I Remember When: The Church: A Central Place

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This episode includes interviews with Emanual and Elizabeth Haas about the old German rite of confirmation and renovations to the Bethlehem United Church; Willie Harris Carpenter, wife of Reverend Charles W. Carpenter, about her and her husband's work with the Second Baptist Church; Osias Zwerdling, about the history of the Jewish Community; and Nan Sparrow, about women coming together for worship and community service.

Written and Directed by Catherine Anderson
Executive Producer, Catherine Anderson
Graphic Artist: Eric Anderson
Sponsored by the Ann Arbor Public Library, with help from the Ann Arbor Sesquicentennial Commission and the University of Michigan Speech Department.

Length: 00:30:58
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library
Repository Information: Ann Arbor District Library Archives


  • [00:00:00.00]
  • [00:00:34.17] TED TROST: Did you know that the oldest German Protestant Church in Michigan was built right here in Ann Arbor? Well, it was. Headed by the Reverend Frederick Schmid, the first German church was built in 1833 on the west side of town. As you can see, it was a modest, single-story log cabin. The German settlers named it Zion Church, and because they were the first established congregation in Michigan and because Pastor Schmid was the only German minister for miles around Ann Arbor, the church became the center of much of the religious activity in this part of the country.
  • [00:01:13.07] The congregation grew rapidly until in 1845 it was decided that a new church should be built closer to town. It was named Bethlehem Church and is today known as Bethlehem United Church of Christ, where your host was senior minister for five years.
  • [00:01:30.08] Mr. And Mrs. Emanuel Hayes have attended Bethlehem Church since the early 1900s. Mrs. Hayes described briefly the old German right of confirmation.
  • [00:01:42.42] MRS. EMANUEL HAAS: I was confirmed in Germany, but when we had our catechism, Reverend John would explain it in English. That's how I could understand it much better. That's how we all could understand it much better. But when we were confirmed, we were still confirmed in German, and I think that was one of the last times. After that, there was a couple more years that he confirmed in German.
  • [00:02:06.21] TED TROST: Manny, you served on the church council.
  • [00:02:08.44] MR. EMANUEL HAAS: Yes. I served two terms on the church council, and I had been about 17 and 1/2 years on the cemetery board.
  • [00:02:16.39] TED TROST: What were some of the big issues that you had to deal with in those days?
  • [00:02:21.33] MR. EMANUEL HAAS: Well, the first time, I was on, the big issue was the parish hall. That was started. And Alfred Walker who happened to be chairman of the church council, and I was secretary, and we were authorized to sign the contract with the James Beard company that built the parish hall.
  • [00:02:45.65] TED TROST: And that is, a parish hall, I think it's the only one in the city that has a gymnasium in it, isn't it?
  • [00:02:49.80] MR. EMANUEL HAAS: Yes.
  • [00:02:51.63] TED TROST: Was Dr. Schmale the minister then?
  • [00:02:53.59] MR. EMANUEL HAAS: Yes. Dr. Schmale, he came in 1928.
  • [00:02:59.89] TED TROST: 1939 was a particularly memorable year for Mr. Hayes as he recalls the renovations of the Bethlehem Church.
  • [00:03:08.03] MR. EMANUEL HAAS: In 1939, I remember that year very well. We renovated the church. We put glass, stained glass on the outside of all windows, and we lowered the organ, and we put in a new chancel, and we painted the interior of the sanctuary. And the painter gave us $500 off if we do the work with our scaffold. With the scaffolding, of course, in them days, you had to used lumber. They didn't have these portable scaffolds they have now.
  • [00:03:49.53] So we went to Fingerle Lumber Company and borrowed the lumber. And one Saturday morning, about 75 men came there and they put up that scaffold and 2:00 it was done. It was all up, that scaffold. Of course, the painter sent a man to supervise the job. But everybody worked.
  • [00:04:11.72] TED TROST: Like the Bethlehem Church, the second Baptist Church headed by the late Reverend Charles W. Carpenter, also had many hardworking members. And perhaps no one worked harder than Mrs. Carpenter, the minister's wife. She described to us what it was like in terms of her duties.
  • [00:04:30.73] MRS. CHARLES W. CARPENTER: Strange or odd. To me in becoming minister's wife, being so active in the church from early girlhood that meeting the public and being thrown in with various groups, it came very natural to me. And being a minister's wife or marrying a minister, there is a difference being a minister's wife and the wife of a minister.
  • [00:05:29.47] I wanted to be more than just the wife of a minister. I wanted to really be a minister's wife, which to me was more significant than just being married to a minister. And as a minister's wife, I felt it was my place to be a real help mate to my husband. Because I felt like if any phase of the work in the church failed, that meant that my husband failed.
  • [00:06:17.20] One thing I did, that's in the year of 1940 after coming to Ann Arbor, I got the little children together and organized a choir of the little children. And I name the choir the Blue Crown Choir. And the reason I named them that was because of the attire they wore. I had little blue crowns made for their heads, and their robes was blue, the undergarment, and the top part was white. And that's why I named them the Blue Crown Choir.
  • [00:07:15.90] That was step number one, which from I shall say the year 1940 right on up to '66 when Reverend Carpenter retired from the pulpit, at that time, the Blue Crown Choir was active. Another thing that-- I was just there active in working with not only the children, but also adults in Second Baptist Church.
  • [00:07:58.44] Another group that I organized was called the GA's, that's the Girl's Auxiliary. And we were known by the uniform that we wore, the Girl's Auxiliary, which was a group, it was part of the missionary movement.
  • [00:08:31.36] And then the Shepherd Boy's League was the boys because they were not in with the girls. I became superintendent of the Sunday school, that is the primary department. I had each age level of the children, but I did not have the adults under my supervision. We included from the cradle roll right on up through high school, that department.
  • [00:09:17.12] TED TROST: One of the biggest problems that the churches had to face over the years is prejudice. Mrs. Carpenter explained how her husband dealt with this.
  • [00:09:26.90] MRS. CHARLES W. CARPENTER: I've had people to say these situations changed through Reverend Carpenter, the stand that he took. Because when he would be asked to speak at these various meetings, he would tell them in no uncertain terms. He would let them know. And so I've had the white people, many of them even since he's been gone to say that it was through Reverend Carpenter that conditions have changed.
  • [00:10:04.46] He told me-- this is before my time-- that they went into a store up here on Main Street, I think it was an A & P, and they were reluctant, the clerks were reluctant, the cashiers were reluctant to serve his wife, to wait on her. You know. And they would accept some of the other-- the white customers-- ahead of her, you know. And then when they did serve her or wait on her, they just threw it at her like that.
  • [00:10:41.76] Well, he reported it. And in two or three days, that person was gone. He didn't have a job, but it was only by the stand he took, he didn't have a job. He would go in places and he has been-- yes, he's been discriminated against. And to be served. And they would act like they didn't want to serve him.
  • [00:11:07.36] He'd sit there, and he'd sit there. They'd walk around him. The waitresses would walk around. And other people would come in, and they'd serve them. He'd still sit and he'd sit. I think this happened even in Detroit, at J. L. Hudson's, I believe. Yes, they had a cafeteria. And so he got up and then he went for the manager. And he reported it to the manager.
  • [00:11:42.37] Well, in a few days, that waitress was gone. It was gone. And it's these things that broke down that prejudice line is by someone taking a stand in this way.
  • [00:11:59.82] TED TROST: Like Reverend Carpenter, Mr. Osias Zwerdling has been a leader of his people, the Jewish community. When he arrived in Ann Arbor in 1903, there were only three Jewish families in the area. And it was not until 1913 that the Ann Arbor Jewish population began to organize. Mr. Zwerdling explained how the Beth Israel Congregation, as it is now called, was started.
  • [00:12:29.06] OSIAS ZWERDLING: It was like the Lord's way that it saw happened that allowed by Georgia Schloman came from Jerusalem to go to Chicago to lay some money for that time for Jerusalem. And the poor people who at a time just had a really hard time. And on the day from Chicago going to Detroit, there was an accident near Chelsea. Two inter-driven cars got together, a collision. The rabbi's son who was ridden was killed, and he was badly hurt.
  • [00:13:20.09] So they called me past midnight, at University Hospital that they cannot communicate with him, and he was not in the condition where they could put him to sleep. So they want to know whether I would come down. So the doctor came down for me. And as I went up on the third floor, of the old hospital on Kattleston, not on N Street, there was a rabbi with his eyes closed and his arms clutched out to pray in Hebrew. See?
  • [00:14:02.64] I touched his hand and I said shalom aleichem, peace be with you. And then he opened his eyes wide and started to thank God that he had somebody can communicate with. So he went down the used to take care of him, the diet of laws because he couldn't eat anything in the hospital. And every Sunday my wife and I used to go down and have a long visit with him.
  • [00:14:41.58] He was getting along better until the moment before the high holidays. We found him in tears. And when we asked him, he says, well, I've been at this place playing by myself all these months. Now he goes to the high holidays and I must play with a quorum, in a minyan, as he said.
  • [00:15:11.24] He says, that's impossible. we don't have enough even with you. He says, hey, buddy, you do. I told him we go to Detroit, I will go too. Well, he was in no position to leave. So I talked with the doctor and he absolutely forbade it. So my wife and I decided, we should take him to our home. Bring another two Jewish men from the Detroit knows this code of the law, Torah, you know what a Torah is, into our house,
  • [00:15:57.73] And I'll read them to our home. And he stayed from the day before Rosh Hashanah, the first day, which is two days to the day after. The same thing for the Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. And that's the way we had the first minyan in our house was in this house, was on Liberty Street.
  • [00:16:29.45] And after that, that night as we were talking after fasting 24 hours, which you usually do, somehow when he thanked me for being so kind, I get up and I says, well, it seems this is a miracle and it's a sign from God that we must organize a Jewish community. We shouldn't have to go out from Ann Arbor.
  • [00:17:07.70] At that time, we had 100 families had a boy to be Bar Mitzvahed, to be confirmed at 13 years old. Another one had a boy that would be a Bar Mitzvah. So we figured out we'd have a minyan. So the next minyan, we had the following year was at the Salvation Army on North Fourth Avenue upstairs, second floor.
  • [00:17:37.53] Then we went to the arbiter, means the workman's [INAUDIBLE] was they have a hall there, and the best site. Then we had the lady's library, which is the present where the telephone company is on East Jones Street. And finally, we got together the few of us, and we purchased a very dilapidated little place that is now the Greek church on old Main Street.
  • [00:18:21.29] And we have a man coming over who was doing everything. He was the cantor, he was the shmata. You know, you have to have a shoah to make kosher chickens out of towels. And he was also the teacher, everything. He and his family have few moments upstairs, and he was get $18 a week. That's all he was getting.
  • [00:18:56.36] And so that went on from day we finally bought 538 North Division Street, which is now St. Thomas Youth Center. We bought that building. Even the joy carrying their Torahs, singing. We had a big dinner there, and we were very happy there. Things that go smooth. Depression came. We couldn't continue to pay on that mortgage. Very heavy. But somehow, some way, the Lord was good to us, and we managed.
  • [00:19:42.88] We finally sold that place. And from then on, we went down to 2101 Hill Street next to Dr. Bursley, he was the head of the men's student, you know. We bought a nice, big home there. And I give you a capsule. And that's the way it started. Yes, and by 1916, we organized right in my home and the first service that was in Ann Arbor for the high holidays.
  • [00:20:26.69] TED TROST: That was in 1916?
  • [00:20:28.31] OSIAS ZWERDLING: 1916. That's when we organized.
  • [00:20:33.83] TED TROST: Among the many groups in Ann Arbor who do church-related work is Church Women United. The Ann Arbor branch of this national organization was begun 32 years ago by a few women who saw the need among church women of every faith for more active participation in religious and socially-oriented questions. In the three decades of its existence, Church Women United has tackled issues like racial equality, civil rights, and world hunger.
  • [00:21:04.46] This next year, the group will conduct a study of the effects of human greed. Mrs. Nan Sparrow has been a member of Church Women United since it began in 1942. I asked Mrs. Sparrow exactly what the purpose of the organization was.
  • [00:21:20.97] NAN SPARROW: Actually it's a movement of Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Greek Orthodox women who meet together to worship, and to enjoy fellowship, and to serve the community, the local and the larger community.
  • [00:21:40.35] TED TROST: How have Church Women United served the community here in Ann Arbor?
  • [00:21:45.72] NAN SPARROW: Well, let me say first what the worship consists of now.
  • [00:21:48.44] TED TROST: All right.
  • [00:21:49.01] NAN SPARROW: We still have the World Day of Prayer in March. And then you asked what the activities were. We have three celebrations as you probably know. In the fall, we have World Community Day in which we all meet together to worship and to consider some world issue. This last time, for example, this last fall the whole meeting was devoted to world hunger, and the KRAP organization that we've supported for many years, and the migrants.
  • [00:22:28.39] Then in the spring, in may, we meet together for May Fellowship, which considers the local scene, the local needs. I have found and I've been with the Church Women United now for about 30 years, that they're way ahead of the community. They've got some very perceptive women at the head of it in the national. And these studies and books that they put out are forerunners of really what the problems that confront our society a little later.
  • [00:23:09.60] TED TROST: There's an eye on the future then as to what's coming source.
  • [00:23:13.11] NAN SPARROW: It's kind of prophetic in a way.
  • [00:23:15.58] TED TROST: The Council of Churches, another ecumenically-oriented group was dissolved not long ago. The Reverend Howard Gebhard, now associate pastor of Bethlehem United Church of Christ, was the last executive director of this council. I asked Mr. Gebhard why the Council of Churches was disbanded.
  • [00:23:33.08] REV. HOWARD GEBHARD: We followed a pattern that is characteristic of councils of churches everywhere in the country in this day and time, so to speak, of taking a pretty good look at where we were, and what we were doing, and why we weren't getting any further than we were apparently. And so we had a commission established to do some extensive study. We called it New Directions in Ecumenism Task Force, and they undertook to figure out a better pattern for ecumenical work, cooperative effort in the community assuming that it would be best done on a task force basis where groups of people would be organized to work around particular causes and tasks and decided on this as a kind of a new image and a new entity and established then instead of a Council of Churches as such, the Center for Interchurch Cooperation, which is therefore the successor to the Council of Churches.
  • [00:24:33.24] We now have an office in the Guild Building, or whatever it's called, at the Baptist church. It's over here on the great house that they have their offices in. We have an office there. We have a secretary at hand there, and we are continuing the ecumenical kinds of activities such as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which we're planning now for the 18th through the 25th of January. We'll have extensive services during that week, and we have continued some of the standard procedures of Councils of Churches like Union Good Friday services, three-hour service or an hour and a half as the case may be on a community basis.
  • [00:25:16.27] We had emphasis on Thanksgiving services in various ways. And in the meantime have task forces in being or in prospect which we'll be working arrive in particular questions like institutional chaplaincies, the work of Christian education with retarded or handicapped people, like cooperative efforts in Christian education, the operation of a library of resources for Christian education, or choir music or things of this kind, and anticipate getting into a number of areas of cooperative work. We work closely with the Church Women United and the Ministerial Association locally and other groups that are in being that have an ecumenical flavor.
  • [00:26:11.47] Hope of Congregations as it's called now, the IFCC is quite a different entity. This grew out of the time of the confrontations and the sit-ins and take-overs that came back in the end of the '60s when there were a number of problems evolved. And there were those in the community who felt that churches as such were not really awake or aware of their responsibility to the poor, and the advantaged, and so on.
  • [00:26:51.28] And out of that situation developed an Interfaith Coalition Congregations as it was first called, which began with some 10 churches banding together to cooperate in the raising of substantial funds to do some things for the poor and the disadvantaged in the community.
  • [00:27:11.02] TED TROST: Today there are over 70 religious bodies in Ann Arbor each helping the poor and disadvantaged in its own way. Ann Arbor has indeed had a rich and colorful religious history. Enjoying the preaching of such distinguished ministers as Dr. Lemon, Ernest Campbell, Merrill Abbey, and Lloyd Douglas. But whether the sermons are preached by famous ministers or by alternating members of the congregation, the influence of the church is felt by nearly everyone around and as shown by those we spoke with today, is a central place in the lives of many people.
  • [00:27:48.91] May the religious community prosper. I'm Ted Trost wishing you all grace and peace.
  • [00:27:56.16]

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