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A Glimpse of Heaven at Charity, Detroit6 min read

The picture that accompanied this article was originally posted to my Facebook page.  I was inspired to post it by two events: In October 2014, Acts 2 Enterprise (A2E) hosted an urban conference on diversity, at which we openly wrestled with the issues of diversity and inclusion. Shortly afterward, Charity Lutheran Church in Detroit was blessed by the presence of Rev. Daniel Conrad at our service to share his work in Latin America. I am forever grateful that Rev. Conrad took this picture. It truly reflects what Charity has become. African-Americans, Latinos, and Caucasians are represented in the picture, as are individuals born on 3 continents. The ethnic mix is very close to the mix in our community.

It wasn’t always this way. When I came to Charity in 1999, it had an average worship attendance of 12. All the members were Caucasian. The average age was 70. I used to joke that our “youth” all had their AARP cards! Although a Head Start operated throughout the week in the church basement, the church itself was only active on Sunday morning. Needless to say, the congregation had not changed as the community changed. That the church would close and the building sold seemed inevitable. But that would change.

THE TURNING POINT

I remember well the day I met with the voter’s assembly at Charity to discuss whether I should serve them on a regular basis. After some discussion, I asked them to decide if they wanted to sell the church or to open the doors of the church to the community. I told them I didn’t know anything about closing a church, but we could find those needed to assist them, but if they wanted to reach the community I would give them my best efforts. I then left the room while they continued their discussion and came to a decision. After only 10 minutes, they called me back in and told me they had decided to reach the community and would want me to help them open the church back up, and that they would support me in that effort.

[Tweet “I asked, “Do you want to sell the church or open the doors of the church to the community?””]

MAKING CONNECTIONS

So it began.

The process hasn’t been without its stumbles and fumbles but it has always been blessed. Charity began to connect with the community’s neighborhood associations. We began to open the church to the community for public forums. During the ensuing years, Charity has hosted every mayor since Archer, and we have hosted numerous City Council forums. Charity conducted memorial services for police officers killed in the line of duty. The church has connected the community to U.S. Senators and Congressmen, to County Commissioners, and to countless public safety events. In addition to the Head Start program, which continues to operate at Charity, we for a short while also provided facilities for a “last chance” alternative high school. Currently, we are partnering with Lutheran Special Education Ministries in the iCAN tutoring program. In fact, Charity takes particular pride in being the first and the model for the iCAN program.

By partnering with Southeast Michigan Community Resource Corporation, a 501(c)3 non-profit we helped organize, Charity became active in the process of establishing affordable housing in our community. Currently, this organization owns 3 of the 9 houses on the street behind Charity. Families occupy 2 of the houses and 1 house awaits the funds for rehabilitation.

NOT LOSING SIGHT

Throughout this process, Charity has never lost sight of its primary mission as a church, and never lost sight of the fact that the most vital treasure we have to offer the community is Word and Sacrament ministry. Many times I have been invited to offer prayer at City Council, County Commission meetings, and various civic functions in our area. Each time, I have advised those that invited me that I was a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and would only pray in his name and could not offer a generic prayer. I told them I would understand if they withdrew the invitation. They never did.

[Tweet “”The most vital treasure we have to offer the community is Word and Sacrament ministry.””]

Scripture informs us that the division that separates us was the result of sin and the direct action of God.Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:9).

A GLIMPSE OF GLORY

Scripture also informs us a glimpse of glory: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10).

Revelation 9 continues in verses 13 and 14 to inform us that the only path from Babel to glory goes through the cross: Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?’I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’” Only through the cross can we bridge the world’s chasms that divide us; only through the cross can we tear down the walls that separate us. Unity in diversity is not something to be achieved, it is something that has been achieved by the work of Jesus Christ, and that work, in the words of Jesus, “is finished.”

[Tweet “”Unity in diversity is not something to be achieved, it has been achieved by the work of Jesus Christ.””]

The change that occurred at Charity didn’t only come from being a facility open to the community; it came from being the church, the people of God, open to the community. It came from taking seriously God’s Word, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10).

Over the years, the community came to the events held at Charity and found a church, some found a church home. Over the years, the diversity of the congregation has changed but our unity in Christ has not changed. To God be the glory!

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About the Author

Steve Essenburg is the Michigan District Missionary-at-large in Detroit and serves as vacancy pastor at Charity, Detroit.

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