Rev. Dr. Selma Massey’s journey to ministry was not an easy one.
“I was reared as a Christian Scientist, which is not very popular with a lot of people,” said Massey, who grew up on the west side of Detroit. “Our main theme was mind over matter so I think it taught me a great deal of just a mindset to think of God first.”
But there were other thoughts swirling around in Massey’s young mind.
“I always knew that I was gay,” Massey explained. “As a young child at four or five years old I knew there was something different about me.”
When her mother caught her fooling around with an older woman at the age of 12, Massey said her mother told her, “I was lower than the scum at the bottom of the ocean. She said, ‘Well, if you want to be a man I’ll just get you the surgery.’ And it just ripped me to my core being rejected by my mom.”
Massey spent her teenage years in turmoil.
“For a number of years I hated myself,” she said. “When I turned 17, I married a friend of mine who used to come to the house all the time. He was a wonderful young man. I just did that to make a point. I knew I was gay but I said at least I’ll be able to say I tried. Of course that did not work.”
Massey graduated from Mackenzie High School and received a full scholarship to attend the University of Detroit Mercy.
“I wound up getting my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in two and a half years because I didn’t know it couldn’t be done,” said Massey. “I was taking seven and eight classes at a time. I was scared to mess up. I was this black kid at a university with all these people who were strangers to me in so many ways. So I just went in and gave it all I had. I graduated Summa cum laude and I didn’t even know what that meant. I was getting all A’s but I didn’t know that it could lead to something.”
After finishing at UDM, Massey went on to earn a doctorate degree in education from Western Michigan University. She then began to work in the mental health and corrections fields.
“I was highly involved in community corrections,” Massey said. “I wrote, developed and implemented the first day reporting center in a large urban setting in Wayne County, which was designed to reduce the prison population and kind of bring in community corrections so that our own people could take care of our own people who had been incarcerated.”
While the work had its rewards, it eventually lost its appeal to Massey.
“I got bored with it,” she said. “So in 1996 it just came over me to let it go. It was not fulfilling to me. I wanted to do something to help my community. The main thing for me was I wanted to know about God. I wanted to research him for myself because I was tired of the hate talk.”
Massey studied with Rev. Karl Jackson who at that time was pastoring a church called New
“Every day he would just teach me about the Lord,” Massey remembered “He poured into me
and by the time he finished I said I have got to go share this with my people.”
Massey said Jackson wanted her to help lead his church but she did not feel called to do that at that time. She served as assistant pastor of Full Truth Fellowship of Christ Church for a while. But Massey could not seem to find the place that felt like a spiritual home to her.
“I was just kind of waiting in the wings,” said Massey. “Then a lady came to me and said ‘Doc, you should do something. You should start your own church.’ And it just put it in my head and I started looking around.”
Massey began to envision having her own ministry, and she would call it Whosoever.
“One day I was in my basement cleaning out the house,” Massey said. “I was down there and I saw my grandmother’s Bible and I tell you the Bible fell from the shelf and it’s as if it opened to John 3:16. And the light from the basement window shined on it. It was like it lit up on the page. And I saw ‘Whosoever.’ I said ‘It ain’t saying nothing else. Like you got a dress a certain way or be straight or you can’t be a woman.’ It said ‘whosoever believes on him shall not perish.’ It pierced me and I said that’s it.”
Whosoever Ministry had its first service in July 2003 at the YWCA building on Jefferson Avenue. The church met there for a few years until the Y closed. Then Massey struggled for years to find her congregation a permanent home. She even held services in Birmingham for a while.
“I had no idea it would be so difficult to find a church home,” said Massey. “Nobody wanted to host a church for gay people. Nobody would let me in.”
Eventually Massey brokered a deal with the Detroit Ecumenical Theological Seminary on Woodward Avenue. Whosoever has been meeting there for the past seven years now. Two years ago, Massey was attending a clergy meeting on marriage equality when she was approached by someone.
“When I got there a guy named Campbell Lovett from the United Church of Christ said, ‘Selma Massey, I’ve been looking for you. We want you to be a part of the UCC,'” said Massey. “For somebody to finally say they wanted us after all those years of rejection…it meant a lot. The UCC was the first one to license and ordain a gay pastor. So they had quite a track record.”
Though she had never attended seminary, the UCC gave Massey credit for her years in ministry. They required her to attend only a few classes before officially licensing and ordaining her.
“They have been so wonderful and so loving and so well receiving,” Massey said. “They are happy to have us as a part of them.”
Today, Massey said the church averages about 70-75 people on a Sunday. She said her
preaching style “uses a lot of humor so people can relax and not be so stuffy. I show them how to use the word of God to get through next week. I make it real practical so we can all get it and walk in it.”
The hardest part of serving her congregation, she said, is undoing the years of self-hatred, family rejection and mistreatment her congregants have experienced.
“A lot of what I do is really telling people that God loves them and letting them know that He’s not mad at them,” she said. “So I try to repair the breach and feed them and send them back out there so they can let others know.”