In appearance, Christ Church Grosse Pointe could be one of the serene glories of 15th-century England. In reality, it is one of the most dynamic Episcopal congregations in 21st-century America. 2005 marked the 75th anniversary year of Christ Church's dedication on June 15, 1930, and its formal opening on December 14, 1930. At that time it was a "branch" of Christ Church Detroit, called Christ Church Chapel. The Rev. William D. Maxon, who served as rector of both Christ Church Detroit and the chapel, officiated with Bishop Herman Page at the dedication and at the opening service.The term "chapel" was appropriate for another reason. As the vast front lawn indicates to this day, planners envisioned the structure as the first phase of a cathedral-like complex.
Completed in 1930, Christ Church is one of the last Gothic churches designed by Mayers, Murray and Phillips, of Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates in New York, who also designed Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The narthex, with its great curving stairway, was modeled after the Chapter House of Wells Cathedral. The cloister, enclosed in 1957, was inspired by the cloister of Canterbury Cathedral in England. With a high priority on music, the church boasted a fine organ built and installed by Casavant Freres of Quebec.The architects chose iridescent sandstone from quarries in Clearville, Pennsylvania, for the exterior and gray Indiana limestone for the interior.Because the church was one of few built during the Depression, many outstanding artisans were available to beautify it with intricate wood carving and detailed stonework.
As at many grand openings, the bone structure of the building was there in 1930, but much of the beauty was yet to come. The carved English oak reredos and sanctuary paneling, with their intricate renderings of the life of Christ, prophets, apostles and saints, were dedicated in 1931. Executed by Mowbray & Co., Ltd., in London, the reredos were donated by Caroline Askew Barton in memory of Henry Lester Barton. John Wendell Anderson donated the sanctuary and chancel paneling with its carvings by Jungwirth Brothers of Oberammergau of St. Francis of Assisi, St. George and the Dragon, the Virgin and Child, St. Joseph, St. Nicholas and St. Augustine. The octagonal marble baptismal font, also given in 1931, depicts the four evangelists on the edge of the bowl and the four cardinal virtues (justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude) on the supporting base. It was given by Mr. and Mrs. John V. Redfield, in memory of Mary Rosamond. The carved stonework surrounding the front portals of the church was not completed and dedicated until 1942. The intricate tympanum, the triangular panel over the doors, depicts Jesus saying, "Come unto me..." to a lame man, a man with a heavy burden, a king, and a mother and child. It was donated by Charles, Robert and John Warren, in memory of Charles Beecher and Helen Wetmore Warren. The figure of Christ the King above the door was dedicated later in 1942. It is a gift by Mr. and Mrs. Charles B. Bohn in memory of Evelyn Elizabeth Bohn.
Christ Church's most famous glory, of course, is its stained glass windows. Even they were not in place at the 1930 ceremonies. All of these great windows were the gifts of John Wendell Anderson and Gustava D. Anderson, who were the "living patron saints" of Christ Church’s beautification. Smaller windows in the baptistry, gallery, narthex and south transept – several of them memorials to war casualties – also were installed during the 1930s and '40s, including Jesus with a Child (given by the Children of the Chapel School, 1936), the Lamb of God and the Phoenix windows, St. Elizabeth, St. Margaret, St. Catherine, David and Goliath, the Virgin and Child, the Call of St. Andrew, St. Nicholas, St. Francis of Assisi, and the Children’s Window. The more contemporary windows along the staircase to the bell tower, the "Cardinals and Vine" and Dove of the Holy Spirit, were dedicated in 1967 in memory of Elizabeth Sterling Buell.
The beautiful tradition of giving memorial windows continues. Five windows designed by Willet have been installed in the lobbies, vesting room and new wing since 2003. Through charming and meaningful stained glass symbols of their lives, the windows memorialize Betty Berney Payne; Sarah McGraw Cinelli; Edith Greer Plaggemeyer and Elizabeth Plaggemeyer Candler; Douglas Campbell, Jr. and Betty Bird. (Download CCGP Stained Glass - A Self-Guided Tour pdf 765kb) Throughout the years, parishioners and friends have continued to make generous gifts of sculpture, paintings, antique furnishings, Oriental rugs, vestments and altar hangings, ecclesiastical silver, tapestries, and other fine art objects.
Growth in the Parish and Beyond
The vision that Christ Church would outgrow its "chapel" building was well founded. Although it officially remained a chapel of the Detroit “mother church” for more than 20 years (from 1923 to 1947), within three years of its dedication Christ Church Grosse Pointe had 400 children in Sunday School. By 1939, there were 630 member families and 450 in Sunday School, with 46 baptisms and 77 confirmations that year. Christ Church officially attained parish status in 1947 and was ready to establish a mission of its own - St. Michael's in Grosse Pointe Woods. A second mission, St. George's in Warren, began in 1955. Although a great "cathedral" was never built, the physical plant at Christ Church has expanded dramatically over the years.
The Tudor-style rectory was built in 1938. It soon was followed by Miller Hall, a parlor-like gathering place for various parish meetings and functions built in memory of Sidney T. Miller, Sr. Although dismantled as a separate structure in 2000, much of Miller Hall was incorporated into Christ Church's new Education Wing. As part of presenting a beautiful face to the world, Christ Church in 1966 installed the Virginia Brush Ford Memorial Rose Garden, in the form of a boxwood maze. The garden is part of, and central to, the Columbarium, which has been enlarged three times since initial construction in 1967.
To accommodate the Church School, a Christian Education Building designed by Minoru Yamasaki was completed in 1955. When it became physically outdated, it was demolished and replaced in 2000 by a 32,000-square-foot Christian Education Wing. The new wing has proved to be a tremendous asset to both the parish and the greater community. Its spacious Community/Youth Room hosts some 600 Grosse Pointe South High School students for Pizza Lunch every Thursday, as well as frequent sold-out dances for middle-school students. It houses the Antiques Show and the Christ Church Holiday Boutique. It has been the site for Diocesan Ministry Fairs, courses offered by the Whitaker School of Theology and the Lay Theological Academy, national conferences of groups like the Alban Institute, and other community gatherings.
A Community of Faith
The congregation of Christ Church continues to live out its Vision Statement today: To be a beacon of God's love, Christ Church Grosse Pointe is a welcoming, compassionate and inclusive community overflowing with activity seven days a week. People of all ages and from all walks of life flock to this Christian center and become involved in its life, finding themselves spiritually nourished, educationally enriched, and empowered to serve as they live the Gospel joyfully. Christ Church embraces growth, serving the needs of today’s and tomorrow's generations while maintaining the glories of its Anglican worship and traditions.
The music program at Christ Church probably is its best known "beacon" - and that knowledge is international. The Choir of Men and Boys, the Choir of Girls and Men, and the Christ Church Chorale have been ecumenical ambassadors since the first choir tour in 1962, singing masses and church services as well as concerts throughout Great Britain, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. (The ecumenism includes singing high masses at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, as well as in English cathedrals.)
Closer to home, the boys' and girls' choirs frequently perform with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. This is in addition to regular Sunday morning services and monthly Evensong, which entail at least four rehearsals each week.
The Christ Church Chorale performs at least two major concerts, with orchestra, each year, and drawing on the great choral repertoire that ranges from Bach to Verdi.
Organ recitals also draw large audiences, particularly since the installation in 2001 of a new 4,000-pipe instrument built by Harrison & Harrison in Durham, England.
And the entire parish family participates in productions such as Benjamin Britten's Noye’s Fludde, which Christ Church presented for the fourth time in March 2005.
Christ Church members give many volunteer hours as well as financial contributions to community programs and projects, such as the Crossroads Soup Kitchen, an active partnership with Church of the Messiah in Detroit, Alternatives for Girls, Simon House, and many other agencies.
Within the parish there is an active Stephen Ministers program, as well as a cadre of Eucharistic Visitors who bring communion to homebound and hospitalized parishioners. In addition to Sunday Christian Formation classes, Christ Church houses a cooperative nursery school and has a growing MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) program.