Bob Hoey Receives Irving C. Lambert Award

ST. PAUL, MN (June 25, 2010) – Good ministries generally run on tight budgets, and leaders cannot be afraid to fail, says Bob Hoey, pastor of Messiah Church in Detroit, Michigan, and the recipient of this year’s Irving C. Lambert Award.

The award is given each year to Covenanters whose lives and practices reflect a deep commitment to urban and/or ethnic ministries. It is administered through the denomination’s Commission on Urban Ministries. The award was presented by Gary Walter, president, and Debbie Blue, executive minister of the Department of Compassion, Mercy and Justice. Click here for video coverage.

Hoey has inspired and led ministries that carried with them high risks of failure and operated on the narrowest of financial margins. Covenant Community Care (CCC) health clinic is a prime example.

Several Covenant churches started the clinic in 2003 after a nurse suggested the need to Hoey, who marshaled the support. But four years later in 2007, administrators nearly decided to close the clinic because it was in “dire financial straits.”

Low Medicaid/Medicare reimbursement rates were crippling the center’s ability to operate despite generous donations that included funds from a local hospital and the work of hundreds of volunteers.

The next year – invigorated by a new federal grant of $2.3 million – the nonprofit health services clinic began expanding its services to thousands of uninsured clients who live well below the poverty line. The clinic already has expanded to a second site and several more locations are planned in partnership with local hospitals.

“Most of the time when we begin a new work in the community we’re going to struggle,” Hoey said. Sometimes the projects will not proceed as hoped.

“Ministers should not be afraid to fail,” Hoey said. “They should have the same attitude as Thomas Edison.

So far the ministry among the growing number of Covenant churches in the Detroit area is proving largely successful. When Messiah joined the denomination in 1998, there were only two Covenant churches in the city. Now there are 12 in the cluster, including four within the city limits. Hoey has been a key catalyst for much of the growth, not just in the number of ministries, but in its depth as well. 

The pastors of the churches are especially close and supportive of one another despite their churches’ sometimes very different ministries. “There is not one church in the Detroit area that looks like the other one.” Hoey said. “There are no two pastors or staff members who are alike.”

Hoey describes the cluster group by saying, “We really are a learning community of pastors. We are a learning community of congregations.” Click here to read more of the Detroit ministries.

The church’s take advantage of each others’ strengths, which is best for all of them. Hoey explained, “I think need is a blessing.”

Hoey is consulting with denomination leaders as well as local congregations in other parts of the country who are considering starting healthcare ministries.

“I really feel like I’m in a church that is “in it together,” with people sharing their resources, to help our work, and we being able to share with others,” Hoey said. “I love that sense of connection in the covenant.

“I think need is a blessing.”

Following is the full text of the plaque presented to Hoey:

THE IRVING C. LAMBERT AWARD . . . is presented to Reverend Robert W. Hoey in grateful recognition of your untiring commitment and dedication to the cause of Christ through holistic urban ministries.

Through your servant leadership and lifestyle evangelism, many have experienced the unconditional love of Christ through you. To walk the streets of Detroit with you is to receive first-hand training in communicating and living out the Gospel.

Through your unique gifts of communication, insightful teaching, and deep love for God’s Word, you have a special ability to open scripture in a way that illuminates the hurts and needs in your community and in our broken world.

Through incarnational advocacy, you speak for those who have no voice and make visible those not seen. You have given incredible leadership to raising consciousness for health care for the poor, resulting in the establishment of Covenant Community Care in Detroit, a free medical clinic.

Through your visionary and prophetic gifts, you not only stand on the hill and survey the land, but you come down to stand with the people God has called you to serve. You are a catalyst who brings ideas, vision, people and resources together to accomplish amazing things for God’s Kingdom. You have produced a legacy of ministry and care, touching the lives of thousands of people in and around the city of Detroit, through the multiple Covenant churches you have helped to plant.

Through the use of all of your gifts, you have been a faithful servant to Messiah Church, the broader community of Detroit, the churches of your district, the Great Lakes Conference, and the Evangelical Covenant Church.

Through your profound gift of exhortation, the kingdom has been expanded and advanced as many have come to discover and deploy their own giftedness. You are a friend to all and a stranger to none. Your ministry exemplifies the statement, “For God’s glory and neighbors good.”

To the glory of God and in thanksgiving for your faithful service, this award is presented by the Commission on Urban Ministries of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

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