Black churches in Detroit Metro are pillars of hope
Shouts and thunderous claps fill the quaint church on the corner of Linwood and West Grand as the Rev. Daryl Clark delivers his sermon.
“What looks good to you, is not always good for you,” said Clark as some congregation members stood and nodded in approval. “God will never steer you in the wrong direction as long as you follow his lead.”
Many religious leaders in Metro Detroit say their pulpits have provided a foundation for helping their communities, and black churches, in particular, have been instrumental in the battles to change society.
Clark, 49, pastor at New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ for six years, said his congregation is helping rebuild the community where he grew up. The church recently purchased a vacant lot across the street and plans to build a park for the residents in the area.
“I’m invested. This is my neighborhood and my city. I want our church to continue to be a staple where people can come for support or if they are in trouble or in need,” Clark said. “Sometimes people think that if you make a mistake, the church will beat down on you, but we are here to encourage one another and give hope, so we can build a stronger society.”
In addition to passing out free groceries once a month, New Jerusalem has hosted weekly classes on grant writing and also sponsors a summit where young adults mentor children and teens about the challenges they’re facing. This spring, the church joined others in the denomination to donate water to Flint residents in wake of the lead crisis in that community.
The Rev. Charles Christian Adams, presiding pastor at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church for 14 years, said the country as a whole has been indirectly affected by black churches.
“There wouldn’t be any civil rights movement, Voting Rights Act, Black Lives Matter or any of the many protests that you see today rallying for change. That all stems from the involvement of the black church,” Adams said. “When Flint residents discovered high lead levels in the water, many looked to the church for aid and counsel. We hold other institutions accountable for their actions. The church is vital to life.”
Last month, Hartford joined other area churches to deliver 6,000 bottles of water to Flint.
The first documentation of black churches in America, dates back to 1758. Many slaves gathered to pray and exchange information, according to the African American Registry, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that educates communities about African-American heritage, history and culture. After the Civil War, the role of the church became even more important in black society, as it became the meeting place to help establish schools, educate the public on political issues and soon after, launch the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s, according to the group’s website.
The Rev. Stephen Butler Murray, president of the Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit, said black churches have been very influential in most communities.
“If you look at the past, Sunday worship was not limited to just Sunday. The church, specifically in the black community, played a major part in electing political leadership,” Murray said. “The black church is very powerful when it comes to helping to address issues of employment, outreach and community development.”
Debra Trigg, of Oak Park, who attends the 11,000-member Word of Faith International Christian Center in Southfield, said an individual’s success can stem from his or her involvement in the black church.
“Having a strong faith helps one to reach their highest point of spirituality,” said Trigg, who has been a member of Word of Faith for 16 years. “A strong faith helps to build a stronger family unit.”
The Rev. Solomon Kinloch Jr., pastor of Triumph Church, said the church also helps hold individuals accountable within the community.
“We have a way of influencing one another through fellowship and attending Sunday service,” he said. “If we see someone on the wrong path or if they need extra uplift, we inspire them while pulling resources together to help them.”
Triumph has more than 4,000 members over eight sites in Michigan.
“Church and worship is a part of our history and our legacy. It’s not just a place you attend on Sunday, it is a way of life,” he added.
That might explain the steady membership numbers in black churches reported in recent years.
The Pew Research Center found that the number of black Protestant adults has remained steady at nearly 16 million adults from 2007 to 2015, compared to the number of white Prostestants — identified as practicing Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Episcopal — which declined to 36 million in 2015 from 41 million in 2007.
Some individuals like, Kenneth Keith, of Detroit, credit the church with helping them make better choices in life.
“I was an angry kid growing up. I would hang in the streets. People would tell me how church would improve my life, but I wasn’t hearing it, until I saw for myself,” said Keith, who is a member of New Jerusalem. “After attending a few services, I started to see a change in my thinking. My outlook was more positive and I liked the impact church made on the people around me.”
Raymond Taylor, of Southfield, said he believes everyone is affected by the church whether it’s directly or indirectly.
“Lessons that were taught to us usually by the matriarch of the family was the introduction to organized religion until you were old enough to establish your own personal spiritual relationship,” said Taylor, who is a member of Greater Seth Temple Sanctuary of Praise Church of God in Christ in Farmington Hills, which has a congregation of more than 1,000 members. “Anyone that you talk to has some type of story that has been passed down from an elder that has shaped their belief.”
But Daunte’ Akra, of Detroit, who was raised in a home where church attendance was mandatory every Sunday said he believes the institution hasn’t helped solve any problems in the community.
“In the past, church was used to give us structure and tell us how we should live, but now, most churches have moved away from that,” Akra said. “It’s a business and many pastors prey on the members to get more money. They are sucking the people dry and people are still killing each other.
Yet, Anita Warr, of Detroit, who has been a member of Detroit’s Solomon’s Cathedral Church for more than 10 years, said the church can never do enough.
“There is so much work that needs to be done, that there will always be a need for volunteers, churches and pastors to minister in the neighborhoods,” said Warr, whose church has more than 300 members. “For the people that are quick to criticize what the church is not doing, they should look at themselves first and see if they are a part of the problem or helping to solve the problem.”