The Rev. Barry Randolph: On a mission to bring people out of poverty

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Pastor Barry Randolph wants to get his flock at Detroit's Church of the Messiah to heaven. But first he'd like to relieve them of the hell too many are suffering on Earth.

"Our mission is to bring people out of poverty," said Randolph, who has led the Episcopal church in the east side Islandview neighborhood for 17 years. "We have a motto here that 'a Virgin had a baby.' If a Virgin had a baby, we can lift people out of poverty. We can build houses. We can create businesses. We can do entrepreneurship. All of that comes from our belief in the impossible."

Pastor Barry Randolph addresses the congregation at  at Church of the Messiah in Detroit on Aug. 10 during the funeral for Francesca Marks.

Randolph, a 56-year-old former businessman, came to the ministry after a self-described "burning bush moment" left him face-down on his apartment floor, listening as God described what he'd do at the Church of the Messiah.

He says he was directed by God to minister to young African American men, an unlikely church demographic. Today, 60% of his congregation is black males under the age of 30. He has grown membership to 200 from 40 when he took over.

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It's not just their souls Randolph is concerned with. It's also their stomachs. Through church-incubated businesses that range from a candle shop to a video production studio to an internet service provider, Randolph is helping his members find work and hope. 

The basement is a beehive of entrepreneurship. Tea is brewing. Clothes are being sewn. Upstairs, there's a doctor's office off the sanctuary. An employment office helps former prison inmates find jobs. And there's a marching band.

"It's kind of amazing what goes on here," Randolph said.

The church has rehabbed 200 housing units in the neighborhood, a project that serves three purposes -- it attacks blight, provides affordable housing for those who might otherwise be homeless, and teaches skills to local residents who are hired by developers. Overall, Church of the Messiah has brought $48 million in investments to Islandview. 

Pastor Barry Randolph is seen inside the Church of the Messiah in Detroit. Randoph is teaming with developers to rebuild the area around his east side church. He has been a major voice in anti-gun violence efforts.

The neighborhood is changing because of the efforts, and Randolph says that's OK. Instead of a community that is mostly black and poor, he envisions one that is multi-racial and mixed income.

"That's the only way to fight poverty," he says. "Everyone in the neighborhood can't be poor."

Randolph truly believes in the saying, "The Lord will provide." And that includes for himself. He takes no salary, living in the rectory and counting on his extended family to meet his material needs. 

The key to Detroit's comeback, he said, rests with its churches.

"There are 400 churches in Detroit," Randolph said. "This should be the holiest place on Earth. If all of the churches actually stood up and made a difference in the communities around them, we could get this straightened out."

Name: Barry Randolph

Age: 56

Education: Martin Luther King High School graduate, attended Wayne State University. Ordained a priest in 2002

Occupation: Pastor of Detroit's Church of the Messiah

Why honored: For work in helping to rebuild his community through the creation of businesses and rehabilitating neighborhood houses.