction over them. The court ruled that by virtue of their charter, no such jurisdiction existed. Today they see themselves as a member of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in the Anglican tradition and compare themselves to a "church peculier, non-royal." This is a very wealthy church. They continue their special ministry to the maritime industry. The Great Lakes, five large lakes between Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, on the United States side, and Ontario, on the Canadian side, are all connected by rivers and empty into the Atlantic Ocean via the St Laurence River. They are notoriously perilous to ships, being prone to sudden violent storms. On November 10, 1975, a Great Lakes freighter named the Edmund Fitzgerald sank suddenly in such a storm, with all aboard perishing and no bodies ever being found. Upon hearing of the tragedy, the church's rector, Father Richard Ingalls, tolled the church bell 29 times in memory of those who had been lost. The event was immortalized by the Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot in his song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." Each year on the Sunday closest to November 10, the bell is rung at a special commemorative prayer service with Gordon Lightfoot in attendance.

The neighborhood

Detroit is located in southeast Michigan on the Detroit River, which links Lake Huron and Lake Erie. It faces Windsor, Ontario, to its south, being the only major American city to look south to Canada. Home to automobile giants Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, Detroit has long been called the Motor City or Motown. Even though domestic automobile manufacturing has declined under tough competition from foreign brands, cars are still very much a part of the city's economy. The Mariners' Church is located in Renaissance Center, in the heart of downtown Detroit at the mouth of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, the world's first underwater automobile tunnel connecting two nations.

The cast

The Revd Richard W. Ingalls, rector, was the celebrant. He was assisted by the Revd Deacon Paul Innes. The preacher was a priest identified only as "Doug."

What was the name of the service?

The Holy Communion.

How full was the building?

Mostly empty, about 40 people scattered throughout the nave.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes, a polite handshake, smile and a "good morning" as the usher handed me the service leaflet. The rector and deacon also introduced themselves to me.

Was your pew comfortable?

Straight back box pew with kneeler, and no door. Not exactly a La-Z-Boy recliner, but not uncomfortable either.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very quiet, reverent and prayerful.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open..." and the rest of the collect for purity. This followed the singing of the first verse of "Eternal Father."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Book of Common Prayer 1928 edition.

What musical instruments were played?

A 78-rank pipe organ, an opus of the D F Pilzecker & Co. firm of Toledo, Ohio.

Did anything distract you?

The fact that the rector wore his stole over his cassock without an alb or surplice (he did put on a chasuble later). He also pushed a button behind the altar to ring the tower bells.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Very formal, prayerful and stiff upper lip. We knelt for most of the service, and not one thing was out of place. The bulletin stated that the parish values traditional liturgy and that the choir consisted of paid professionals who "offer up to the Almighty on behalf of Christ's faithful people, musical prayer and praise."

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – Father Doug had a way of speaking that drilled his points home and made them stick.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He spoke about lessons learned from the Holy Family's flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15). God's will might involve suffering. One who truly meets Jesus will have one of three responses: to run from him, to ridicule him, or to prostrate before him and trust him.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Prayerful reverence for God.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The fact that it appears church members are not allowed in the choir.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

The preacher introduced himself to me, and the rector called me by name and told me he hoped to see me again.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Polite but formal. I was encouraged to partake of cookies and coffee.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 – While I will visit again, it seemed overly formal for full membership. I could be wrong about it.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The priest pushing the button on the altar to ring the bell.

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