By Crystal Proxmire
The Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit is ready to move forward with the appointment of Interim Pastor Rev. Jim Lynch. The 63 year-old Lynch has served as interim pastor for other congregations and has worked in Michigan, Florida and Illinois to make sure that MCC churches have strong transitional leadership.
Lynch will serve approximately 18 months, with the expectation that sometime later in this period, a search committee will be formed to find his replacement.
“A lot of people wonder why we don’t jump right in,” Rev. Lynch said, “but there is a lot that needs to happen to prepare for the new season of ministry.”
He said that churches are like big families, and that churches, like families, can pick up bad habits that only someone looking from the outside can see clearly. “An interim pastor can help the congregation reconnect with its past to help cast a vision for the future, and help reconnect the denomination and the community.”
In addition to hiring an interim pastor, a new grief support group and a psychotherapist is available to help members cope with the losses associated with Rev. Mark Bidwell’s departure from the church and recent death.
“I knew Rev. Bidwell only through ministry and there are many more people here who can speak on him and his work,” Rev. Lynch said. “We are all grieving, and we all grieve differently. If we don’t deal with this stuff it will manifest differently, so we are taking the time to go through the process appropriately. In addition to the loss of Rev. Bidwell, the congregation has compound grieving because there have been other deaths in the past few months which members are mourning.”
Future leadership at MCCD cannot be predicted, but it will be based on what the board, the congregation and the denomination observe over the next year-and-a-half. Rev. Lynch was chosen by the church specifically to be temporary, and anyone ordained in the denomination may apply for the job once that process begins. Rev. Deb Dysert will continue as the associate pastor and is also helping through the transition period.
So far Rev. Lynch has done away with the church’s 9 a.m. service, which only attracted a handful of worshipers on good days. He has begun to focus on what people see when they come to MCC. “The reality was that attendance at the 9 a.m. service was down. Why not have those people join us at the 11a.m. service. It increases the excellence factor to have more people there.
“We have to think about those who might come in for a service for their first time. What is the impression we want to share with one who is seeking a congregation?”
Impressions are captured in the survey which MCCD gives to visitors. “If we want to be truly inviting we need to see ourselves through the eyes of a seeking person,’ Rev. Lynch said. “When you’re a member for a while you get used to things as they are. You come in and you’re comfortable. You know where the bathroom is. You know that the worship is upstairs and that there’s a fellowship area downstairs. You know the people who are here to talk to. But what is it like for someone that is here for the first time? We give them a survey so we can find out. Were they greeted? Did they find the bathroom okay? How was the service, was it too long or too short? All those things that help a person feel welcome. We also try to find the balance between welcoming somebody and smothering somebody.”
The congregation, though still grieving, has been able to take stock of the many good things happening in their church. Their 11 a.m. service typically attracts about a hundred people, and there is fellowship hour afterward where people can mingle downstairs and be close with their fellow church members. In addition to the grief support group, there are groups for cancer survivors and supporters, smaller study groups and community projects like collecting supplies for Ruth Ellis Center. Their choir, led by Minister of Music Brian Londrow, has over 20 members and is planning on traveling to Ontario to take part in Passion through Broadway. Rev. Lynch and Londrow are also planning to make services more unique by adding more music and themes to the presentations.
“Worship is not just coming and sitting like you’re going to a play,” Rev. Lynch said. “The fellowship should touch us and continue beyond the sermon.” Lynch, whose partner is an Episcopalian priest, lives in Kalamazoo and is spending part of his weeks here and part back home. He had officially retired in October, but came out of retirement to see MCCD through the next 18 months. He said he’s excited to be here, and proud of the way “MCCD is a very giving congregation,” adding that there have been many volunteers and people around to help since he arrived.
The congregation is also celebrating its 40th anniversary this September, with festivities to be announced shortly.