Race, Distrust First Hurdle in Starting Citadel Ministry

Post a Comment » Written on April 23rd, 2008     
Filed under: News
DETROIT, MI (April 23, 2008) – The friendship between Lisa Johanon and Harvey Carey, pastor of Citadel of Faith Covenant Church, had to overcome what they later would say were issues of race and distrust. Their bond is an example of the racial reconciliation the Covenant congregations in Detroit hope to accomplish.

In 2002, Lisa (lower photo), who is white, and Harvey (top photo), who is African American, did have something in common the first time they met: they were skeptical of working with each other.

Lisa and her husband, Dan, had moved to the area in 1989 when she became executive director of Central Detroit Christian Community Development Center (CDC). The faith-based nonprofit seeks to empower people through various programs that focus on individuals as well as those which promote economic development.

HarveyAfter living in the area, the Johanons felt the call to start a church in the neighborhood, one of the poorest and most crime-ridden in Detroit. The couple believed the neighborhood, which is 98 percent African American, was not being well served by the existing congregations.

“We have all these historic churches just blocks from where our church is now. Ninety-five percent of their (members) drive in,” she says, complaining that those congregations would prefer that the locals not attend.

The Johanons knew that finding the right pastor would be critical. Bob Hoey, pastor of Messiah Covenant Church in Detroit, knew of their desire to plant the church. He suggested they meet with Harvey and his wife, Nancy, who he had met in Chicago.

Harvey believed God was calling him to plant a church in Detroit, but at the time, he was an associate pastor at Salem Baptist Church in Chicago, one of the largest and most politically active African American congregations in the city. That made Lisa nervous.

“I had done my research,” she says. Lisa knew he had preached at similar churches in Detroit.

“I had perceived him as a political Baptist pastor, and I thought that was the last thing this church needs.” There already were plenty of those in the city, she reasoned. The neighborhood needed a church that would focus on sharing the gospel as well as working to meet other needs of the residents.

Despite her reservations, the Johanons accepted Hoey’s invitation to dinner at his house, where the couples could meet. The conversation stretched to four and a half hours.

“The next day the Harveys show up at my house and they said, ‘show us the neighborhood,’ ” Lisa recalls, sounding as surprised as she was that day.

LisaLisa’s opinion quickly changed. “Here is a man who really does try to engage the community and share the gospel,” she says with admiration.

Those initial meetings led to an all-night session in which the Johanons and Careys sketched out their common vision for the church. Making that vision a reality would challenge Harvey and Lisa.

“There was racial tension at first,” Lisa says. “We both admit it now.”

Lisa says she needed to understand that “Harvey had not had a lot of good experiences with white people.” Trust would need to be built, and that takes time.

Harvey says some of the racial issues related to how pastoral leadership is exercised in black churches compared to how it is practiced in white congregations. Harvey says he was used to the pastor having a lot more authority.

For her part, Lisa says she has had to learn to let Harvey be her pastor and be a ministry partner. “God has had to chip away.”

Harvey came up with the name for the church. “I don’t think I ever used those words in a sentence in my entire life,” Lisa says, laughing.

The two were able to work through their differences because, “First and foremost we are followers of Jesus,” Lisa says.  They have now formed their own mutual admiration society.

She recently asked him to serve as chair of the board of directors for CDC. “It’s a great honor,” Harvey says. “Lisa has developed that for 13 years in an incredible way.”

So far, the church has not grown as they planned, however. Both of them believed the congregation should be almost entirely African American because that would reflect the neighborhood. “I assumed that it would be a black church, but God said no,” Harvey recalls.

The congregation has grown as a multi-ethnic church. Lisa says 65 percent of the members are black and the others are white. “I think it is a safe place for white people,” Harvey says. He and others are committed to making possible discussion of the race-related issues that inevitably will arise.

Congregation members also come from all economic levels. “We have people with doctorates and people just up from the gutter,” says Lisa, who marvels at Harvey’s ability to preach so that his sermons are relevant for everyone.

Each month, newcomers to the church are invited to dinner at Hoey’s home, where Harvey and Lisa orient them to the congregation and its history – and tell about their first dinner in the same dining room.

Lisa notes that the all-night planning session took place five years ago on March 23 – the date on which Easter fell this year. “Who would have thought five years ago we would have had a great ministry relationship and a great friendship!”

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