In September 2003 I became pastor of Detroit First, located in suburban Detroit. I served as pastor of this church for a little over 8 years. Today it is known as the Hilltop Church of the Nazarene. This was my last pastorate. I had been working for the denomination for a few years and this is where I re-entered pastoral ministry. All of my pastorates have been special, but there is a special place in my heart for this congregation. Relationship and the bonds that go with them are often forged in the fire. It was here that I would face one of the toughest challenges in pastoral ministry with the betrayal of a trusted church member who did great financial damage to the church. I was pastoring here when the economic downturn of 2008 took place, of which the epicenter was Detroit. Many of our members were employees in the auto industry and during those days none of knew if the industry, city or any of us would survive. Yet the congregation pulled together in amazing ways and the church is still strong and vibrant to this very day. In the few crisis times we faced everyone pulled together and I still marvel at the faith and tenacity of this congregation.
While pastoring here we made friends for a lifetime, got to attend many Detroit Tigers games, a few Red Wings and Pistons as well. Many folks opened their hearts and lives to us and we are better for the experience of being their pastor.
Some of the highlights:
Rev. JoAnn Bastien has planted a church in Livonia, JoAnn is doing a great job for the Lord, she was a volunteer and then paid staff member and I am so proud of what God is doing through her life. Rev. Debbie Stottele is pastoring in Lincoln Park, this was for all practical purposes a restart, a year ago I held a revival for them and got to spend a weekend with the Stottele’s. They are doing a great job, Debbie was a volunteer staff member at Detroit First. Linda Bynum is on staff with JoAnn in Livonia. Linda was a staff member at DFC. My wife Susanne was ordained while we lived in Detroit. She is now a full time hospital chaplain at a downtown hospital in Indianapolis. She likewise, was a volunteer staff member at Detroit. I had many wonderful staff members who have gone on to other ministries including Craig Dillman pastor at International Church of the Nazarene in Grand Rapids MI., and Eric Skelton pastor at First Church of the Nazarene in Kissimmee Florida, and Jeff Cardimen at First Church in Plymouth MI., just to name a few. All of the staff at the church were great women and men, I learned so much from each of them, we laughed and cried and grew in the Lord together.
I have been away from Detroit for six years, and the sermons, difficulties, and ministerial tasks are mostly forgotten, but what is remembered is the changed lives and relationships with the people. No where pulls on my hearts strings more than the church in Detroit. I met so many interesting people who opened up their lives to Susanne and me. Pastors, while you are preparing messages and dreaming dreams and casting vision, do not forget the lost sheep all around and the wonderful people you have been called to pastor. Someday you will be sitting in rocking chair and you will not be able to recall a board meeting agenda, nor will you be able to remember ‘what was the third and final point of that sermon preached long ago?’ What you will remember is the grace of God and the memories of the people you had the privilege to pastor. To my last church Detroit First/Hilltop, you forever changed my life and I still hold you in my heart. I love you and thank God for you. The days were not always easy, but you were always there and you and people like you are the reason I loved being a pastor!
14 Thoughts to “My Last Pastorate: Detroit”
Pastor Blake, you also gave us many GREAT memories. Your dedication to learn all our names when you first arrived, your dedication to the children as well as the seniors throughout the Church. Great messages that the Lord preached through you and my son Tre’ still talking how you took the time to play catch with him and watching him play in his baseball game. You are loved and appreciated. Thank you for your passion.
Bill you and Val and your boys have a special place in my heart. We love you guys and think of you often, give my love to the boys and your wife. Keep in touch
Pastor Blake you neglected to mention how we needed your ministry, your leadership, your true love for people and your humor! I remember the first Sunday you preached, I was standing at the welcome center and my son walked up, you had taken the pictorial directory and memorized everyone’s name. Greg was so impressed when you knew him, because in the directory he had long hair and at that time he had shaved his head (the directory was a few years old). Your love for us was undeniable and genuine. It was a great 8 years and we are better for your Kingdom work. Even though I love my current pastor (Debbie, my wife), you will always be Pastor Blake to me! Thank you for your guidance and discipleship. Love you and Susanne! John
I am so overwhelmed by your kind words. You and Debbie are so special to us. We love your kids and always will. Greg and Emily are so precious. Give our best to Tricia and to Trinity( I see her pictures and can’t believe how she has grown up) Thanks for your kindness and generosity, you are a blessing
Pastor Blake, I told you many times you are the picture in my mind that I see when I hear the word Pastor. That has not changed. I am so very grateful to have had the privilege of sitting under your ministry. I’m so grateful that my parents were two of the MANY people you visited in the hospital. You were truly a blessing to me and my family. God bless you Pastor!
Your parents were such a privilege. I have used the story of sitting with your mom in the hospital when your dad was having surgery and I think you were in Florida. It was she and I. I have told many pastors when you are with someone in a time of stress and distress and your serve as a representative of Jesus in this world, there is nothing better you could do. We love you guys.
You are the epitome of the shepherd with his flock. Thank you for hosting the BSF men’s class for so many years and for encouraging those men to study the Bible. God’s blessings to you. Jim Milleville and Steve Orsini.
As your wife and a volunteer pastor on staff at Detroit First/Hilltop I also have wonderful memories of families there. I pray the very best for Pastor Ben Walls as he now leads this congregation in these days. Thanks to all those people there who loved us and prayed for us. I cherish your friendships and the memories we made together there. Bless you all. Thanks to Pastor Blake for mentoring me and supporting me in following my call to chaplaincy.
There are no words to describe how my family feels about you and Susanne. Countless memories of fun times in your home and at the church. Countless thought provoking messages from scripture. There was never any doubt how much you loved us and how much we loved you. You walked some deep valleys with many of us and I am forever thankful for impact you and Susanne made on my family. You have no idea how much we love and miss you.
Cindy you know we love you guys! You and Mark and Carly are special to us. Blessings! Thanks for the very kind words.
Ron, you were a great churchman but an outstanding pastor. God used you in every stop along the way. Now you are a Pastor to Pastors and a mentor to many. You are a loved and trusted friend!
Tim Everything you said about me could be said of you and your ministry as well. Thanks for being my friend. you are loved and appreciated
How wonderful to know that we were all so special to you when all along you felt so special to all of us! Thanks for sharing your memories and feelings…..we all need to do more of that. Ken and I went through some rough times with his illness and nursing home experiences and used up a lot of your time when you visited him….thank you for that, and for the funeral message as well. I really appreciated your 100% support when I shared my God given vision with you regarding the Traver House. As you probably know, last week it was voted to sell the property. You are missed, but we feel blessed with our new pastor Ben now. Blessings to you and Suzanne!
We walked into DFC just a few weeks after your first Sunday there. You preached on Paul and Silas, saying something like — they did their best for God, they did their BEST for God, and they just got beat up. I whispered to my husband, “how did he know we would be here?” Then you went on to say how their attitude of praise in the midst of their difficult situation was the key to their ministry and effectiveness, or something along that line. Over and over, your preaching was uncanny (Spirit-led) in challenging us, encouraging us, helping us to heal from our prior situation. Whenever we had a need, you and Susanne were right there. We laughed, cried, and had fun together too. We cherish your friendship and will always remember the time you were at DFC. David and I were blessed to be able to share those years with you. We still miss you!