Church Profile: St. Andrew’s United Church of Christ stands as legacy of Dexter community’s 19th century German population

On a bright October morning in 1883, Rev. Gottlieb Robertus led a procession of German residents from Dexter, Ann Arbor, Chelsea, and surrounding towns from Sills Hall, located above what is now Hackney Hardware, up the hill called “Piety” to a new church, founded by the German Lutheran Society.

Learn more about St. Andrew’s leading Pastor Grant Speece, who joined the St. Andrew’s congregation last year.

Read a similar profile on St. James Episcopal Church also written by special correspondent Elaine Owsley.

Although many of the church records from early days were destroyed in a fire at the home of the church secretary, Jacob Heller, enough remained to chronicle the beginning of another of Dexter’s early churches.

The German Lutheran Society, as it was then known, was organized in March of 1883 – 125 years ago this month. The purpose was to launch work on a church building at the corner of Ann Arbor Street and Fourth, known as the Hollis property. A contractor was hired for the sum of $2,125 and the cornerstone was laid on June 3.

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According to the history, “The exterior was painted white, the blinds green. The inside walls were also white the seats of pine trimmed with walnut, the octagonal pulpit of pine and cherry. The choir occupied a handsome gallery because ‘Lutherans do not follow the modern practice of placing the choir near the pulpit as most churches do now.’ Seating capacity was about 250.

For that first service the walls were “beautifully decorated with flowers and evergreens. Covering the pulpit were wreaths and bouquets. Suspended above the pulpit was a large anchor, the Christian simple of immovable firmness, hope and patience.”

The morning service was conducted in the German language and the afternoon in English. A German school was begun by the pastor in November, 1883.

It is not known when the church came to be called St. Andrew’s, patron of Russia and Scotland, who was martyred and crucified somewhere in Greece. The x-shaped cross which he chose, became his symbol.

A schoolhouse was added on the west end of the church and classes in German were open to any citizen in the village of Dexter as well as the children.

Along the way the “German Lutheran Church” became the Evangelical Church although most of the names on the church registry were German in origin and many of them remain today as succeeding generations have continued to worship at what is now St. Andrew’s United Church of Christ. A succession of pastors presided in the pulpit during these transitions and in the gradual change from German predominance in the liturgy to English.

Refurbishing and restoration continued on the frame church over the years with the installation of art glass memorial windows, the addition of a new social hall in 1960, and the building of a new church on the site in 1973. The old building was given to the Dexter Historical Society with the provision that they move it to the far side of the church parking lot and that location was leased for 75 years.

In 1974 the new brick church was dedicated and the altarpiece from the old church installed and the old bell given a place of honor on the front lawn of the new church. Unlike most of the older churches in Dexter, St. Andrew’s members can appreciate their old building each time they visit the new one.

Over the years, the congregation in succeeding generations has celebrated events, progress, and change. One thing that hasn’t changed is the annual Sauerkraut Supper, which made its 94th Annual appearance this past Thursday, October 16. The congregation regularly holds meals on a monthly basis as a way to engage in fellowship and interact with each other as members of a vibrant sub-sect of the broader Dexter community. Contact the church at 734-426-4980 for details.

Elaine Owsley is a WeLoveDexter.com special correspondent who specializes in local history and profile story writing. To reach Elaine, email her at efowsley@earthlink.net.

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