September brings with it a new season and a new day for Metropolitan Community Church – Detroit (MCC-D). The congregation, which has been sharing space with the Clawson United Methodist Church for the last several years, will be moving to Affirmations. Their first service in the Ferndale community center is set for Sunday, Sept. 26.
“When it came to ‘church in a box’ or church at a non-traditional space, I had a hard time looking outside the box, myself,” said Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow, senior pastor and teacher at MCC-D. “But the pandemic has really taught me, as well as our congregation, that the church is more than just a building. It’s about the people and the ministry you have with your community.”
There are, of course, drawbacks to sharing space at the center, but none, said Stringfellow, that can’t be overcome. The church will meet in Affirmation’s Pittman-Puckett Gallery, while the Ringwald Theatre, which is also moving to Affirmations this fall, will hold their productions in the community room.
“We have a storage space there, so, in a sense, that’s kind of what I meant when I said ‘church in a box,’” Stringfellow explained. “Everything is stored, and then each Sunday we pull it out, and then we put it back when it’s time to leave, which is a challenge for some of my people because they’re not accustomed to doing that. But many other MCCs have that style of church, so it’s not new. It’s just new for us.”
On days when there isn’t a Ringwald matinee, including most Sundays, the church will have use of the center for the entire day.
“Sunday is ours,” said Pastor Hattie Alexander-Key, who will be delivering the message on the 26th. “So, we get to spend the day on Sunday until we lock up … feeding the people. Not necessarily physical food, but spiritual food. It’s a place for us to greet families. Affirmations sends a message to the entire community that ‘Here’s a place where you can feel welcome, and you can come in and be.’”
For David Garcia, Affirmations’ executive director, having the church meet in the center was a no-brainer.
“This is the community center, and we should be behaving like a community center and allowing the building to be used by the community,” he said. “Also, especially in light of all the religious exemption battles we’re seeing across the country, it’s important to lift up progressive ministries to combat all the hate.”
But Garcia said you shouldn’t expect to see him in the building on Sunday mornings.
“I am a proud atheist, yet I think the center should be a place for everyone, whether that’s someone religious or someone like me. So, this is a part of our mission.”
Garcia said he has no doubt that MCC-D and the Ringwald will peacefully coexist with Affirmations and each other. He also said he’s talking to additional groups about sharing space in the center.
“The more groups we have coming in and out of Affirmations, the more cross-pollination we’re going to have within those groups. What if someone in an AA group wants to become more involved spiritually in a place that is nonjudgmental? I think it benefits the church, who wants to expand their ministry,” he said. “And the more groups that want to utilize the building, that’s exactly what we should be doing. The more vibrancy you see when you come into Affirmations, the better.”
At times, MCC-D will need a more traditional setting to host more formal services.
“We have written agreements with both Affirmations and Zion Lutheran Church on Woodward and Albany,” said Stringfellow. “Our church offices will be at Zion Lutheran.”
The church will also use Zion Lutheran, Stringfellow said, on high holy days such as Good Friday, Ash Wednesday and Christmas Eve.
“Also, whenever we have weddings and our funerals, it’s good to have a sanctuary as well. I was joking with my folks, halfheartedly joking, that if something happened to me and I died, I did not want my service at Affirmations. I want a traditional setting.”
Still, Affirmations and Zion Lutheran will both offer the church more freedom than they’ve had at Clawson United Methodist, where church policy would not allow MCC-D to perform same-sex weddings.
“I’m so excited about moving to Affirmations,” said Alexander-Key. “It’s going to be a wonderful opportunity for us as a ministry to do spiritual healing. There’s been so much church hurt, so much wounding in our community because of church jargon and church dogma. It’s going to be a great time to be together and be seen as a part of the community.”
The first service in the center will take place on the church’s 49th anniversary.
“One of the things I’ve been very careful about letting my people know is that we are not an extension of Affirmations,” said Stringfellow. “We have to be more than just a community center. If we allow people to come, and we’re not encouraging them spiritually and helping them heal from spiritual violence and have a reconciliation with God, we are losing our mission. So, we have to be very clear on who we are and why we do what we do.
“We’ve been this congregation close to 50 years and reached out to the LGBTQ community, and we’ve done that through the transforming power of God,” he continued. “We want to make sure that is front and center.”