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One in mission | Linda Valentine

Detroit—the right city

Come and see how God is working in the city that refuses to give up.

new pic linda v

Linda Valentine is executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency

I grew up in Detroit. Well, actually, in a suburb a few miles outside, yet a world away from the racial divide and poverty that characterized what was once the fifth-largest city in the country. My mother would not let us forget that.

When we were young, going to the vibrant downtown area was glamorous. But as the racial and economic divide between city and suburbs grew, the inner city deteriorated. Even so, when we had out-of-town visitors, my mother would take us on tours of the inner city as a reminder that such dramatically different conditions were not so distant from our own comfortable circumstances. When I was in college, a few years after the Detroit riots, I worked for an inner-city neighborhood organization. Then, as now, there were dedicated residents of Detroit who sought to bring hope and opportunity to people amid daunting challenges.

Last July—a day after Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection—Thomas Hay, associate for assembly operations for the Office of the General Assembly, publicly affirmed his conviction that we had chosen the right host city for the 221st General Assembly (2014). “I believe that when the assembly chose Detroit in 2008, the Spirit was guiding us toward a unique opportunity to witness and to be witnessed to,” Thomas said. “By our presence in Detroit, we stand with people who are creatively working to bring forth a new city in a difficult time and can learn from their energy and imagination. By our presence in Detroit, we refuse to give up on . . . a city that refuses to give up on itself.”

Rivertown Neighborhood

Gwen Graddy (MD), medical director of CSI, with Janet Taylor (MD), a national AARP speaker, while a participant uses the exercise equipment in the background

Last October, I was downtown—not far from the Cobo Center, where the assembly is being held—visiting the Rivertown Neighborhood. Here, Presbyterian Villages of Michigan (PVM) works with three other nonprofits—United Methodist Retirement Communities, the Henry Ford Health System, and the Center for Senior Independence—to help champion Detroit’s rebirth by providing housing, health, and other services to the city’s seniors while stimulating development and revitalizing the community. PVM serves more than 4,300 seniors of all financial means in 26 locations across Michigan.

PVM’s commitment to affordable housing in Detroit goes back several decades. Rivertown evolved under the leadership of current president Roger Myers, who was joined by John Thorhauer of the United Methodist Retirement Communities, and during the tenure of several board chairs, including Henry Johnson, a ruling elder at First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor.

Henry describes the multiplier effect of Rivertown, a repurposed industrial building in the part of the city with the highest number of Medicaid recipients. “We see our facilities as incubators for new businesses and new services,” he says. “Right now, the US Patent Office is building its first office outside of Washington, DC, in the same area. The city of Detroit is on its way back. Money, investors, and other resources are emerging. It’s really gratifying to witness and be a part of it.”

And during General Assembly, many will have the opportunity to witness it themselves. A mission tour on June 16, entitled “Detroit’s Reclaimed Riverfront—Urban Living in a Historic Setting,” includes the Rivertown neighborhood.

In the opening chapter of the Gospel of John, two disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” They are, in effect, asking, “Where do you teach? What’s the address? Where do we find God?” Jesus responds, “Come and see,” and then takes them on an amazing adventure, the journey of a lifetime.

Detroit—where my roots and my hopes will always run deep—is that amazing adventure. And many of you are affirming that by your presence. So come and see!


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