St. Philip Neri Evangelical Lutheran Church

2884 East Grand Boulevard at Saint Antoine


This is, I believe, the first and only African-American Lutheran Church in Michigan.

In 1930, black Lutheran migrants from the South began meeting in their homes to share their religious heritage.  The Missouri synod was the largest Lutheran group in the state at that time.  Apparently that synod Lutheran did not organize racially integrated congregations.  However, they were willing to establish a missionary church for an African-American congregation.

The Detroit black families found a white Canadian Lutheran minister, the Reverend Raymond Pollatz from Windsor, who was willing to devote some of his time and effort to establish a Lutheran congregation in Detroit for African-Americans.  In 1934, the group began holding Sunday services in a storefront near the intersection of St. Antoine and East Warren.  Three years later—still in the midst of the Depression—the congregation purchased a former synagogue near the corner of King and Oakland and used it as their church.

I believe they remained in that building for about a decade and then, in about 1948, purchased the property on East Grand where their church now stands. I have read that the congregation wished to purchase property near the intersection of Boston Boulevard and Woodward for their church, but was unable to do so.    I infer they built the church you see about 1950

This congregation, in 1944, established the first black Lutheran parochial school in the state.  At its peak, their school enrolled 300 students.  It closed in 1996.  The congregation is now an integrated one.

There is a Detroit piety district that includes the churches along Woodward.  Indeed, they are included in the National Register’s Religious Structures of Woodward Avenue Thematic Resource.  Grand Boulevard has a more modest array of historic church but they are significant for their architecture and for the contributions their congregation made to the city.  If you started in Riverview Park, that is, the western end of Grand Boulevard and traveled to its other end at Belle Isle, you would see:

Immanuel Presbyterian (Badgley and Nicklas, about 1902) at West Grand and Porter
Messiah Church (Spiers and Rhons, 1902) at West Grand and Toledo
Bethel Evangelical (Mildner and Eisen, 1921) at 2270 West Grand near New Center. This is the church built when Detroit’s most well-known theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, served as pastor.
St. Phillips Evangelical Lutheran
Church of the Covenant at East Grand Boulevard and Mack
Church of the Messiah(Calvin Otis, 1852) at East Grand and East Lafayette

Date of Construction: About 1950
Architect: Unknown to me
Use in 2013:  Lutheran church
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
Photograph:  Ren Farley
Description prepared: December, 2013

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