By Stan Friedman
DETROIT, MI (July 19, 2013) – Semmeal Thomas, pastor of City Covenant Church, was walking the street where work teams participating in Mission Detroit had cleared mass amounts of debris and cut grass that had grown several feet tall. Then he kept going and discovered additional areas had been cleaned.
“I thought, ‘We didn’t get this far,’ ” he recalled today.
He realized people along the street in the long-blighted Brightmoor neighborhood were starting to continue the work. The desolation that had become such a normal part of the neighborhood left its residents feeling largely hopeless. “It’s the enormity of it all that breaks the will,” said Thomas.
But the cleanup efforts led by Covenant Mission Detroit volunteers had helped residents see change was possible. According to Thomas and other Covenant pastors in Detroit, that hopefulness will go a long way in rebuilding the city in the wake of its declaration of bankruptcy.
For years, people predicted that Detroit was headed down a path of insolvency. But on Thursday, it became official. Detroit officials said the city owes creditors at least $18 billion.
Thomas said he welcomed the city filing for bankruptcy, though he knows it will be painful for many people. “We’re finally in a place that someone said enough is enough,” he said. “We have to tell the truth.”
He likened the declaration and subsequent process to the spiritual life. “We’re all in the place where we have to take a very careful look at what we need to adjust,” he explained. “We’re called to do that in the body of Christ. We need to examine ourselves and see where we need to change. Then we have to make the adjustments.”
Janine Davis, pastor of The Bridge Covenant Church, echoed the need for honesty. “Everything in the darkness has been brought to light,” she said. “Now everyone knows what residents have known for a while: Detroit is bankrupt.”
“The full impact of the bankruptcy filing by the city of Detroit remains to be seen,” said Garth McGrath, Great Lakes Conference superintendent. “There is a great deal of uncertainty on the part of community leaders and residents about what it will mean for the people of Detroit in both the short and long term. I am confident, however, that our Covenant churches in and around the city will continue to serve their neighbors faithfully in the weeks, months and years ahead by striving to meet their physical needs and by consistently sharing the good news of the gospel.”
Davis added, “It will take a concerted effort from the church universal. This is the time for action. We can’t just talk about change, we must be about change.”
Thomas said he has been grateful that Covenant groups have continued to come to his neighborhood weekly to continue the cleaning in a five-block radius. More groups are scheduled in the coming weeks.
“Detroit has never needed hope more than it does now,” said Shaun Marshall, executive pastor at Citadel of Faith Covenant Church.
That hope will grow as congregations continue to minister to their neighborhoods, Marshall added. “Our churches in Detroit are providing food and clothing through client-choice pantries, tutoring and mentoring through after-school programs and alternative schools, reclaiming neglected city parks, and patrolling the streets of their neighborhood.”
Semmeal Thomas agrees. “This is the perfect opportunity for the church to stand in the historical gap so that after it is over, the whole world will look and see that they cannot deny Christ was at work.”