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The current congregation known as Metropolitan United Methodist Church began as Woodward Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church and was the first mission congregation of Central Methodist Episcopal Church of Detroit. That new faith community was founded by sixty men, women, and children and was officially organized as a congregation on June 7, 1885. They purchased a property located north of the city at Woodward and Harper for $8,000 and the first sanctuary was erected in 1886 year at a cost of $4,000. A total of 235 members were transferred from Central ME Church at the chartering of the Woodward Avenue Church. (Today Central ME Church is known as Central UMC in Detroit.)
In 1901, Woodward Avenue ME Church merged with the Oakland Avenue ME Church (with over 60 members), forming the North Woodward Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church. They moved further north on Woodward, to King Street. A new, commodious Chapel, which could seat 1,400 worshipers, was built and dedicated on April 27, 1902.
In 1903, Rev. Charles B. Allen was appointed as pastor. When he was assigned as Presiding Elder (District Superintendent) six years later, the congregation had over 1,000 members. Lured by C.B. Allen’s promise to help him build Methodism’s greatest church, the Rev. Dr. Merton S. Rice was appointed pastor to North Woodward Avenue ME Church in 1913.
In anticipation of continued growth of the congregation and expansion of Detroit into the “northern suburbs,” the church purchased land on Woodward Avenue between Chandler and Marston for a new congregational site in October, 1916. At the time, the area was one of the fastest growing communities in America. They paid $175,000.
On Christmas Day, 1916, an early morning fire destroyed their sanctuary at King and Woodward Avenue. Undaunted, the congregation continued to worship at the Regent Theater and a new, temporary tabernacle was built on the site of the destroyed sanctuary. The church continued to grow as Dr. Rice’s preaching drew large crowds to the Tabernacle. So the congregation began sacrificing in order to build on the new church site at 8000 Woodward Avenue.
On June 4, 1922 the cornerstone was laid for the new church building. The name was changed to Metropolitan Methodist Episcopal Church. Now, instead of being north of Detroit, the congregation was at that point right in the center of a growing metropolis. On September 7, 1924 the congregation marched down Woodward Avenue from the Tabernacle to begin worship in the new building – in the space that is now known as Kresge Auditorium.
It wasn’t until 1926 that the current sanctuary was completed. It was dedicated on January 17th and was debt-free on January 24, 1926! Over 13,000 people contributed to the building project and over 9,000 people attended the dedication services! Metropolitan’s membership peaked at 7,300 in 1943 – the largest church in Methodism – until surpassed by First ME Church, Houston in 1949.
In 1968 the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church united to form The United Methodist Church. Metropolitan Church became one of the leading voices for integrity and justice in the entire connection.
To launch their second century of mission and ministry, the congregation launched the “Centennial Endowment Campaign,” which challenged the congregation to establish a $1,000,000 endowment for World and Local missions and to invest in the future of our young people through higher education. The response was overwhelming. They oversubscribed their goal by over $200,000. Today, we award over 40 scholarships of $1,400 each annually and give more than $70,000 each year to Local and Worldwide missions.
The challenges that Metropolitan faces in the 21st century are huge: there has been a major population shift out of the city and into the suburbs. Also, major restructuring of the manufacturing community has negatively impacted the economic stability of our region. And like so many other urban, mainline churches, Metropolitan’s membership has declined over the past few decades. Nonetheless, we continue to hold forth a Christian vision for Detroit and the tri-county area.
Who is Metropolitan now?
• We are a biblically based, Christ-centered congregation where EVERYONE finds a welcome.
• We are a multicultural, diverse congregation who finds both unity and authentic community through our love for God and one another.
• We seek to honor God with excellence – in preaching and worship, music and fine arts, discipleship education, and witness.
• We are mission and ministry-minded. Our outreach is making a positive difference in our community and all over the world.
• We love Detroit, and actively seek ways to celebrate the good and positive things that are happening in this great city.
This architectural gem at 8000 Woodward Avenue is home to a vibrant faith community – the people of Metropolitan United Methodist Church. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, recognizing the countless gifts we have inherited from our forbearers. And we stand ready to serve in this present age, offering OUR gifts in service to God, so that the next generation will have a future with hope.
Woodward Avenue also sponsored this church, first known as Kenwood. A. F. Knoblock, a local worker in the Sunday School and also in charge of mission work in the city, told in a message in 1911 of the families who gathered in the Kenwood depot, namely the Philip Johnsons and the Hones, Fosters, Pickards, Wainwrights, Moynes, Greens and Prices, to found the church. Begun in 1894, it moved in 1895 north of the Boulevard. Reverend D. Stanley Shaw said, "From September to February standing room was a premium. A new and commodious building was the only solution to the growth problem. The corner of King and John R was chosen as a suitable and available location. At this juncture other things began to happen." His last comment is an apparent reference to the Presiding Elder who wanted to merge the Oakland and Woodward Avenue Churches. Sixty members of Oakland came to the new church.
In April 1901, with a merger of the Woodward and Oakland congregations, the North Woodward Church was born. Land was purchased north of Melbourne and the first public service was in Milburn Hall. Dr. J. H. Potts was the preacher and his text was Luke 16:16. Services continued to be held in the old churches and just one year and ten days after the organization, the North Woodward Chapel was dedicated on April 27, 1902. The following year Dr. C. B. Allen was appointed pastor, and when he was made Presiding Elder in 1909, the church had a sanctuary seating 1,400 and over 1,000 members. In 1913, Dr. Merton S. Rice came from Duluth, lured by Allen’s promise to help him build Methodism’s greatest church. In October 1916, land was purchased at Woodward and Chandler for $175,000 in cash, paid by Sebastian S. Kresge, an active member. On Christmas Eve 1916 the sanctuary burned. This disaster spurred the congregation to a stronger effort toward the erection of the new church.
Building regulations during the raging World War I limited the use of precious labor and materials for other than a commercial building. The Tabernacle was designed to be used temporarily as a church sanctuary. Worship in the Regent Theater and Sunday School in the Chapel (which escaped the fire) continued. The church continued to grow as Dr. Rice’s preaching drew large crowds to the Tabernacle. The congregation began sacrificing to build the present church building in the community which was one of the fastest growing in America. (This building still stands at Woodward and Melbourne.)
On June 4, 1922, the cornerstone was laid and the name changed to Metropolitan since the city had extended many miles north and North Woodward was no longer a proper name. Instead of north Detroit, the church was in the center of a growing metropolis. On September 7, 1924, the congregation marched down Woodward Avenue from the Tabernacle to the new church. Since the sanctuary was not completed, it was decided to use the Sunday School (now Kresge Hall) as a place of worship until the sanctuary was completed. On January 17, 1926, the sanctuary opened and on January 24, 1926, the new church was debt free. Built by 13,000 people who gave $1.6 million, 9,000 persons attended the dedication services. By the mid-1930’s it was the largest local church in World Methodism. Membership peaked in 1943 with 7,300 members. First Church, Houston, surpassed it in 1949.