1948 Archives: Michigan’s First Televised Church Service

openclipart.org; St. Paul's photo from Wikimedia Commons

The following article was published in the February 1, 1948 issue of The Living Church as “Evening Prayer Telecast”

The first church service televised by radio station WWJ-TV, Detroit, Mich., was that of Evening Prayer, including an Advent pageant entitled “Preparing the Way,” presented on the afternoon of the last Sunday in Advent, December 21st, by the youth of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Detroit. The Very Rev. John J. Weaver, dean of the cathedral, and the Rev. Canon Robert D. Bohaker participated in the service, which marked another milestone in the long association between WWJ, the Detroit News, and the cathedral, whose morning service on Sundays is the oldest religious broadcast in the United States. It was first heard over WWJ on April 20, 1922.

A layman who sat in the WWJ studio and witnessed the televising of the service made the following comments: “When I received an invitation to attend the televising of a service from St. Paul’s Cathedral, I approached the whole thing with a feeling of fear. I fully expected that this would be a rather cold and formal sort of thing, from which one would not get very much. I suppose I felt it would be like the moving picture version of a book which I had read and heard reviewed from time to time. Thus the entire affair would be very matter of fact.

“Nearly all Churchmen know and love Evening Prayer; we know where it starts, and we know where it stops. But I must confess that the first thirty seconds of that service, as it appeared on the television screen, changed my whole opinion of the possibilities of the Church over the air.

“In the room with me were two other Churchpeople, who had been raised in the Church and who know the service from start to finish. It was interesting to note their reactions to the events appearing on the screen. The woman replaced her hat; the man forgot to light his cigar; and as the service progressed through the processional hymn, the Opening Sentences, the prayers, the General Confession, I could hear my companions entering into the service along with the congregation seated in St. Paul’s Cathedral, two miles away. This was also true of the Creed and the other responses during the service.

“A moving pageant took the place of a sermon, and as we sat there in the darkness, one could feel the spirit of the service coming across the screen. Thoughts of the possibilities now open to the Church — carrying the services, visually, to the sick, the shut-in, hospital patients, men in prison, and many more — ran through my mind. All the warmth of the great service could be felt, somehow, in that little room, as the cameramen swung their instruments from priest to altar to congregation, and to the altar again. And we three felt, as we sat together in that small place, that it was good to have been there.

“Several days before the service was to take place, I jokingly charged Dean Weaver with driving Episcopalians ‘to drink’ because so many of our television sets are installed in taverns and barrooms. I understand that the radio station conducted a survey shortly after· this televised broadcast, among some of the taverns. The general reaction seemed to be that as the service unfolded itself on the screen, first of all people stopped smoking to look and to listen, and then many who usually spent the evening in that place disappeared at the close of the service. Could this mean that we have found a means of converting people at a distance? It is the prayer of many who witnessed the telecast that our Church may continue to pioneer in this new and fascinating field, and so bring the Good News of Christ into the lives of many now untouched.”

Detroit’s WWJ, which began daily broadcasts on August 20, 1920, claims to be “America’s Pioneer Broadcasting Station,” and expanded to regular television broadcasts on March 4, 1947, as Michigan’s first television station. Today, WWJ-TV is the NBC-affiliated WDIV-TV.  The Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Detroit, known at one time as “the Radio Cathedral” for its early embrace of that medium, no longer has a weekly television broadcast, but it livestreams 14 services each week.


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