I've been thinking a lot about Detroit and Michigan lately. None of my thoughts have been particularly cheerful. I was in a discussion last night about my disappointments with the Obama administration's handling of the situation in Michigan. We named three times in this first year when he has let us down, seeming to not care about the situation here. First, not rescuing the automobile industry the way the bank bailout was done, but being contented with a "rescue" that left us, as a state, hugely negatively impacted, even though the corporations have survived (barely). Second, backing Illinois against Michigan and all the other Great Lake states about the situation with the Asian carp. Third, and most recently, giving Michigan only a pittance of the money for light rail: Illinois 1.23 Billion, Michigan 40 Million.* Now you can disagree with any of this, explaining why Michigan doesn't deserve more aid. But what I can tell you is the situation in Michigan is very bleak. Do a search right now for homes for sale in Rosedale Park, Detroit. That's a nice neighborhood in Detroit, an area where a handful of years ago, homes were selling from $200,000-$300,000. It's easy to find a three bedroom home for under $20,000 now. There are homes for sale all over the place.
It's the same way in our churches, frankly. I have never seen so many churches in transition in one state at one time. It adds up to a big problem for our state and our district. With so many churches in flux and the economy so negative, giving to our district is down, which hurts our district enormously. Our district is laying off all its part-time consultants, has gotten rid of its physical office, and is cutting what expenses it can where it can. Because we're giving less to the district and the UUA as churches, the UUA gives less to us back, as well. It's a sort of denominational version of No Child Left Behind - when the system starts to fail somewhere, we defund it as an incentive for it to get on its feet. That's how I see it, anyway. With so many churches in transition, there's also a crisis in our district, in that we have fewer leaders to draw from to support our UUMA and our Heartland District programs. It's hard to do visioning about how our churches can work together, how we can grow and thrive, when so many churches are in transition with their minister.
And, yes, you can point at every single church and explain why that minister left, but when you look at the big picture and say, the Heartland District has more transitions going on in churches than anywhere else, and of that, Michigan has the most, and of that, the Detroit metro area has the most, well, that adds up to something more. It's not just coincidence. Yes, there were planned retirements in both Birmingham and Grosse Pointe, and yes, many churches take two years to search. But then you add in situations like the Detroit church, which hasn't had a settled minister since Larry Hutchison left, and Troy, which went from part-time ministry to lay-led, and you start to see that there is an economic impact that's happening here. Even Birmingham has gone from two full-time ministers a couple of years ago to one. When I left a 3/4-time ministry in Massachusetts, I knew that there were more than a handful of ministers who I knew personally who would love that position for geographical reasons. The 3/4-time ministry in Brighton? Their search will not be nearly so easy. Perhaps they'll get lucky and just the right minister will want that position, but if you're looking for a pulpit in Southeast Michigan, there are a lot of full-time ones to choose from. No offense meant to Brighton, of course, which is a lovely growing thriving congregation. These are all great congregations. But the list goes on: Flint, Midland, Grand Rapids, Muskegeon, Portage, Mt. Pleasant - all in interim, consulting, or sans ministry. There are 26 congregations in Michigan. There are 10 with a settled, called minister. At least two of those churches are part-time.
Things aren't looking hopeful around here, either politically or religiously, to me right now. That's why when I find something hopeful, I want to share it! When I start thinking about theses seemingly hopeless situations like the situation that is Detroit's economy, I need to remember my understanding of what hope is. Hope is not expecting that things look likely to happen, hope is about continuing to work for them, even in the face of incredible odds, because they mean too much to be let go of. That's hope. And I have great hope for Detroit, for Michigan, and for Unitarian Universalism in our region, too. We're doing some innovative things at our district level in response to this. We can do innovative things at congregational levels and local levels. And we can do innovative things for our region as a whole.
Declare Detroit looks like a positive, forward-thinking vision for Detroit. I'd love to see us as liberal religious churches find a similar vision for our region. Meanwhile, I encourage you to sign onto Declare Detroit.
* Numbers updated due to errors. Note: the $40 million for Michigan is a small percentage even of the $244 million for the Detroit-Chicago corridor, of which Michigan has the longest percentage of the track.