It’s an interesting year for Dr. Edward Maki-Schramm. In 2010, he celebrates both his 10th year as minister of music for Detroit’s Central United Methodist Church and the establishment’s 200th birthday.
The double-whammy anniversary has left him reflecting both on his time at the church and the history of a religious institution that has been at the forefront of civil rights battles since before Michigan was even a state.
For the church, things began in the early 1800s when public hangings took place along the Detroit River. Bystanders watched one day from the roof of Central United as a man sung a hymn just before being hanged and were so upset by the scene, they pushed the gallows into the river, effectively ending the death penalty in the state.
Since then, Central United – which has a permanent downtown home next to Comerica Park – has been active and vocal in all sorts of battles: black civil rights, anti-war efforts, HIV/AIDS activism and, most recently, gay rights.
“The church has always been concerned with peace and justice issues and civil rights issues,” Maki-Schramm explains. “We’ve had uprisings and people kind of disturbing the peace while the service was going on, because they know us to be a very liberal, peace and justice-oriented church.”
And they’ve celebrated that fact over a year’s worth of films, concerts, special events and fundraising in recognition of their bicentennial birthday – the committee for which Maki-Schramm heads up.
It’s an appropriate post for someone who has witnessed the church’s most recent civil rights foray: support of the LGBT community.
“It really came to a head – it must’ve been 2002 or 2003 – when the church, by itself, not as a national organization, debated for a year and a half whether to openly accept and support gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people,” Maki-Schramm recalls. “It carried. It wasn’t 100 percent, but it was maybe 99 percent. It was very positive.”
Shortly thereafter came the church’s first lesbian pastor, DaVita McCallister, who is no longer with Central United, but will be preaching there on July 18.
Now, the church performs an “everything but” blessing for gay couples. Unable to sanction same-sex marriages due to national Methodist laws, they still pray for the well-being and success of a couple, their home and their family. “The senior pastor here, if he had his way, we would be having union ceremonies, but in that way, his hands are tied,” Maki-Schramm explains. “But in any other way, we would bring a couple together and pray for them and bless them and support them, just like anyone else.”
Maki-Schramm was wed in Ann Arbor to his partner of now 17 years in 1996, and has always been out at work – from his wedding ring to his hyphenated last name to speaking openly about his life and his family. “It’s just part of who I am,” he simply states.
Also part of who he is: The part-time music director – who holds a full-time job in addition to his work with the church – heads up three choirs, helps with fundraising and volunteer efforts and promotes acceptance and understanding in all he does.
It’s not a small job, but Maki-Schramm, a trained organist, does it out of a love to bring all music to all types of people. “Before I came (to Central United), there were tensions about who does what kind of music and who really can do that kind of music,” he says of his choirs. “We’ve worked really hard to make music accessible to everybody so it speaks to everybody on some level.”
At Central United, catering to diversity is the only option. From volunteers and staff to the congregation and choirs, a wide range of ages, social and economic backgrounds, races and sexual orientations make up the church.
To Maki-Schramm, it’s a sign that his church is more than a job, but something he can believe in as a gay man and a member of a diverse community. “The thing about this church is that it never confuses what’s important with what’s impressive,” he says. “Some churches want to do impressive things, but I think Central does things that are really important.”