Work of Resurrection: Rebuilding An Abandoned Church in Detroit

Tina Powell is rebuilding a church whether it demands her home, her business, or years of commitment.

In the east-side neighborhood south of Gratiot and Burns, where a spate of drug activity and scrapping have marred the community, Powell is working on rehabilitating the old St. Thomas Lutheran Church into a space for her nondenominational ministry.

Pastor Powell, as she’s known, is leading the renovation of the 92-year-old church, which sat in disrepair for 12 years while scrappers picked it clean. Pews, copper pipes, and ornamentation had all been stripped, and one of the church’s massive stained-glass windows had shattered onto the Chapin street sidewalk. The ceiling was rotting and pockmarked with gaping holes. Columns holding up the balcony were decaying.

All that remains of the original grandeur is a faded painting of Jesus over the apse.

Powell’s faith outreach, Divine Deliverance Outreach Ministry, purchased the church from the city in 2011 for $6,000, a fraction of the original $80,000 cost. Contractor bills and materials for renovations, however, have totaled $40,000 so far, prompting the ministry to sell its previous home, and Powell to sell her clothing store and her own house.

Even for Powell, 44, who’s been ministering her entire life, the endeavor raised eyebrows among family and friends.

“When they hear what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it, some of them think I’m crazy. But I know that whatever I give to God, He’s going to give back to me double or triple.”

Powell brims with optimism, determined to turn yet another abandoned church in Detroit into a place of worship and pride. If she’s afraid, she doesn’t show it. This is her mission, she says.

Although the building was completed in 1921, the predominantly German church was first established in 1908. The church’s congregation peaked in the 1930s before an exodus to the suburbs began, according to, which documents abandoned buildings. After that, the church changed hands numerous times before arriving in its present condition.

Powell has accomplished a great deal – reframing two of the walls in the soaring nave, repairing damage to the roof, creating two new antechambers, and installing windows where old stained glass used to be. While much of the work has been done by contractors, Powell is at the church nearly every day to paint, grout, or arrange her vision of a new spiritual home.

Though mild, cheerful, and humble, Powell is driven by a zeal for her vision. Heeding the call seems to have worked in Powell’s past – her initial ministry, Devine Women of Destiny, began 11 years ago as outreach in the community where she saw people in need of saving – addicts, dealers, homeless, the lost.

A self-described “street pastor,” she proselytized “on the corner, in the club, in the trenches anywhere,” held dinners, and adopted shelters before she says she was called to pastor in 2007. Her flock is now an estimated 1,000 members, most of whom come from her street preaching and outreach in adult foster care programs.

The large and ever-growing congregation, she says, led to the need for a greater place of worship. Currently, the church is far from finished – the floor and walls need to be resurfaced; there are minor structural repairs to be done, and the pews and apse remain untouched. Fresh paint and sawdust perfume the air, evidence of Powell’s daily commitment to work, even if it means getting her hands dirty.

The surrounding community is excited about the renovation. Local teenagers, Powell said, have been coming to the church since she started work.
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Even Hollywood filmmakers are in negotiations with her to shoot in the space.

“I’ll be here every day,” she said, smiling, her jacket flecked with paint. “This is God’s plan.”

If you are interested in helping Pastor Powell with construction, she accepts assistance of all kinds, especially materials and labor, and may be contacted at [email protected].

Ryan Healy

Ryan Healy cleans a house for his money but writes for a living. He lives, eats, and sleeps mostly in Detroit.

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