Rubin: Banks, faith and a church for sale

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

The problem with banks is that they don’t work on faith.

Aaron Bosley does. He’s a pastor, the large and engaging shepherd of a small and inviting congregation off E. Jefferson Avenue called New Image Church.

New Image used to be Holy Temple Missionary Baptist. Bosley, 41, rechristened it a year ago because it needed, well, a new image. It could also use fresh carpet, a sign, a refurbished basement, paint and a wheelchair ramp.

Lord, could it use that ramp. It’s 10 steps up to the main entrance or a narrow staircase down from the side door, and “for our seniors,” Bosley explains, “it’s difficult to get into our building.”

So he dropped by a few lending institutions, explaining that since the water department and the gas company would like their balances cleared and the church is mortgage-free, how does $20,000 sound?

If you can’t pay your utilities, the banks responded, how are you going to pay us back?

Bosley has a plan for that, but again, he’s the one in this equation who works on faith. Best of luck, the banks said.

Time for Plan B, Bosley decided. And now if you drive by the white brick rectangle at 1286 Meadowbrook with the glass-block crosses flanking the door, you will see a sign of the times, if not a sign from above:

For Sale.

It should be noted that this is not a plea for help, though Good Samaritans are welcome. It’s not all that uncommon. And it’s not a going-out-of-business sale; Bosley’s fervent hope is to either find a way to stay put, or take the proceeds and find another chapel lower to the ground.

It’s just a look at one man at one church and a couple of trends that don’t care about how sincere he is, or how many storms the congregation has weathered even without new carpeting to wipe its feet on.

Fabric of the community

Bosley took over the pulpit three years ago from his father, Leonard Bosley Jr., who took it over from the founder, Murray Landrum, who began building his flock six years before the ‘67 riot.

The younger Bosley did not set out to be a minister. A wide-bodied 6-feet-1, he worked construction out of Laborers Local 334 in Detroit and went to truck driving school, thinking it might be nice to “secure some wealth and live the dream.”

But if someone doesn’t preach and counsel, he says, “Where’s the fabric of our community? That’s one of the reasons I’m fighting hard to keep the doors open.”

Bosley spent time Wednesday morning with a young man named Derek, trying to keep “the mask from his face and the gun from his hand.” Once you’ve been in the system, he says, your options constrict and it’s hard to stay out; that’s not an excuse, but it’s an explanation.

The young people who need guidance, though, are the least likely to seek it from a church, sayeth a report on church attendance from the Pew Research Center.

“People have been falling away,” Bosley says. “That’s part of my idea to remarket the church” — to start the service with something inviting, like handshakes, and to be less formal and intimidating.

“We need curb appeal from Jefferson,” he says. A steeple, maybe. Fresh signage. Something to boost attendance from a typical 45 on Sunday to the glory days, when the mainstays were younger and a decent crowd was 225.

And New Image needs a ramp, a predicament in which it is not alone in the wilderness.

“Theaters, shopping centers, libraries, coffee shops and even casinos have all adapted as gathering places welcoming everyone,” points out David Crumm, editor of magazine, which covers issues of religion and diversity. While most churches have remodeled, “overall, congregations are struggling to truly engage with disabled men and women.”

Welcoming challenges

For his part, Bosley embraces challenges. “Throw me in with the lion and the bear,” he says. “Don’t give me the squirrel and the rabbit.”

Give him a little capital, and he’ll remodel the basement and the kitchen. Then he’ll compete with funeral homes for after-service receptions, he says, turning spongy floor tiles and weathered walls into a revenue stream.

He is confident that somehow, the Lord will provide. Maybe the messenger will be Stephen Smiley of Detroit, who slowed his gray Camry to read the phone number on the For Sale sign and wonder about the asking price, which is $110,000.

Smiley has a relative who’s a Baptist minister in search of a church.

“Money cures a lot of things,” he says through his rolled-down window.

Banks aren’t the only ones who have it — and Bosley isn’t the only one who has faith.