Detroit: Bethany Lutheran / Everybody’s Universal Tabernacle

Bethania/Bethany Lutheran and Everybody’s Universal Tabernacle Church of Holiness was a beautiful antique wood frame mission church located on Detroit’s East side.  The cornerstone was laid in 1889 and its first pastor, Reverend Robert Smukal, led the church for the next fifty years.  The pipe organ, built by a company from St. Louis, was added in 1893.  Its services were held exclusively in German until 1918, and it became known as Bethany Lutheran as the English language became used more often in its services.

An undated picture of the church from the Detroit Historical Society.
Image via DetroitUrbex and the Detroit Historical Society

After Bethany’s congregation outgrew the 1886 church, it was relocated to East Outer Drive.  Bishop Theodoshia Hooks, Michigan’s first African American woman to be ordained as a Bishop, moved her previously displaced church, Everybody’s Universal Tabernacle into the building somewhere between 1946 and 1963.  She preached there until she passed away in 1981.  (If anyone has a photo of her, please share!)

It was well maintained during its period of vacancy, prior to the fire, which overtook the attic and roof of the church, and the decision was made to focus on the occupied house next door.  No cause was ever officially announced, but the neighbor was told an ember from a nearby residential fire landed on the roof.  Nevertheless, everything in the church was remarkably intact.


But it seems that no one ever came back.  To my great disappointment, I narrowly missed seeing the pipe organs, which had been stolen the week before my visit by metal scrappers.  The ashes are matted down with rain and footprints, and the Michigan winter is taking a heavy toll.  A thick layer of graffiti coats the walls.

Since these photos were taken, the altar has fallen backwards into the round stained glass window.  This church’s decay, after years of comparatively peaceful vacancy and careful property monitoring, was overwhelming and very rapid.  It’s a tragic end to a lovely, beloved little church with a storied past, but members of the congregation continue to share their happy memories on Facebook.

(This location was originally posted in an anonymized gallery titled, ‘Blotted Out, As a Cloud,” after the hand painted scripture that has since disappeared from the altar.  Images of the pipe organ, and of the fire, can be found on DetroitUrbex.  It’s also featured in my “About” page.)


5 thoughts on “Detroit: Bethany Lutheran / Everybody’s Universal Tabernacle

  1. I usually find abandoned buildings interesting and even beautiful, but this shell of a church just seems sad. Churches are such repositories of human history — from weddings and baptisms to funerals — that their loss feels more profound than, say, an old factory or sanatorium. But it’s heartening that the congregation have found ways to stay in touch and preserve a bit of their community, if only virtually. Thank you for another wonderful post!


  2. Yes, what a awful tragic. I am the daughter of the late Bishop Gene C Carr and the grand daughter of the late Hammond Organist player, Ruthie Smith. Growing up in the church, witnessing the blessing of the spirituality of this church I must say is the foundation of my spiritual background, When I got the call that the church was fire it was like all the memories I had went down in flames right along with it. To the author of this article, Thank you for sharing the history and photos of before and after. Valencia Ruth

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would love to talk with you more about your memories here – I’ve recently gotten the chance to speak with another family from the congregation, and I am working on a new version of this piece with the photos and memories they shared with me and a few other photos and videos I’d taken since posting this. My email address is, and I would really enjoy learning more about your experience growing up in Bethany. Thank you for your comment, and I hope we can talk soon!


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