Hundreds of Scientologists from across the country flowed into downtown Detroit on Sunday morning to celebrate the new church in a freshly-renovated, eight-floor building at the corner of Griswold and West Jefferson.Although famous member Tom Cruise didn’t seem to appear in the crowd, some attendees hailed from as far as New Jersey and Georgia, clad in suits, leather jackets and scarfs to fight off the October cold.
Security — and lips — were tight. Members sported wristbands to show they had been invited. Large signs reading “DETROIT” blocked off the street view of an ornate stage, complete with a towering cross, while security guards patrolled the grounds of 1 Woodward to block entry from that side.More than 10 attendees declined to speak to the Free Press, but others offered a few insights into the day’s fanfare. Alan Kellman, who works as a lawyer in the Penobscot building and has been a Scientologist since the 1970s, said that the new building could help Scientology reach millennials and other Detroiters who are joining in on downtown’s revitalization.
The 88-year-old building itself, Kellman said, is also worthy of Scientology.”The teachings of Scientology are way up here,” Kellman said, gesturing to the sky. “Now the building is coming up to par so that we can attract the whole spectrum of people out there to see us.”Church of Scientology to open in Detroit Church of Scientology moving into downtown DetroitScientology is a religion founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in southern California and counts many Hollywood celebrities as congregants. Founded in 1954, the religion has been the subject of much criticism in recent years, including an HBO documentary “Going Clear,” which featured interviews with former members, some of which alleged abuse and intimidation by church leaders.
Its first Detroit church opened in 1963 at 18212 James Couzens. More recently, the organization has operated a Farmington Hills site, which is transferring its operations to downtown and aims to open another Battle Creek location in a year or so.The church claims to have millions of members worldwide. But those numbers are disputed, and membership of all new religions has been declining in recent years, said David Bromley, founder of the World Religions and Spirituality Project and religious studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Its physical expansion, though, has been marked by snapping up prominent real estate in cities from L.A. to D.C.Now the religion has a visible presence in Detroit. Near the stage on Saturday, a man ascended the crowd in a mechanical riser to capture photos and a live stream, which one attendee said would be available on Scientology.net. And last Friday, a sprawling “Scientology” sign was fixed atop the building.
What was on the agenda for the church’s opening in Detroit was kept under wraps, too. Many said it was simply a tour of the new headquarters, but one spokesman added there would be scheduled speeches from community leaders in the city. Still, the atmosphere was jolly. People shared food on plastic plates, and a little crowd stood near the row of portable toilets to get a quick smoke in the morning cold.
Mike and Heidi Hebert drove out from Commerce Township to join the day’s festivities. It’s been a long journey of fundraising and negotiation to make the site finally open, they said.Monday, the church will open its doors. About a third of the eight floors will be available to the public in the form of conference rooms and a chapel.”It’s an amazing thing,” Heidi said. ‘It’s a culmination of a lot of years of effort … it’s just exciting to be downtown. Because downtown is happening.”
Free Press staff writer Allie Gross contributed to this report.