Deb Dysert was working as a public school preschool teacher in Indianapolis, living a full life helping youngsters with special needs get a good start in their educational lives. But according to Dysert, God just would not let her be. She started taking theology classes and finally moved to Michigan to serve both as a public school teacher and as clergy.
After a time shepherding the flock at Divine Peace Church, first in Hazel Park and then in Pontiac, Dysert joined MCC Detroit in Ferndale where she served as the Associate Reverend through the church’s most tumultuous time. Her stable presence kept the congregation strong, and the powers that be have taken notice.
On April 28, Dysert is being honored by Metropolitan Community Church with a Distinguished Service Award. Rev. Elder Hector Guterriez and Raquel Benitez-Rojas (Vice Chair of the MCC Governing Board) will be in town for worship on Sunday, April 28 at 11 a.m. at MCC Detroit 2441 Pinecrest in Ferndale.
Her work at MCC Detroit began in 2007, where she helped to bring back the church’s “cell groups,” or clubs.
“I am very, very proud that right now we have six different cell groups. It’s one thing for congregations to come and worship on Sunday. It’s quite another thing to come and explore in small groups. When Rev. Mark (Bidwell) was there he asked me to get them reestablished. We had them before and he asked me to get them started again.
“They are groups of people who come together to focus on something. We’ve got a Broadway cell group, it’s a group of people who are very interested in entertainment Broadway things. We talk about people who sing and going to the plays. It’s exploring who we are in these realms.”
There is also a Bible study group, a movie group, a group that explores and discusses other faiths and the Goodie Two Shoes group.
“Goodie Two Shoes goes out and looks for ways they can do good in the community on behalf of the church,” she said. “At Christmas we adopt families and we’ve given $3-$4,000 to families. None of this comes out of our budget, it’s all extra giving by our members and fundraising.” The group also collects food donations for the Ruth Ellis Center on a weekly basis, and last fall gave the center over 30 backpacks full of school supplies for Detroit students.
Her award, however, is for the leadership she gave during MCC Detroit’s darkest hours. In 2011, Rev. Mark Bidwell took a personal sabbatical and Dysert assumed the helm. Bidwell returned only to find himself in the midst of controversy after a young man died of a drug overdose at his home. Bidwell resigned, and died a short time after that.
Through the struggle, Dysert and the congregation carried on. Members looked to Dysert for stability as MCC brought in an interim Reverend, Jim Lynch.
Service attendance dipped just slightly, and has gradually climbed back to about 100 worshipers attending every week. “I am really, really proud of the way we’ve stuck together. For a church to go through all we’ve been through and to maintain those numbers it’s an accomplishment,” Dysert said.
“I’m very honored to receive this [award]. I didn’t set out to do anything special. I just knew that if the congregation was going to get through this I needed to be steady. They needed something to hold on to. This is what God expected from me.”
As Associate Reverend, Dysert’s focus is on education and stepping in to minister as needed. Lynch handles most of the administrative work and serves on the committee to find a replacement Reverend. The process is intentionally slow, giving the congregation time to heal and reflect.
“The theory, as just with any relationship, is it’s not good to jump from one to another. You need that time in between to access who you are and what you are before you jump into another relationship. The interim gives a fresh set of eyes.
“Rev. Jim [Lynch] has set up an interim ministry and an interim ministry team and they meet monthly. They offer him support and guidance. We have done a lot of administrative work, getting some of those things together. We’ve done a vision statement and in two weeks we are going to be doing goals and objectives… I don’t know the rest of the timeline, there’s a lot of variables still.”
As far as her future with the congregation, Dysert is not sure. “I don’t know what God’s going to do with this. I love the congregation. I have to teach for a number of years. It’s not in my plans to move, but who knows what God’s plan is. God hasn’t revealed the next chapter yet.”
In addition to church life, she remains a happy public school teacher, now working with cognitively impaired young adults in the Pontiac School District. “We do lots of hands on kind of training and work, and we do some training to get them out into the community. To me it’s the ability to be lending the ability of what I need to be doing with my faith and putting it into the world.”
And there is the stability of her happy home and her friends at MCC. “None of this could have been possible without the very strong support of my partner Ann Cox. She was very supportive of me, all the times I would be going to ‘one more meeting’. She gave me a place to be grounded through all of that. Plus I just adore this congregation. They have a bunch of hidden treasures, and some not-so-hidden personalities! It’s really a pretty incredible group of people. They make ministry easy – most of the time.”