Detroit’s Rev. Dr. Selma Massey: Blazing Trails and Leading Her Congregation Toward ‘Justice and Equality for All’

Massey elected as first LGBTQ+ moderator of local United Church of Christ association

By |2021-11-18T09:58:53-05:00November 18th, 2021|Michigan, News|

Sometimes, the universe delivers a full-circle moment capable of healing old wounds. Rev. Dr. Selma Massey, recently named the first LGBTQ+ moderator of the Detroit Metropolitan Association of the United Church of Christ (DMAUCC), is experiencing one of those moments. 

While Massey now holds an important position at the DMAUCC, a little over a decade ago, she was rejected by a Detroit UCC church while searching for a safe meeting space for Massey’s Whosoever Ministry United Church of Christ congregation. 

The debacle dates back to 2009. Whosoever, founded in 2003 after an “aha” moment in Massey’s basement, was holding services at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Detroit, directly across the street from St. John – St. Luke UCC. While offering services at the Hilton, she was looking for rentals in an attempt “to provide a safe space to worship for our LGBTQ+ community.” She began reaching out to the local church community, including local church councils, members and others interested in the service.  

Massey was feeling optimistic when St. John – St. Luke responded positively. The plan, she said, “appeared to be going well, [though] over an unusual amount of time.” 

“One Sunday, I had arranged with the UCC church to meet them at a certain time to bring the Whosoever congregation over for a walk-through,” she added.  “When all of us arrived, in a snowstorm, no one ever answered the door to let us in. I was the laughingstock of my congregation. I was totally humiliated. None of my calls to them were ever answered again.”

The humiliation might have been enough to stop some people in their tracks, but Massey persisted and continued with her goal to include all individuals — no matter their sexual orientation or identity — in her congregation.  

“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.”

Whosoever has rented space in various locations throughout the years. They spent seven years meeting in the Detroit Ecumenical Theological Seminary before the building was put up for sale. It was there that Massey met Rev. Dr. Campbell Lovett, the UCC Michigan Conference leader, at a conference on marriage equality in Ann Arbor. He told her he had heard good things about her church. The whole exchange left Massey “flabbergasted.”

“Being accepted into an international mainstream religious denomination, the UCC, caught me off guard,” Massey continued. “I just knew that my journey was to lead our community to a safe place where they could worship God with dignity and respect. Why should we be relegated to a backroom church experience, especially with churches on every corner in the Metro Detroit area?”

Whosoever became a UCC church just before they moved into their rental at  Grosse Pointe Congregational Church in Grosse Pointe. And now Massey has been elected moderator of the Detroit Metropolitan Association of the UCC.

“As the leader, it will be important for our local churches, nearly 30 UCC Churches in Southeast Michigan, to be prepared for the vastly changing needs of their members and congregations,” said Massey. “The post-traumatic stress caused by this global crisis has affected people deeply. An important part of our agenda now will be to access mental health services for men, women and especially children.”

But that’s not all. Massey said the congregation is pursuing partnerships with stakeholders in the financial community to provide support to nearly 1 million UCC members. “We must prepare a relationship with banks and minorities with regard to home mortgages, auto loans, business loans and developing long-term banking savings and skills,” she said. 

Massey said she is optimistic about the future of the DMAUCC and, in particular, her church, which celebrated its 18th anniversary this summer.

“My hope for Whosoever Ministry United Church of Christ is that one day it will not be just us,” she said, “but justice and equality for all.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael joined Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. He has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author for his authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," released on his own JAM Books imprint.