Bethesda Missionary Temple, located on Van Dyke & Nevada (6 1/2 Mile Road) in Detroit became the second church attended during my childhood. I joined the church under pressure from my parents, my father in particular, before heading off to college in the early ’80’s, even though I had a number of concerns/issues about some of their perspectives & control of the lives of their members. My parents still attend, are very active, and involved in leadership at the latest iteration of Bethesda, now called Bethesda Christian Church, located on Metropolitan Parkway in Sterling Heights, Michigan and adjacent to Freedom Hill (formerly Pine Knob, I believe). I’ve only been on the campus of “new” Bethesda a handful of times over the past twenty some years.
The focus on this page is going to be more about the history of Bethesda up to the point where I no longer had much contact with that specific church. If time permits (& the muse inspires) I May traverse various trajectories along the lines of issues/concerns I’ve had with Bethesda over the years…but that is not currently my intended main focus.
I’d like to say at the outset that BMT had a strong influence on my life once my family began attending there in the 1970’s. I continued to attend that church with my family up to the mid ’80’s before I remained in Tulsa, Oklahoma year round, beginning the summer of my junior year of college up to the end of 1992 when my new husband & I picked up stakes & transplanted ourselves in Northern Michigan for about a half a decade.
Having started out my Christian life in the United Methodist Church I was more familiar with traditional denominational Christianity than the non-denominational style of BMT. BMT was a much larger congregation, roughly 3,000-4,000, than was Calvary, likely less than 500. Also, Calvary was the church of my dad’s youth & there was a lot of inter-connectivity between some of the families there. A number of my parents’ closest friends attended Calvary & most of them seemed to have kids near my (& my brothers’) age so it was easy & familiar & comfortable extended family style camaraderie.
Given that my parents moved us to BMT when I was in 5th Grade & that upheaval fell near the other upheaval of me going through puberty it is possible that the coinciding of that developmental stage for me personally impacted some of my perceptions to some degree. I basically attended BMT during Junior & Senior High & only in some Summers or Breaks during my early college years.
BMT was on the East Side of Detroit & therefore many of the people that attended there were also more from the East Side. We lived on the Western side of the city, in the suburbs, so even when I could drive, if there were fellowship events outside of the church they were usually only held on the East Side. I expect that regional distinction contributed in a small way to my sense of isolation from that church as a whole. It also made it difficult to have church friendships outside of church time. My closest church friends from BMT were two sisters who lived in Mount Clemens, a girl who lived a couple of miles from the church in Detroit, and a girl who lived across the border in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. My parents were quite close with a number of couples that lived on the West Side & had been involved in a Prayer Group with them for years; some of these Prayer Group couples had kids near our age but we never really hit it off so those potential relationships pretty much never developed beyond the courtesy stage…
Here is a site that has a lot of history about Bethesda in a timeline format. There are many things here that are familiar to me, many names/faces are ringing bells…
The post below has a good amount of information about Patricia Beall Gruits, the oldest child of M(yrtle). D(orothea). Beall founder of Bethesda & her husband Harry Lee Beall. When I attended Bethesda I had a great admiration for “Sister Pat” & recall writing a piece in high school about who I’d like to be like & she & another Bethesdan, Virginia Moti, were who inspired me then. They were both very strong, godly, & vocal women. When I took Bethesda’s Catechism class, based on a book by Sister Pat, Understanding God, one of the activities we had to participate in was Footwashing. I believe during that footwashing ceremony I actually had my feet washed by Sister Pat, as I was seated next to her. As far as I know she never really knew who I was, as there were probably 50-100 people in that class, but it was an humbling honor to have that Great Lady on her knees before me as she washed my feet (only in the very loosest sense perhaps akin to what Peter felt as Our Lord Jesus washed his feet).
Sister Pat has lead a ministry to Haiti for many years. During my adolescence my dad contemplated having our family move to the mission field of Haiti because of Sister Pat’s work there through Rhema International, I believe. Because this possibility of going to live & work in Haiti loomed over us I chose to take four years of French in Junior & Senior High School. The Haitians speak a form of French Creole & I’d hoped to be prepared in the event that we actually went to Haiti. Later, when I went to college I was enrolled as a Pre-Med student, thinking that I might later become a Missionary Doctor, perhaps to Haiti. Obviously Sister Pat had a pretty strong, though indirect, influence on my life…
“Balanced Biblical teaching and spontaneous, anointed praise and worship have been hallmarks of church life at Bethesda…The beauty and harmony of Bethesda’s spontaneous worship has been compared to a “heavenly choir” by many that have visited the church.”
I’m not sure if the 75th Anniversary of Bethesda was the event my husband & I attended with my parents or not. We went to the fancy dinner held at the Detroit Lions’ relatively new stadium, Ford Field, on a Summer evening, the same day that the International Fireworks were held on the Detroit River, celebrating American Independence & Canada’s Freedom (I believe)…Those fireworks were visible from Ford Field but Michael & I didn’t get the chance to fully partake of them since he had a medical situation that required us to leave early. [My husband had had a “skin cancer” removed from his upper arm earlier & during the Bethesda Anniversary some of the stitches gave way & blood was running down his arm & we didn’t have the means to really address the situation at Ford Field–I had hoped to view the fireworks for in my 4+ decades usually in the Metro Detroit area we’d never actually seen the spectacular display & the large glass windows at Ford Field provided fairly reasonable viewing…]