Stone, Campbell, & Company in Detroit
In times past, when I told people I was from the Detroit area, Church of Christ folks from other regions sometimes said, “I guess the church is pretty weak up there.”
That startled me because there were about 60 congregations of the Church of Christ when I was growing up there. Why Rochester College (the nascent MCC back then) brought us Otis and Alma Gatewood and Lucien Palmer.
Times and places all around Detroit, Michigan brought Jesus into my heart.
Summers at Michigan Christian Youth Camp.
School years with the Metropolitan Detroit Youth Chorus.
Sunday mornings at the Van Dyke Church of Christ.
Sunday nights at the Troy Church of Christ and other congregations.
With my teen Church of Christ friends--Beverly Birdwell Blair, Jan Palmer Van Horn (before Jon), Jan’s brother Ron and Linda Brown Palmer, and (no relation, except Christ) Joel Palmer, Jeff and Karen Schlender and others, the Jesus factor was so big we did things like have communion together when the clock struck midnight and Sunday began. We lit candles at our church buildings on many a New Years Eve praying in the New Year.
Lots of being together. Sort of Acts 2:42ish.
In Hearing God's Voice: My Life with Scripture in the Churches of Christ, Thomas Olbright, mentions the progressive Christians in Michigan. These non-sectarian believers provided powerful teaching and writing about Christ and discipleship. Like my friends who published the journal Integrity.
Detroiters got to hear Joseph Jones, Wayne Baker, Jerry Rushford, and Larry Bridgesmith.
One fellow, who would like to remain unnamed, read aloud to us at church camp from a book called Voices of Concern, a collection of letters from folks who had left the fold of the Church of Christ due to their objections to sectarianism. I didn’t know what to call it back then, but I remember being in 8th grade, bewildered and challenged. He probably wouldn't read such a thing in the same a setting today, but the wrestling with hard questions about church and fellowship at a young age served me well.
Dowell Flatt preached excellent expository sermons at Van Dyke for 10 years engendering a great deal of harmony and growth. He left us to attend seminary in New Orleans then on to chair the Bible Department at Freed-Hardeman University. I regret he has left us for good now, but a rich legacy remains in my heart.
Pat Boone provided our star power. He came to Detroit in 1968 and did a benefit show for us at Cobo Arena in Detroit to help MDYC raise money for our European trip.I think it was later that year, a friend named Averill Allen played a tape of Pat Boone in which Pat shared his new experiences in the Holy Spirit. We were all pretty curious about that New Song.
Up to that point, we thought maybe the Holy Spirit was a pen and ink.
We were not very Acts 2:43ish.
Once an area congregation hosted David Wilkinson of The Cross and Switchblade at a youth rally. In case you are too young to know, he was a nationally known Pentecostal in urban ministry. Afterwards, I recall hearing an elderly gentleman lead a closing prayer saying something like “please forgive us for exposing our young people to this mourner’s bench religion.”
Not everyone valued the nonsectarian thing.
Hearing John Allen Chalk at the Roseville Church of Christ inspired me beyond words. Finding me beyond words? Doesn’t happen often enough.
I’d list the women speakers, but well—let’s just say I heard pretty powerful stuff at home. My mom, Jo Choate, referred to scripture so often, so naturally when we discussed the vicissitudes of teen life that I sometimes accused her of trying to make a religious issue out of everything in life. My sisters, Deborah Choate Shepherd and Kimberly Choate Thames spoke of and served Jesus with passion and grace.
Mom remains guilty as charged.
But a church weak in Detroit? Those folks just guessed wrong.