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June | 1001 Worshiping Communities

New life for church planting

Detroit-area projects take fresh approach to new church starts.

By Chris Thomas

The leaders and citizens of Detroit have made their share of mistakes, and Detroit Presbyterians are no exception, particularly when it comes to church planting. We have tried and failed, but—like the city—our church has a way of not giving up. This willingness to risk big gives me hope for our church and for our witness to the gospel in the Detroit area.

The Presbytery of Detroit is starting two new worshiping communities, while trying to learn from past mistakes. The first community, in the far western side of the presbytery, is called the Portico and uses the tagline “A Gateway to Wholeness.” The Portico is housed at the Howell Conference and Nature Center, a presbytery-owned camp that also is a refuge for injured animals. This project aspires similarly to be a refuge for people—to be a place of healing, growth, and wholeness.

The project takes its cue from Frasier, a sandhill crane who came to the nature center in 1999 as a chick with a broken wing and a malformed beak. He cannot live in the wild, but he has been a surrogate parent to other sandhill chicks. He teaches them how to survive, and eventually they are returned to the wild.

Frasier witnesses the fruit of his work each year as sandhill cranes migrate south overhead. Through his brokenness, he brings healing. Like the nature center, the Portico attempts to empower the broken to bring healing to others.

To serve the growing Hispanic population of southwest Detroit, the presbytery has also started Comunidad los del Camino (Followers of the Way Community).

Comunidad los del Camino is founded on the observation that the church often attempts to provide Band-Aids to wounds caused by systemic oppression and that the real solution is to bring the hope of the gospel to the public. To do that, Comunidad is using a community-organizing model—a hot topic in church-planting circles these days.

Comunidad fuels young people’s desire to change enduring social structures and show how the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring lasting peace and wholeness to a community.

Comunidad has produced stories that show God’s work, starting with the director of the project, Raul Echevarria, who grew up in Chicago and became a Christian at a church plant in his neighborhood. When the Presbytery of Detroit was seeking someone to bring its new-worshiping-community project to a new level, Echevarria felt God’s call.

Echevarria agreed to commute from Chicago to begin work on the project. Later, he took the leap of faith to move his family to Detroit with little guarantee that he could provide for them. Since then, God has provided him with many blessings, including a position in a community-building organization that overlaps with his work with Comunidad, proving that God is doing mighty things through Echevarria’s willingness to be stretched and respond in faith to God’s call.

These projects are breathing new life into church-planting efforts in Detroit. We in the presbytery hope that the excitement moves beyond Detroit and into the life of the whole church. We look forward to seeing you this summer at the 221st General Assembly (2014), where we can share stories about what God is doing to bring healing and wholeness through our witness to the gospel in community.

Chris Thomas is associate pastor for family development at First Presbyterian Church of Plymouth (MI) and chair of the New Church Development Ministry Team for the Presbytery of Detroit.

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