St Jude, Detroit, MI (Exterior)

St Jude, Detroit, Michigan, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Jude
Location: Detroit, Michigan, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 22 April 2018, 10:00am

The building

The exterior is a somewhat austere neoclassical design. At the rear left is a bell tower with three bells dedicated to St Joseph, St Mary, and Jesus. The interior is striking. The altar has been brought into the nave. The ambo is directly behind the altar. Separating the former sanctuary from the rest of the worship space is an iconostasis. It is in the form of a curved wall, made of limestone, and incorporates bronze columns from the former baldacchino. The iconostasis commemorates fourteen individuals, including traditional Catholic saints – for example: St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who was born Edith Stein into a large Jewish family, and who converted to Catholicism in 1922; Catholics of local interest – for example, Father Gabriel Richard, a French missionary who was pastor of one of Detroit's oldest churches, St Anne's, and also a co-founder of the University of Michigan; as well as non-Catholics: Mahatma Gandhi and the Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr. The rear of the church still has the original baptismal font (green marble), but also a baptismal pool allowing for baptism by immersion. The walls of the baptismal pool incorporate marble from the former communion rail.

The church

The parish held its first mass in a local high school in July of 1941. As was often the case with newly-formed Catholic parishes, a school was built first, and ground-breaking for a permanent church did not occur until October of 1954. The upper church was first used for worship in May of 1957. The parish experienced rapid growth in the post-war years, and by its twentieth anniversary had over 3,000 families, with over 1500 students attending its parish school. But as Detroit went into decline with the falling fortunes of the automobile industry, the neighborhood surrounding St Jude became more and more economically challenged, and when the parish celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2016, its membership had dwindled to only 250 families. It supports a large food pantry. There are two weekend masses, and daily masses Tuesday through Friday.

The neighborhood

The parish is in a residential neighborhood on Detroit's Northeast side, about three miles off of I-94. As we drove the three miles from expressway to the parish, Materfamilias and I could not help but be struck by how many homes had their windows boarded up or roofs that had collapsed.

The cast

I know from the parish's website that the celebrant and homilist was the Revd Shafique Masih, St Jude's pastor. No other participants in the service were identified.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

Perhaps 40 per cent full. It was a very diverse congregation; I shared the peace with an Asian family to my right, an African-American family behind me, and a Pakistani family in front of me.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We arrived early to take photos, and several parishioners greeted us warmly. We were sitting on the aisle, and during the opening hymn Father Masih stopped briefly and welcomed Materfamilias. During the Gloria, one of the ushers came up to us and asked if we would bring up the bread and wine at the preparation of the gifts.

Was your pew comfortable?


How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and reverent, although we could hear the choir rehearsing in an adjacent room.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

A cantor said, "Good morning and welcome to St Jude parish for this celebration of the eucharist." He told us it was the fourth Sunday of Easter, invited us to welcome those around us, and announced the opening hymn. After the hymn, Father Masih read the entrance antiphon for Easter IV at the altar, and then the usual "In the name of the Father..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Breaking Bread 2018, a combination missalette and hymnal published by Oregon Catholic Press. There was also an 8.5 x 11 card entitled "Congregational Responses for Mass," with all of the people's responses printed on it; changes from the older translation were in bold-face. Copies of the New American Bible were in the pews, but not used.

What musical instruments were played?

A baby grand piano. There is a pipe organ in the rear gallery, with antiphonal pipes in the front of the church, but it was not used. It was installed in 1985.

Did anything distract you?

When it came time for the Sanctus, nothing happened for a while (apparently the pianist had stepped out for a moment). Finally a member of the choir stepped over to the piano and began to accompany.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Pretty standard fare. Bells were rung at the institution narrative, but otherwise no "high church" touches. Music was a mix of traditional and contemporary Catholic hymnody. The final hymn, and the choir anthem at communion, were gospel-tinged. In lieu of the celebrant's prayer at the end of the intercessions, the entire congregation prayed the Hail Mary. At the end of the service, a couple from the choir who were to be married in the coming week came forward and Father Masih gave them a blessing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

10 – Low-key, but well-prepared.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Throughout this Easter season we are proclaiming that Jesus is risen and is with us. The Good Shepherd lives his life for his sheep, knows them by name, protects them, and ultimately lays down his life for his flock. In the first reading, the apostles experienced the risen Lord, and realized that they (and we) should bear witness to the Resurrection.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The warm welcome we received from so many parishioners.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

I wish that for visitors' sake there would be some attempt to let folks know what mass setting is being sung – an announcement in the bulletin, a number on the hymn board, an announcement at the beginning of mass, whatever. Visitors want to be a part of the community's song too.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

We took some more pictures, and then talked briefly with Father Masih. He asked us where we were from, and he noted that he knows another Pakistani priest in our hometown.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

10 – What do you do when you lose, over time, 90 per cent of your congregation? If you are the parishioners of St Jude, you simply go on being church. You celebrate the sacraments, you feed the poor, you welcome the stranger in your midst. You continue to be the Body of Christ in your community. I was very impressed with this church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The iconostasis.

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