Mariners’ Church is widely considered the ‘spiritual lighthouse’ in Detroit, Michigan and the second-oldest church in the city. It was popularized by the 1976 hit song by Gordon Lightfoot, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
The church was founded in 1842 and has long been the center for the Great Lakes community. Each year on November 10, the church holds a memorial service to honor the crew of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald and all the other mariners who have lost their lives on the Great Lakes. During the services, the church bell is rung in honor of those sailors and their families.
After the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975, the pastor of the Mariners’ Church led the first memorial service for the crew members who had lost their lives. The church had a long history of ministering to the needs of sailors and their families, and the church bell was used to signal ships coming into port.
In honor of the 29 crew members who had perished in the tragedy, the bell was rung 29 times during the service. This tradition is described in the last verse of Lightfoot’s most beloved hit where he described a solemn scene at Mariners’ Church: “The church bell chimed ’til it rang 29 times / For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
This ritual has been observed every year since the disaster and has become a significant part of the area’s cultural legacy. The tradition of ringing the bell at the Mariners’ Church ensures that the memory of the Edmund Fitzgerald and its crew will never be forgotten.
Last month, the bell at Mariners’ Church rang out again — now chiming 30 times to honor those perished sailors along with the artist who famously memorialized them in song. Lightfoot passed away on May 1 at the age of 84.
Mariners’ church is located at 170 E. Jefferson Ave. in Detroit. It holds church services each Sunday and is considered part of the Anglican Church. For more information, visit www.marinerschurchofdetroit.com.