Messiah Lutheran Church, Bay City, Michigan by Alden B. Dow

Messiah Lutheran Church was one of 11 religious structures designed by Alden B. Dow in the 1950’s. He was selected by the church Building Committee in 1954, one year after completing another Lutheran church, St. John’s, in his home town of Midland.

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Composed of brick and arranged around a landscaped courtyard, the building features three principal areas – the church, fellowship hall, and classrooms. The entrance is located on a terrace where the adjacent landscaping of the planters softens the sharp edges and stark masonry façade. Timbers from the old frame church were used to build the free-standing cross on the entrance terrace.

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The central window, a compositional arrangement of clear and colored glass squares, is set at the rear of the nave in line with the central aisle. The window is more ornamental than functional, the main source of illumination being the ceiling-high glass windows that look out onto the courtyard. In contrast, the opposite side of the nave is a wall without windows to block the view of and eliminate noise from the street traffic outside. The central hall extends to the fellowship hall and offices at the rear of the building; the classrooms are across the courtyard.

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The new church was dedicated in October 1956. For the dedication booklet, Mr. Dow wrote:

“Our buildings originate as mere utilities. Through our love for them we create a beautiful form, but in their deeper meaning, their significance, lies their greatest beauty. In your church, the nave and altar bear a traditional significance, as does the cross on the entrance terrace…The court, surrounded by the nave on one side and classrooms on the other, proposes a new meaning. Here, separated from the noises of the street, is a garden spot reminding us that no man lives alone and that awareness of this fact is essential to his whole growth.”

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