Congregations that represent the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in Detroit have a long history of working together. As the Michigan District Lutheran Parish (MDLP) in 1976, then as the Detroit Lutheran Coalition (DLC) beginning in 1985, we have gathered together for many reasons. We have gathered to envision a collective neighborhood ministry. We have created lay leadership programs. Recognizing the challenges of a predominantly white denomination serving in a predominantly African American city, some lay programs were specifically created to equip lay leaders to assist white pastors in our context. We have joined our voices together in Mass choirs and ‘Singspiration’ concerts. Black History Showdown contestants represented youth from most of the Detroit congregations. Travel to Tanzania, a Hmong ministry, small community businesses and collaborations with suburban congregations to support summer youth programming are among the many ministries that have been a part of our collective history.
In the fall of 1997, representatives from our national denomination, met with representatives from our churches. Detroit congregations were challenged with declining membership and waning resources. Many members were busy mourning the ‘glory years.’ Many physical plants were in serious disrepair, and the median age of the people in the pews reflected the ageing of mainline denominations. White flight and class flight were having a drastic affect on Detroit. The denomination representatives let us know that they had decided it was time to do something new. It was time for African American Lutherans in Detroit to gather and produce a strategy for mission and ministry for African Americans in our communities. In order to support new leadership and introduce new creative methods that would send the age old message of God’s liberating act of love in Jesus Christ while reflecting our context, we needed a new strategy. We were challenged to recognize and support the ability of African Americans to set a future course for Lutheran ministry in metropolitan Detroit.
We gathered. Struggling with the command to go without our white colleagues, we gathered. We gathered and shared our common and diverse experiences, our collective wisdom and our ancestral memories. We shared our knowledge and listened to perspectives from different generations. We began to recognize the vast array of gifts and talents represented in our communities. We shared our joys and struggles. We struggled with one another and lost members along the way.
‘Following the Way: A Strategy for Ministry,
by African Americans and for African Americans, in the Southeast Michigan synod, ELCA’
is the result of our work together.
The document shows our desire to leave a Christian legacy that reflects our dedication to the empowerment of people in the communities ‘where we are planted,’ and reflects our commitment to strengthen and resource our churches. The document reflects our struggles and our joys. The document addresses issues of race, class and gender from various perspectives. It speaks specifically to mission and ministry in metropolitan Detroit addressing our context with integrity – from the perspectives of the people who live, worship, work and play here. The document assesses our history and challenges us to move into a God-ordained, Holy Spirit filled future serving Jesus Christ in metropolitan Detroit.
The document was approved by DLC congregation representatives, affirmed and supported by our local church governing body, affirmed and supported by congregation representatives from ELCA congregations in southeast Michigan, and presented to the Detroit community in 2001.Since 2001, in a historical move for the ELCA, we called a director for this African American ministry. Rev. Stephen Marsh is an African American Lutheran pastor with 20 years of church experience. We have combined the resources of the collaborative group, the Detroit Lutheran Coalition and the strategy ‘Following the Way.’ to create and incorporate a new entity, Acts In Common. We have gathered a group of African Americans leaders from Lutheran congregations and from various religious and community service organizations in the Detroit area to serve as our Board of Directors.
The face of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Detroit has changed over the years. Today, as Acts In Common, we are moving with those who are creating a momentum in this city, sparking new spiritual growth and beginning new initiatives that will utilize our assets and serve the needs of our communities.