Churches seek to help rebuild distressed US city of Detroit

(Photo: Wikipedia)St. John's Episcopal Church in Detroit Michigan was founded in 1858 and moved to its current location in 1861. The church building is on the National Register of Historic Places. St. John's is one of several historic churches in Detroit which are seeking to take part in revitalizing the city.

Christians, individually and through their churches, are mobilizing to revitalize the once prominent city of Detroit, Michigan which faces the possibility of bankruptcy this week.

In its heyday, Detroit was the capital of the world's automobile industry and the fifth largest city in the United States.

However, the city that gave the "Motown" label to stars like Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin, has become symptomatic of urban problems besetting many American cities.

Since 1950, Detroit has lost 60 percent of its population due to economic problems, including deindustrialization.

The city now suffers from urban decay, including the presence of thousands of empty buildings and homes.

The city government has $2.5 billion debt to pay. As a result, public services in Detroit have declined severely.

A sign of its problems is the loss of 100,000 school children and millions of dollars in per-pupil funding since 2000.


Churches are not immune to the issues related to Detroit's decline., a site which publishes stories of interest to black Americans, reported in June that Christians on the city's west side feared leaving their homes to go to church because they are the target of thieves when they are away.

However, a bright spot in Detroit's glum outlook is that many churches and individual Christians are responding to the plight of their community.

Some are getting involved in filling in the gap in public services created by the city's economic woes.

Fox News reported this week that volunteers from Rosedale Park Baptist Church board up and secure abandoned homes so they don't become havens for criminals and drug users.

The Henry Ford Health System has designed a faith-based kiosk that provides a unique resource to local churches to aid with health assessment, education, and treatment for an often underserved population.

The faith-based health kiosk is a state-of-the-art, interactive diagnostic and educational tool, designed to assess an individual's physical condition and provide a guide for addressing future health care needs.

By completing a short, confidential health questionnaire, using the touch-screen monitor, the user will be given recommendations to maintain and improve their current health.


Users will also review healthy lifestyle suggestions linking their faith and their health choices to their overall well-being. Henry Ford is donating kiosks to three local churches.

The kiosk, a pilot project, was a joint collaboration of Henry Ford, Health Alliance Plan, and Detroit pastors. The kiosk covers:

• Medical Topics: diabetes, obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure, HIV and AIDS.
• Healthy Living: eating right, calculating your ideal weight, exercise, preventive medicine, smoking, drug abuse and care for caregivers.
• Support and Resources: local doctor directory, insurance issues, the power of prayer and community resources.

"This faith-based initiative will be extremely beneficial to the church," says the Rev. Joseph R. Jordan of the Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church. "The kiosk gives congregants access to preventive health care information that is so vitally needed not only in our churches, but in the community."

More than 25 percent of Detroit residents have diabetes, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and other chronic diseases that are often unrecognized and under treated, according to the Henry Ford Health System.

Historic churches in Detroit are also seeking to stabilize the city, according to Detroit Free-Press staff writer Niraj Warikoo.

"Some face challenges, from leaking roofs to declining membership,"said Wankoo, a religion writer for the paper.  "But many are growing, or at least holding steady."

He reported in April on several churches over 100 years old which had once faced near extinction but now possessed burgeoning congregations.

"As he city tries to stem its population loss and blight, local pastors say these churches can be solid anchors; they serve as symbols of hope, drawing in people from all over southeast Michigan," Warikoo wrote.


Rev. Steven Kelly of St. John's Episcopal Church told the Free-Press, "The churches can help by giving a purpose and direction that's grounded in good morals."

The more people are involved in the life of a church, the more positive the impact."

The Detroit Free-Press reported that some churches are helping in unique ways.

Christ Church Detroit, for example, is planning to open a daytime homeless shelter. Another church, Fort Street Presbyterian Church, which has been at the same location since 1855 - serves food to 400 needy people every Thursday.

Other ministries are seeking to rebuild Detroit as well.

Warikoo reported this week on a Christian mime ministry which is seeking to strengthen the community.

"We want to strengthen them in character," organizer James Hayes said of the participants. "Everything we do is about promoting hope, promoting life."

Several young Christian adults from Austin, Texas are moving to Detroit mid-year to found a coffee shop which will serve as an art epicenter for a slum community, according to Curbed Detroit, a site that reports on neighborhood trends.

It will also be a ministry.


On the Curbed Detroit website, a video of the group includes their testimonies regarding their leading from God to come to the city and what they intend to do there.One of them, a woman named Taylor, says she will also teach in one of the worst schools in Detroit.

"I am just so excited to go love on kids that have never experienced love," she said. "I am excited to let them know that they are worthy and that they are really important."

"They need to know that. I feel like that's why God has me going because they are the future of Detroit and they are going to see Detroit rebuilt."

Aaron Renn of Christianity Today has a different take on those coming to the aid of the city.

He wrote an article earlier this year, entitled "Why All Your Impressions of Detroit are Wrong."

In it he lamented that enthusiastic new entrants to the community who want to "save Detroit" lack staying power.

Renn wrote, "A long-term commitment and recalibration to the complex and difficult realities of Detroit is key to thriving there and actually contributing to human flourishing there."

He discussed comments made by Episcopal deacon Dean Simmer, who teaches at a local Catholic school.

"He suggests that anyone coming to Detroit should embrace that most Christian of virtues: humility. He advises newcomers to 'shut up and just listen for a year and a half'."

"Some of the newcomers quickly fail and cycle out, others may actually inflict damage, some profit from Detroit (or hope to), and some live in it as if aliens from a parallel reality, as in the artists featured in the documentary Detropia," said Renner.

Ultimately, all of these approaches will fail to revitalize the city over the long term."

"If you're simply an idealist with no thick skin, you're bound to fail in Detroit," said Simmer. "The people who stick around are willing to be humble, to listen to the community members, and to allow their stereotypes to be broken."

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