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!