Saturday, September 27, 2014

Local Culture and Religion Spotlight: First United Methodist Church Northville and its Ecumenical Open-Door Policy

Ecumenical and interfaith mindsets and initiatives are particularly noteworthy—and hope-inspiring—at establishments which were not specifically created for interfaith relations, and were founded by people who probably never thought there would ever be a reason for their congregations to embrace interfaith relations.

My spotlight this time is on the First United Methodist Church Northville, a beautiful Christian house of worship on Eight Mile Road a couple miles northwest of downtown Northville. The host of our tour, Reverend Marsha Woolley, showed us around the recently-renovated building, and described the highlights of her congregation that are relevant to the interfaith community.

As well as its community outreach initiatives in Northville, Detroit, and Pontiac, which include providing meals and other resources to underprivileged community members, and a yearly Hospitality Week in which the doors are open for over 50 homeless people to sleep, bathe, and eat at the church, First UMC Northville welcomes anyone to attend their worship services, and—as demonstrated by hosting our group—is open to networking and partnering with representatives of other faiths.

The church also hosts a women’s interfaith group, which currently includes Christian, Jewish, and Hindu members, and is open to women of all faiths. Debra Darvick, who is Jewish, said how much she enjoys and has learned from attending the group. Focusing on sharing life experiences rather than on learning about each other’s religions, group members learn from each other about what they have in common as mothers, sisters, and the myriad other roles women play in their families and in their communities, as well as how their unique faith and cultural perspectives enrich the community life and friendships of women from diverse backgrounds living and working in the same communities.

Another thing First UMC Northville has done to increase its relevance in the current religious climate is to offer both traditional worship services and contemporary worship services on Sunday mornings. The latter incorporates a projector screen—a common feature of contemporary Protestant Christian worship—above the pulpit, which drops down for those services and is hidden in the ceiling for the traditional services. Both services feature music, a mandatory element for any satisfactory praise experience—though, of course, the type of music played during each service is very different from the other. By offering both types of services, First UMC Northville has the ability and capacity to appeal to and meet the religious needs of more Christians than churches which only do traditional or only do contemporary services.

The more houses of worship I visit, both for Michigan Professional Communicators meetings and other events, the more amazed and impressed I am at how integrated the interfaith culture already is in so many religious communities of metropolitan Detroit. The fact that still so few people realize this is a strong testament to how uninformed the larger society truly is, which people don’t even realize since we’ve been taught to assume that being inundated with information equates with being truly informed.

I enjoy providing as many examples as I can of a more compassionate and open-minded paradigm shift that is slowly gaining momentum in southeastern Michigan. Some of these examples are more subtle than others—for instance, ecumenism isn’t always synonymous with interfaith, but it’s a great start, and as such it definitely counts toward the point I’m making here.

Praying hands illustration by Karla Joy Huber; colored pencil

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