In a rustic old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral.
The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
People around the world know about Mariners’ Church of Detroit from those famous lines in Gordon Lightfoot’s ballad “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
But you may be surprised to learn that Mariners’ was unique in many respects long before that song was written. Old Mariners’ was:
Founded by a woman…
Julia Anderson’s will established Mariners’ in 1842 and specified a stone church (built for the ages) with “forever free” pews. It’s now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Incorporated by an act of the Michigan legislature…
Mariners’ is the only church in Michigan honored by this distinction, bestowed by Act 142 of 1848.
Mariners’ is different in that it was founded as, and still is, a non-diocesan, self-perpetuating parish especially for sailors, but not exclusively so.
A point on the Underground Railway…
Mariners’ helped former slaves reach freedom in Canada through a tunnel from its basement to the Detroit River waterfront.
Landlord to tenants…
During its first century, many retail tenants occupied the bottom floor of Mariners’ so their rent could support the church.
Moved 900 feet in 1955…
The 3000-ton church building was moved to its present location on the opposite side of Hart Plaza to make way for the Detroit civic center.
Since 1975, Mariners’ Church has created and maintained new traditions for Great Lakes sailors including annual services for Blessing of the Fleet, Navy League Sunday and the Great Lakes Memorial service.
People keep coming back to Mariners’ Church because they find it nourishes them spiritually, uplifts them emotionally and gives them strength for another week. Many also come because they enjoy the classical worship music and have made lasting friends here.
More on Mariners’ unique and surprising history can be found in the book Created for the Ages, available from the church office, 170 E. Jefferson, Detroit, MI 48226.