A BRIEF HISTORY OF CALVARY PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
One Hundred and Fifty Three Years of Service to the City of Detroit
Calvary Church was the outgrowth of a Mission Sunday School, started in May 1868 in a small building on Harrison Avenue which had formerly been used as a grocery store. In October of that same year, the school was moved to a cottage on Michigan Avenue near the toll gate. During the summer of 1869, a lot was purchased on the southeast corner of Maybury Grand and Butternut Street.
On October 3, 1872, Calvary Church was officially organized by the Presbytery of Detroit. With 16 members it was the sixth Presbyterian Church organized in the Detroit area. A church building was begun in 1887 at the corner of Maybury Grand and Michigan.
In November 1914, the Session with the concurrence of the congregation decided to open a mission church at the corner of Grand River and Vicksburg. The Mission was a portable wooden structure that had been in use on Gratiot Avenue by another church mission. The permanent structure that stands yet today was begun in October 1916. The Vicksburg addition known as the Sutherland Memorial Building was begun in October 1932, and continued despite the depression, and was completed in 1939.
Some of the reasons for the move of the church from Michigan Avenue to Grand River and Vicksburg were that the Michigan Avenue property was surrounded by meatpacking facilities that were growing and encroaching on church space. In addition, the church recognized the growth of new housing around Grand River and Vicksburg in 1916 and saw the opportunity for the church to grow as the new community grew. In fact, Calvary did grow (to 1700 members in 1939) and prospered in the new location under Pastors David Sutherland, Leslie Bectel, Frank Storch, and Raymond Swartzback. Through all of these Pastors, the church served the neighborhood and the people responded with their participation and support.
The neighborhood began to change in the late ’50s, and that change saw the neighborhood in the next 35 years go from white to black. While the church continued to minister to the needs of the community under Pastor Sven Anderson, Edward Richardson, and James Mitcham, membership continued to decline, seriously affecting church finances. In addition, the building was too large to be appropriate for the shrinking membership. Church upkeep and maintenance became the only thing that could be done with limited finances.
In 1990, and at about the same time that Calvary was experiencing great financial difficulty, Monteith Memorial at Seven Mile and Greenview announced its intent to shut its doors when its pastor of over twenty years, Ray Lumley, decided to retire. Rev. James Mitcham who had been the Pastor at Calvary for ten years also retired, and with Rev. Raphael Francis as first pulpit supply and later as interim Pastor, Calvary began the task of completing a “self-study” in anticipation of calling a full-time Pastor. Some members of the Presbytery Committee on Strategy suggested that we look seriously at relocation rather than continue in a building that was too large and too expensive for our congregation. After considerable discussion and review of the facts with all of our members, the congregation agreed to the relocation only if we could continue as Calvary. The building on Grand River and Vicksburg has since been sold and is now occupied by another congregation.
Since moving September 29, 1991, to the old Montieth Memorial building on Seven Mile and Greenview, we have acquired a new Pastor, Rev. Kevin R. Johnson, and both membership and church giving have increased. Just as past moves by past Calvary congregations were inspired by God and resulted in success, we feel that our move will also result in great success.
Rev. Johnson remained Calvary’s pastor for 24 years until his honorary retirement in 2018. Rev. Johnson continued the legacy of serving the needs of the community with an array of outreach programs and ongoing connections within the community. Rev. Johnson interacted with the city government, community leadership, neighborhood businesses, and other churches. Calvary stayed a part of its neighborhood allowing the doors of the church to remain open for building use of community organizations and programming.
Rev. Dr. Gregory Emanuel Bryant, a native of Chicago, is the former Senior Pastor of the United Christian Church of Detroit (Disciples of Christ), in Detroit, Michigan. In March 2021 Rev. Bryant joined Calvary as our Temporary Supply Pastor in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has served congregations in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a graduate of Jarvis Christian College, in Hawkins, Texas, where he received a Bachelor of Science in History. He also is a graduate of the Christian Theological Seminary, in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he received a Master of Divinity and has completed work toward the Doctor of Ministry Degree. Rev. Bryant recently earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Ecumenical Theological Seminary in the fall of 2021!
Though Dr. Bryant’s faith in Christ was rooted and nurtured in the context of the African American arm of the church, much of his ministerial career has been a two-decades-long journey through the promise and pain located in congregations that have attempted to engage in multicultural ministry. He has been a workshop leader, lecturer, and preacher for retreats, revivals, and ecumenical gatherings. Reading, music, art, cars, politics, and basketball are his additional interests.
One of the most important joys of his life is his family. He and his wife Crystal have been blessed with three wonderful children: sons, Gregory and Isaiah, both college students, and a daughter, Christiana, and a grandson Khristian.