In 1845, there were 28 states in the Union, James K. Polk was inaugurated as the 11th U.S. president, Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” was published and St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church was founded. This year, St. Peter’s is celebrating their 170th anniversary.
While I’m writing this, I can hear sweet melodies from my bedroom window chimed by St. Peter’s church bells that date back to 1876. I was married in this church; it’s where my parents were married. My daughter was baptized there last month, the same place I was.
Eastpointe in 1845 was known as Erin Township and was dominated by oak forests and swamps. The Fort Gratiot Turnpike, made of logs, was the only main road, and Nine Mile was simply a bridle path. Henry Ford wouldn’t open his first automobile factory for another 58 years.
The area was settled by German immigrants who left Germany due to religious oppression. For a while, there was only one Lutheran pastor in Michigan, travelling to preach and perform baptisms. A small congregation formed in Erin Township and met in each other’s homes until 1845 when they Called Johann Friedrich Winkler to be their pastor. They built a log church on the Fort Gratiot Turnpike south of Eight Mile, and this is when St. Peter’s began.
A year later, the congregation split, and land was bought for a new church on the northwest corner of Nine Mile and Gratiot for $10. A new log church was built, and in 1850, a school was established. Additional land was purchased for $40, and a brick church was built in 1859. The bricks for the building were handmade on a farm near Ten Mile and transported by wagon. The school moved into the vacated log building, and many additions and expansions occurred to both church and school until St. Peter’s moved to its current location at 23000 Gratiot Avenue in 1950.
My grandmother Carol Middeldorf remembers this occasion. She taught first and second grade along with my grandfather Carl Middeldorf who taught fifth and sixth grade the last year the school was located on Nine Mile. There were only four teachers, each had about 50 students. She and Carl lived in a small loft next to the school, and since the current building was being constructed just across Gratiot, she recalls walking up there to check on the progress. Carol went on to teach first grade and Sunday school in the current building, and for 43 years, Carl served in many capacities including as teacher, coach, youth director and principal.
Over time, pastors came and went and members split to form new congregations. Several prominent Lutheran churches in this area can trace their roots back to St. Peter’s. For example, St. Mark in Roseville is an offshoot of St. Peter’s, and St. John Fraser fragmented from St. Mark.
Today, St. Peter’s has grown to include an Early Childhood Center, providing daycare for children as young as 6 weeks; a grade school ranging from preschool to eighth grade; and a beautiful Neo-Gothic-style brick church with stained glass windows, vaulted ceiling, slate floor and bell tower with original bells from the Nine Mile location. The grounds also include a peaceful cemetery, playground, gymnasium and pristine baseball fields for school and adult league use. Adjacent is the Lutheran Fraternities of America No. 57 banquet hall where members from many different Lutheran congregations meet once a month to socialize. They are presently accepting new members, and the hall is available to the public for rental.
St. Peter’s continues to provide many programs for children and adults. In addition to the daycare and school, they also offer summer camp, Vacation Bible School and an active youth group. They reach out to the community through their food pantry and mission donations, and they offer fellowship through coffee hour and Bible study.
All year, St. Peter’s has been celebrating its rich history. This past March, they held their First Annual Gala which included a silent and live auction, dinner and dancing. Last month, they held a historical church service. Though not in German, the service followed an order of worship from the past, performed baptisms in the restored original baptismal font and administered communion from a vintage chalice. Afterward, they celebrated with a well-attended outdoor pig roast (a 198-pound pig was purchased and transported from Tennessee!), pie-eating contest and children’s games.
More activities are planned for this momentous year, such as an ice cream social at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 23 and an anniversary service and banquet at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 27. St. Peter’s is inviting all current, prospective and former church members and students and anyone who was baptized, confirmed or married there to participate in the celebration. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for kids if purchased before September. It will be a time to remember the past, reconnect with one another and look toward the future, all while praising God.
St. Peter’s is calling to its flock, saying, “No matter where you may be in your life or in the world, we are still your home.”
For more information on the history of St. Peter’s, check out “How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place” and “Come Unto Me” available at the Eastpointe Memorial Library and the Mount Clemens Public Library. For current happenings, like St. Peter’s on Facebook.
23000 Gratiot Ave., Eastpointe 48021
Office Hours: Monday – Friday 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Worship Services: Sundays 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. and Wednesdays 7 p.m.
School: Enrollment is now open for the August 2015 – June 2016 school year
Early Childhood Center: Open year-round, Monday – Friday 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Lutheran Fraternities of America No. 57
16140 Aurora, Eastpointe 48021
Caitlin Gerds-Habermas works for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development, often providing content for the Make Macomb Your Home website.