History of Our Diocese

The first Anglican services were held in the frontier trading post of Detroit in 1802. St. Paul’s Church was organized there in 1824 and its building, the first Episcopal church in the Northwest Territory, was consecrated in 1828 by the Rt. Rev. John Henry Hobart of New York. By 1832, Episcopal churches had been formed at Ann Arbor, Troy, Monroe, and Ypsilanti, and the first convention was held that same year at St. Paul’s in Detroit. The new diocese was admitted into union with the General Convention on October 17, 1832. Mission work was conducted by, among others, the Rev. William Lyster, who began his ministry in Michigan in 1830 and named the “Irish Hills” for his native land. His work allowed for the establishment of many churches including those in Clinton, Adrian, Jackson, Monroe, Cambridge Junction, Brooklyn, Hillsdale, and Jonesville. In 1841, he was listed as the Missionary to Washtenaw and Lenawee Counties, however, his ministry lay “wherever there was a job to be done” and records indicate services extending the entirety of southern Michigan, east to west.

A frontier home in Michigan. Photo courtesy of MSU

The first bishop, Samuel Allen McCoskry, was elected by the House of Bishops and elected rector of St. Paul’s, Detroit, in 1836. He served the diocese for 42 years, supervising the extensive mission field that included all of the current state of Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula and part of Wisconsin. When Michigan became a state in 1837, the boundaries of the diocese were fixed as the boundaries of the state.

As the church grew, bishops found it difficult to administer such a large area, and the congregations farther from Detroit desired a bishop closer to their own areas and more attuned to their local needs. To address these concerns, the diocese eventually was divided three times. In 1875, the western half of the Lower Peninsula became the Diocese of Western Michigan. In 1895, the Upper Peninsula became the Diocese of Marquette (later renamed Diocese of Northern Michigan). Finally, in 1995, the northeastern Lower Peninsula, Saginaw Valley and Thumb areas became the Diocese of Eastern Michigan. As a result, the current Diocese of Michigan includes the Detroit metropolitan area and adjacent regions as far west as Lansing, Jackson, and Hillsdale, as far south as Monroe, and as far north as Romeo. The congregations of the diocese have been divided into regional groupings called at various times convocations, archdeaconries, area councils, and currently deaneries, that have varied over the years in number, names, and responsibilities.

The map below has links to the deaneries and congregations of our diocese. If you click the box on the upper left of the map, a list of deaneries will drop down, and each pin links to a congregation.

In the nineteenth century, the diocese was concerned with the strains of carrying the gospel to a region rapidly developing from a frontier to a more settled state. As early as the 1840s, the church began to develop urban missions in Detroit to African Americans and laborers. One of the cardinal African American Anglican churches, St. Matthew’s, was founded in Detroit in 1842. The 1850s saw the development of missions in the lumbering regions of the Saginaw Valley and the mining regions of the Upper Peninsula. The problem of supporting churches in poor farming areas was a constant concern.

Michigan & Griswold St. Circa 1920

The economic fortunes of the diocese in the twentieth century were closely tied to the development and decline of the automobile industry in the Metro Detroit area. The rapid rise in Detroit’s wealth and power in the 1910s and 1920s was reflected in a diocese that became one of the largest and most influential in The Episcopal Church. The economic crash of 1929 and the Great Depression led to economic distress for clergy and congregations, but by 1942 financial stability was returning.

The post-war boom and suburbanization of the 1940s and 1950s led to a great emphasis on building and physical expansion in the diocese. A new Diocesan Cathedral Center was consecrated in 1961 and that year the diocese hosted the General Convention.

During the Uprising, Detroiters stand in line for food being distributed at Grace Episcopal Church on 12th Street, July 26, 1967. Photo courtesy of MLive.

During the Civil Rights Movement, clergy and lay members of the diocese went to Selma and a number of clergy and lay people also joined protests and marches in Detroit. After the Detroit Uprising of 1967, many Detroiters relocated to suburban areas where new congregations were planted. Congregations in the city of Detroit continued in ministry despite declining membership and finances. Episcopalians were instrumental in creating and supporting urban ministries such as Mariners Inn, St. Christopher’s House, Crossroads, and many others.

The Diocese of Michigan has a long history of engagement with social issues. Early in the twentieth century, Bishop Williams led the diocese to confront the church’s responsibility to labor. Later Bishops Emrich, Mayson, and McGehee challenged the community to confront issues of civil rights, peace, and justice. Beginning in the 1950s, the diocese began to consider the role of women in church leadership. In later years, similar conversations began for our members of the gay and lesbian community. The first woman priest, Meredith Hunt, was ordained in 1977 by Bishop McGehee, who also, along with Bishop Wood and Bishop Gibbs, championed the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in the church. In recent years, the diocese has been engaged in serious and ongoing work in diversity and racial reconciliation and marriage equality.

You can access a complete list of our bishops here.