Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
March for Peace
Week 14 of the occupation
June 25, 2013
Life is bursting out the doors of the Church of the Messiah. The sidewalks surrounding the 138-year-old gray stone building can barely contain the riot of colors spilling over from the lush flower gardens. The bland and broken parking lot is gradually giving way to an expanding garden space.
On most days, the Reverend Barry Randolph can be found spending some time in his Garden of Eating. What began as a small raised bed at the front of the church is now an expansive garden providing fresh vegetables and fruits to the church and community. The church has started a coop. Members pay $20.00 and can then take the crops as they ripen. Currently, this includes lettuce, strawberries, snap peas, and soon chard. Corn is high and will probably be early this year. Greens, beets, broccoli are yet to come. Pastor Barry is mixing batches of cooling mint tea.
The fence bordering the parking lot supports a massive grape vine, the source of all of the wine used in communion. Colorful signs, painted by children in the church, announce Corn, Strawberries, and Tomatoes, marking the beds running along the far side of the lot.
In an effort toward self-sufficiency, water for the gardens comes from a holding tank, collecting the run off from the massive roof. The tank is affectionately named Holy H20, to accompany its companion, the compost pile named Holy S…t.
Pastor Barry has been described as “unconventional.” His dramatic sermons are the stuff of legends, including climbing out of coffins and riding donkeys. But his vision has guided the church from near closure in 2009 to a vital community force.
Now with almost more members than it can hold, the church also houses the innovative Maker Space fabrication lab, a computer center, and it supports entrepreneurial efforts. Nikki’s Ginger Tea is made and distributed from there to Whole Foods and several local stores.
Like many people in Detroit, Pastor Barry has had more than his share of disappointments. He has no illusions about what it takes to transform a city. He has struggled with developing a neighborhood amidst burst pipes and broken dreams. He has had more of his share of hospital beds and funerals, fear and violence. Yet, he choses not to dwell on tragedies he knows so well.
Instead, he would rather tell stories. Most begin with the phrase, “A priest, an atheist, and a dope boy set out in a borrowed truck…” What unfolds from this opening are the adventures of very different people in search of a common goal, a solution to a common problem, like finding wood chips for the garden, or soil for a new bed. It is these stories that most reflect the vision Pastor Barry brings. It is a vision that begins with the idea that all are welcome in his church, if they are willing to work toward making things little better.
Last Sunday, the Church hosted the opening of Detroit 2013, a gathering of local and national activists exploring new forms of resistance and visionary organizing sponsored by the Boggs Center.
This Saturday, June 29th, the church will hold its sixth annual Stop the Violence Parade. The parade begins at 11am at the Church, 231 East Grand Blvd at Lafayette. There will be horses and motorcycles, bands and fire trucks, all walking through the community for peace. The parade will be followed by a block party featuring youth organizations and activities, music, and, of course, food.
The vast majority of Detroiters, who voted against the current Emergency Manager law, know that the future of our city is emerging every day in places like the Church of the Messiah. Here, with few resources and a lot of imagination and will, people are making a way out of no way, reimagining daily life.