The Church and the Revisioning of Detroit

As I shared in my sermon from yesterday, I have sensed God's call to get involved in the future of Detroit.  I pastor a suburban church that once inhabited a spot on what was then Detroit's Piety Row.  Like many largely white churches we moved to the suburbs because we could no longer afford the upkeep on our massive building, and because the vast majority of our members no longer lived in Detroit.    So, for the past thirty plus years we have essentially lived as a church in exile.  We continue to carry a name that in many ways no longer speaks to the reality of our existence in another city, while no longer sitting on the street that suggested by our name, and yet we've not been able to let go of that name or its legacy.  But, perhaps that's not a bad thing in an end.  Perhaps that insistence on keeping a name that seemingly no longer makes sense, provides a lifeline to the city we once inhabited.

from Detroit Funk, used by permission
I have had a growing sense that God is at work in the midst of the seeming desolation of Detroit.  You may not know that God is present.  The city is marked by vast areas of vacant lots, homes, stores, and factories.  More than a third of the city lies empty of people, and parts are being reclaimed by nature itself as urban prairie and wilderness.  Detroit has been the victim of less than benign neglect.  It has known political malfeasance and dysfunction.  It's school system is a failure and bankrupt.  It lacks a sufficient tax base.  It has also known the debilitating effects of white flight to the suburbs.  But there are signs of change.  Time Magazine has been keeping its eye on the city for the past year, and while not all of the reports have been well received, in the final article of this series, which is perhaps unfortunately titled "How to Shrink a City" (many would prefer something like "right-size the city"), authors Daniel Okrent and Stephen Gray talk about some of the problems and the possibilities that face the city.  They discuss some of the possibilities and note the challenges.  It is worth nothing that a city that has been nearly 90% African American is seeing its population begin to diversify, with a growing Latino population in Southwest Detroit, Arabs on its western border, and younger whites moving into the middle of the city.  Many of the issues and possible solutions raised here are also raised and discussed in John Gallagher's book Reimagining Detroit: Opportunities for Redefining an American City, (Wayne State University Press, 2010).       

 The question then that needs to be raised concerns the role and place of the church.  The Black Church is very much present.  It is a major presence.  Indeed, what once was Central Woodward Christian Church, when it lived on Woodward Avenue four decades ago, is now Little Rock Baptist Church.  There are a number of churches that live in the city and are present, but can there be a partnership between those churches and the churches of the suburbs?  Can white and black Christians partner to make for a better, safer, more prosperous Metro-Detroit?  And if we begin to plant churches in the city that are not necessarily primarily black churches, what will that mean for the city and its future?  These are all important questions that we must wrestle with.

And so I'd like to start a conversation.  How do we build bridges between city and suburb?  What kinds of ministries might emerge?  We are beginning a partnership with Motown Mission, a Methodist sponsored ministry that hosts church mission teams.  Most of the young people and adults who will come into the city as a result of ministries like this will be white and suburban or rural.  What will be the long term effects on church and city?  What say ye?


Brian said…
In case you don't already know him, Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellerman is a long-time Detroit pastor with a passion (and track record) for social justice.

I am blessed that I was able to study under him. I am more blessed to call him friend.

Thanks for the pointer!
micky said…
Thanks to convey this. It was almost unknown to me till now..

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