A Brief History of Trinity Lutheran Church



The church was founded on Easter Sunday, April 2, 1893. There were 40 founding members, the majority of whom were connected with the University of Michigan. They were looking for an English-speaking Lutheran Church. There was none in Ann Arbor, so they formed their own. In April 5, 1896 they consecrated the new building at the corner of 5th and William in downtown Ann Arbor.


The congregation grew, but stagnated at about 130 in 1901. In 1904, Pastor Tedrow presented his resignation. Around that time the mission board terminated its support for the church. Reverend E.E. Neible started preaching at Trinity in 1904. In April of 1908, Reverent Neible resigned. In August of 1908, Reverend A.E. Mumma was invited to be the pastor, but he was only pastor for a year. Reverent J.A.M. Ziegler was invited to be pastor in 1909, but seven months later he too resigned. Throughout that time, the church was having funding problems.


Trinity decided to have services only on Sunday mornings and secure pastors on a temporary, week-to-week basis. For awhile during 1910, the congregation was in contact with Pastor Neible in Africa. He died of Yellow Fever in 1913. They continued to look for pastors, finding Reverend Courtland Miller in 1911. Membership increased greatly under Reverend Miller. The congregation was looking more optimistic. Pastor Miller resigned in 1917. Around 1917 there was a proposal to merge with three larger Lutheran Midwestern synods. Most of the churches in the larger synods were still German-speaking. But the merger still went through. The result is the United Lutheran Church, which survived until 1962. Also around 1917 was WWI, making things hard on the German-speaking Lutherans. This caused them to quickly adapt to American ways. Reverend Lloyd Wallick arrived in 1917 to become the new pastor. He was interested in attracting University of Michigan students to the church. In 1919, a gift from Sandra Miller was used to purchase a bell in memory of her husband Joseph. [The bell is still in use today.]


A Lutheran student club was formed at the church. This sparked a big expansion of the campus ministry. Pastor Wallick also urged the congregation to pay off its $2000 debt to the mission board (who helped provide seed money for the starting of the church). About the time when they started the expansion, another pastor came on board to replace Pastor Wallick. Louis Gunderman was very instrumental in paying off the mission board debt. He put an emphasis on personal religion. Pastor Gunderman left in 1925. The congregation had a hard time finding a replacement. This was especially hard because they had to satisfy both the congregation and the board of education (University of Michigan campus ministry). After a year had passed, Reverend R.N. McMichael answered the call (1926). He worked with students and the congregation. He was a very energetic leader and served the congregation well. Attendance had been good, at all-time highs. In 1928 the congregation started to remodel and refurbish the chancel to conform more closely to liturgical usage. The baptismal font, lectern and pulpit were completed. In the 1920's, the women's missionary society had become increasingly active. They did a lot for children and elderly shut-ins. The country as a whole enjoyed prosperous times during this decade.


These times of the Great Depression were a time of trial for Trinity. Pastor Henry Yoder came in 1932 to replace Pastor McMichael. Pastor Yoder pulled the congregation together, using his exceptional executive ability. They experienced coal shortages, so the church was heated only on Sundays. One week the church was heated on Saturday evening in preparation for the Sunday service. The people heating it found that the Christmas tree had toppled over in the night. Needles and broken ornaments were all over. They frantically cleaned it up to prepare for the service. Also people took turns cleaning the church (in order to save money on custodians). One volunteer custodian forgot about the lack of heat and left puddles of frozen water under the pews. In the 1930's, the national church decided to abandon all money making functions organized by the church. This required more individual giving to fund the church. But there was no money to repair the church.


Between 1935 and 1945 the church membership doubled. In the 40's times were changing. People started going back to work. Many young men went off to war. Between 1941 and 1945, Pastor Yoder worked frantically to serve the Naval Reservists at the campus of University of Michigan. In 1945, Walter Brandt became the new pastor. The church started to grow out of its building. Sunday school classes took up every available space. Ever since the beginning, Sunday school was a vital part of the church. Many people found Trinity to be a friendly, convenient house of worship. Beside the space problem, the parsonage was in a shambles. Repairs had been a constant drain on the budget. In the late 1940's the congregation voted on whether or not to move. The motion was narrowly defeated.


Pastor Brandt was constantly urging the congregation to pray and do devotions. He had a firm gentle manner, always talking about evangelism. We wanted the Lutheran Magazine to be sent to every member's home. So they built the Lutheran Magazine into the budget so daily devotions could be sent to everyone. Mrs. Brandt took care of the altar and was the church secretary. She had a genuine friendliness and a concern for everyone she met. In 1956 Pastor Brandt submitted his resignation and again in 1956 the people of Trinity had to find a new pastor. But it was not as hard as before, due to the strong lay leadership that emerged during Pastor Brandt s disability. Nationally, it was hard to find pastors because of the four year gap of training during WWII. In 1956, Pastor Richard Preis was invited to visit Ann Arbor and he accepted the call immediately. When he came on board, WM-YWCA announced that they had just purchased land northwest of the church and now they wanted the rest, on which the church and parsonage stood. Some church members protested, but the congregation voted to sell the buildings and land. It was the right time to move. But the first problem was "where to build?" The congregation advertised and they looked and they looked. No piece of land would do. Except for the West Stadium Boulevard property. Next they had to approve it with the congregation. That was surprisingly easy. Ground was broken for the new building in 1957. A lot of the work done prepping the property for building was done by the men of congregation. By the fall, the big machines were ready to start removing the dirt. The Worship and Art committee traveled around the state to get styling ideas from other newly-built churches. There was also an organ committee that was aware that they needed room for an organ and the choir in the balcony. They had to figure out how to bring the old organ to the new church, and modify it. Many other people worked on ordering furniture, kitchen equipment and plantings outside. The dedication was set for February 1st, 1959. On that day, the people of Trinity gathered at the old 5th and William sanctuary for the last time. However, on December 31st, 1958 some members could not wait and had New Year's Eve service amongst sawhorses and rubble. A scant ten hours before the dedication, the organ moving was completed. They moved out of the old building on February 1st and it was hard for a lot of people to leave their old church home. But they knew they were going to something better. For the dedication service, everything went great except for one hitch. When the congregation arrived, the new church door was locked. The keys that the builder had presented did not fit the door. But after a bit of searching the builder found the correct ones and the procession went on. The congregation settled into the new building. They had a few problems. The gravel parking lot had to be paved. And there were traffic snarls immediately. Several operational defects had to be corrected. But it was inevitable to have these things in a new home.


The new building was spacious when it was first built, but by 1962 membership grew to nearly 700. Sunday school had to run in split shifts. They hadn.t added the educational wing yet. By September 13, 1964, the educational wing was dedicated. It provided for an enlarged narthex, library, a beautiful lounge and kitchen, four classrooms and a nursery. And on the lower level there was another nursery, a catechism room, multipurpose room and five more classrooms (the nursery school was started in 1964). Although it had been envisioned that a third wing might be added, another building program was not undertaken. Instead, the challenge came in the form of social upheaval triggered by political assassinations and an unpopular war. Trinity members had to deal with race riots and the social revolution that had erupted in America. Every month brought a new confrontation. Looking back at those troubled times, it appears that Trinity did quite well in steering a precarious middle course between inflexibility and advocating radical change. Attendance was still high and a large percentage of the members took an active part in the work of the congregation. Membership seemed to be growing fast, but there were also large losses. In 1966, for example, 144 adults were received and 67 were lost (mainly by letter of transfer). With the University nearby, there were a lot of innovative ideas that people brought with them. There was always a core of people and then a lot of people who would come and go. After the race riots of 1967, the congregation had a large meeting to share opinions. This led to an Adult Forum during educational hour on Sunday mornings. The Forum covered things such as Communism, Poverty, Crime and the war in Vietnam. On November 16th, 1969, a spokesman for a local black militant group presented Trinity with the Black Manifesto. The militants demanded $10,000 to overthrow the U's. Government. They said that unless their demands were met, they would destroy Christian churches and synagogues. The Trinity congregation had a meeting and decided not to pay the $10,000. But they did decide to reevaluate their commitment to the Christian way of life, particularly in regard to rooting out prejudicial attitudes. Pastor Arnold, a previous intern, joined Trinity in 1968 to work alongside Pastor Preis.


In 1972, a rare opportunity came along which enabled the congregation to respond to a pressing need in the community in an unusual way. One of the nearby Lutheran churches had disbanded and the two nearly-new buildings reverted to the board of American missions of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). The congregation decided to go in and work on the two buildings in the Peace Neighborhood Center. The Center helped teach adults to read as well as care for local children. Throughout the years, the Center has changed to meet local needs. In 1974 Trinity and Zion agreed to purchase the Peace Neighborhood Center from the Board of American Missions. The year of 1972 was remembered as a happy and exciting time for the people of Trinity. This is when they became friends with the people of Klingerstown, PA. The congregation sent trucks of food, clothing and household goods to the Pennsylvania town after a devastating flood. Starting in the 1970's, Trinity participated in an intercongregational program which provides overnight shelter on a rotating basis for the homeless people of Ann Arbor who cannot be accommodated at the city shelter. In 1978 seven million Lutherans came together to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), of which Trinity was a member. Starting in the 1970's, new innovative forms of worship were being introduced: like chancel drama, folk singing, contemporary choir music, variations in Sunday liturgy and dialogue sermons presented on a more occasional basis. Also, colorful banners, the Advent wreath, the Epiphany Star, and the processional cross added visual significances to worship. Also, many instruments joined such as the harpsichord and the hand bell choir.


One evening in March, 1980 three members from Trinity went to Detroit Airport to meet a plane carrying a refugee family from Laos. There were three members of the family: two brothers and a sister, all teenagers. This was an example of the outreach mission of Trinity. In later years, the people of Trinity watched this young family grow and prosper (one became the mother of 2 little boys and another was a valued employee of the National Sanitation Foundation). In the Spring of 1983, Pastor Preis announced that he was leaving Ann Arbor after 27 years. Pastor Arnold became the senior pastor. The church was in stable financial condition and the work was well organized. However, additional staff were needed. Many people, including Phyllis Rector, joined the staff to help fill these holes. Pastor Taylor joined as an associate pastor in 1985. After all the staffing holes had been filled, the congregation asked "what should be the goals of this congregation, and how can they best be accomplished?" There was a committee formulated to establish the master plan for the next 10 years. This led to goals, an emphasis on evangelism, strengthening of spiritual education and growth, expansion of programs for all members, and growth in stewardship of time, talent and treasure. This plan was adopted in 1988. In 1989, Pastor Nancy Eaton came to Trinity. She worked as a team with Pastors Arnold and Taylor. She took care of primary education, social concerns and support groups. She also had responsibility for ¼ of the preaching. Pastor Taylor was responsible for evangelism, youth activities, fellowship events and adult education. He had ¼ of the pulpit time as well. Senior pastor Arnold was the leader of the team, primarily responsible for worship, calling and counseling, ecumenical and civil activities. He assumed half of the preaching load.


At the beginning of 1991, Trinity again faced the challenge of finding a new pastor after the departure of Pastor Taylor. After many months of searching for someone who would fulfill the duties of evangelism, youth work and congregational fellowship, the congregation found Pastor Thomas Prochaska. The idea of team ministry is excellent in concept, but difficult to practice. To find several people who can use their unique gifts to work together harmoniously would and be able to adjust to changes in the teams is a challenge. Trinity is indeed fortunate to have maintained the benefits of this system so successfully for almost 25 years. During the 1990's, the congregation wanted to make the building more handicap accessible. Many improvements were made. In 1991 Trinity changed the ramp leading to the Stadium Blvd entrance to have a more gradual slope. The narthex was enlarged by enclosing a porch on the south side and moving the glass wall out on the driveway side. A handicap-accessible restroom was installed in a room adjacent to the bell tower and a 3-stop elevator was put into the space formerly occupied by the coatroom to the right of the sanctuary. This required a sum of $220,000 which came from donations so that no mortgage was necessary. The work was hardly disruptive of normal congregational activities. The entire project was dedicated on January 26th, 1992.

The year 1993 was highlighted by the 100th Anniversary Celebration of Trinity Lutheran Church. Three distinct special events focused on looking back at our past, reflecting on our present, and anticipating our future as a congregation. On January 31, a "Historical Worship Service and Open House" featured liturgy and hymns from two of our old service books during morning worship, and then food, fellowship, and various history-themed displays throughout the building during an afternoon open house. On March 28, we had a "Celebration of the Present" with a potluck supper and a unique service embracing our role as "the bridge" between the past and the future. The small arched bridge now in our memorial garden was built by several of our members for that service. On April 25, we celebrated "Looking to the Future" with a liturgy written by our special guest, Ray Makeever.
In 1993 we also celebrated the 25th anniversary of Pastor Walter Arnold's ordination and ministry here at Trinity. Along with Pastor Nancy Eaton and Pastor Thomas Prochaska, Pastor Arnold's leadership helped Trinity enter the second hundred years with confidence and hope. Through the strength of team ministry, Trinity was able to renew its sense of mission, bolster existing programs, and begin new ventures over the next two years. It was during this time that Trinity registered as a Stephen Ministry congregation, that our Preschool program was renewed with Barb Daniel taking over the program from Beulah Westland, and that our worship bulletins began to be more user-friendly, incorporating more of the liturgy words. Trinity continued to support Peace Neighborhood Center and the opening of the new Sequoia Place senior housing on the other half of that property. Many new small groups and fellowship activities began to emerge in the everyday life of the congregation.

1n 1996, Pastor Arnold announced his plans to leave his position as Trinity's lead pastor and move into a new position as assistant to the Bishop in the Southern Ohio Synod. While not unexpected, this news still came as a shock to many members. Like Pastor Preis before him, many members had shared their lives for so long with Wally Arnold that it was like losing a member of their family. Trinity found itself, for the first time in many years, without an experienced pastor who was well-versed in the traditions and patterns of the congregation. Lay leaders soon responded with a call for "transition" planning, anticipating a relatively quick re-grouping process to restore confidence in Trinity's future.

A Transition Task Force began meeting in 1997, involving a sizeable group of members representing a broad range of ages and experiences at Trinity. Issues and goals were identified and a defined process was followed to put together recommendations for the Council and membership to act on. Every standing committee and group was asked to review their activities and mission, and make recommendations to the task force. It was said that Trinity had more meetings that year than in any year of its long history! During this time, Pastor Paul N. Svingen was brought in as Interim Consulting Pastor early in March 1997, first only staying a few days at a time in several different months, then accepting a six-month more full-time position in September 1997. At the November Annual Meeting that year, Trinity took the major step of voting to change our constitution to allow the election of a lay member as President of the Congregation, ending the long-standing tradition of having the lead pastor fill that role.

In 1998, Pastor Eaton-Reding left Trinity for other calls, first in DeWitt, MI, then in Jackson, MI. Her untimely death in 2000 saddened so many at Trinity who had embraced her kindness and good humor as Trinity's first female pastor.

1998 also saw Pastor Svingen complete his interim call, and Pastor Gerald Bauer was assigned to replace him. During all of this, plans had begun to be explored for a new sanctuary. A new sound system and a new outdoor sign were installed. The office was moved and emerging technologies were being embraced more and more. A new catechism program was implemented. A sizeable memorial gift was received from the Ludwig family in 1998 that endowed Trinity's building program for years to come. Most of the recommendations of the Transition Task Force were adopted and the new commission structure was put in place. Most significantly, a call committee for a Lead Pastor began meeting in March of that year, at the same time as a call committee for a Director of Youth and Family Ministry. Trinity's third and last interim pastor of this transition period, Rev. Dean Beckwith, replaced Pastor Bauer in 1999. Like his two predecessors, Beckwith fulfilled the difficult role of being pastor to a congregation that longed for the stability and faithfulness of someone they could call their own.

By mid-summer 1999, Dianne Daily, a member of Trinity, was hired and began her duties as Director of Youth and Family Ministry. With great enthusiasm and effort, she renewed or started up a wide range of programs for youth from Cradle Roll through post-high school. Mrs. Daily's ministry would continue for many years and lay a solid groundwork for the youth ministry at Trinity.

The Lead Pastor Call Committee was finding their work much more frustrating. Two suitable candidates were found in 1999, but the Spirit did not lead either one to accept Trinity's potential call. The committee learned a lot with each interview and remained committed to their task.

Although some members wanted Pastor Prochaska to be a candidate for Lead Pastor, the call committee discerned that would not be in Trinity's best interest. By the end of 1999, Pastor Prochaska had secured another call and decided to leave Trinity. Amid some controversy and dissention, the congregation bid the Prochaskas farewell at a special dinner in the social hall.


The new millennium brought an end not only to the 20th Century, but also an end to Trinity's three-year transition period. With great excitement, the Lead Pastor Call Committee recommended the calling of Rev. Lori Carey to the Church Council. With unanimous approval, the call was extended and on Palm Sunday in April 2000, Pastor Carey led her first worship service as Trinity's new Lead Pastor. Easter Sunday that year, Trinity's 107th anniversary asa congregation, seemed even more like a resurrection celebration than usual.

Pastor Carey found Trinity's members ready to embrace her leadership and work with her to grow as a welcoming community of faith. Attention was given early on to worship and music, budget deficits, and the overall scope of the programs at Trinity. Worship began to include Communion every Sunday, Saturday evening services in an Associate Pastor who could work in a part-time role in team ministry with Pastor Carey. In a much less frustrating, yet equally thorough process, this task the summer, and a new three-service Sunday morning format in the Fall of 2003. Improved computer technologies and a website overall advanced Trinity's administrative and communication capabilities. A more joyful spirit soon crept back into the daily operations and weekly worship fellowship of the congregation. The promise of stability and hope that had held the congregation together during the transition was bearing fruit.

In 2001 a new call committee was formed to find force's work was rewarded in relatively quick order. In March 2002, Pastor Gretchen Bingea began her work as Trinity's new Associate Pastor. Charged with sharing worship duties, developing small group ministry, teaching catechism, and teaming with Pastor Carey in visitation ministry, Pastor Bingea quickly acclimated herself to life among Trinity's members. Programs under her care grew and maintained a high level of activity. In 2004, Pastor Bingea's call was extended to full-time with the title of "Pastor" as originally called for in the transition task force recommendations.

In February 2003 the Church Council called together a Sanctuary Design Task Force (later renamed the Design Task Force) to address the present worship needs of the congregation. Faced with contemporary needs and possibilities in a now aging sanctuary, the time seemed right for the membership to consider ways to remodel or rebuild their worship facility. A liturgical consultant was hired and a methodical, but Spirit-led process was undertaken to review and re-consider our worship space. Following the ELCA document on Worship Space and the Christian Assembly, the group met regularly and soon interviewed several firms to secure an architect for the plans. Over the next two years, and with much feedback and discussion with the general membership, the task force led the congregation to a vote on a set of plans and a capital campaign in February 2005. The two-phase plans included an entirely new sanctuary building attached to the other end of the education wing, along with several modifications and improvements to the existing structure.

The scope of the project was scaled back due to cost concerns and building restrictions. A new plan was drawn up that called for renovating the existing sanctuary space, adding a new addition for pastoral offices and a library, and refreshing the basement social hall. It included a new driveway and canopy along the Stadium frontage, allowing for a covered drop-off at our main entrance and handicap parking. Groundbreaking took place in July 2007 and for the next year Sunday morning worship was held in the basement social hall as the sanctuary was gutted and new construction begun. It was a messy time, but everyone pitched in to make sure our worship services and programs continued uninterrupted.

In the spring of 2008 on Palm Sunday, the congregation processed from the basement into the renovated sanctuary upstairs to worship the new space for the first time. Separate dedication services were held in September 2008 for both the sanctuary and for the renovated Reuter Organ which had been moved from the loft into the new music area where the chancel used to be. As part of the upgrade, the organ was expanded to 23 ranks, with several external pipes and a new console. A new font, flexible seating, and a multimedia system were part of the renovation.

With its rich history and strong sense of mission today, Trinity is ready to move into the future with faith, hope, and the love of God.