Impossible to Tell Detroit Story Without Bob Hoey

Post a Comment » Written on April 25th, 2008     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

DETROIT, MI (April 25, 2008) – Bob Hoey didn’t want this article written. The pastor of Messiah Covenant Church preferred that a series of stories on the growth of churches in Detroit focus on others.

“That figures,” says Michael Van Horn, pastor of Trinity Covenant Church in Livonia, noting Hoey’s humility.

Hoey points to Donn Engebretson, now executive vice president of the Evangelical Covenant Church, who as pastor of Faith Covenant Church in Farmington Hills, first planted the idea of expanding ministry in the area.

HoeyHe points to Great Lakes Conference Supt. Dick Lucco and Associate Supt. Larry Sherman, who have made Detroit one of their top priorities. They even moved the conference offices to the area for several reasons, including fostering growth in the area.

But ministry leaders say it is impossible to tell Detroit’s story without talking about Hoey. “Bob is definitely in the story in a big way,” says Lisa Johanon, a founding member of Citadel of Faith Covenant Church. “He connects the dots.”

It was Van Horn who directed Hoey to the Covenant when Messiah – previously a Lutheran congregation – was looking for another denomination with which to affiliate. At the time, Trinity was not a member, either, but Van Horn had met Covenant pastors and had become familiar with the denomination.

Later, Hoey told Van Horn, “We’re joining the Covenant. Why don’t you?” Both churches were adopted in 1999. It didn’t stop there:
•    Hoey encouraged Kevin Butcher, pastor of Hope Community Covenant Church, to join the denomination.
•    Hoey brought together Johanon and Harvey Carey, which led to the successful planting of Citadel of Faith Covenant Church.
•    Alex Rahill, pastor of Life Covenant Church in Canton, was a member of Messiah, and Hoey has encouraged his growth as a minister.
•    Hoey was an initial proponent of starting Covenant Community Care, a medical clinic that has served thousands of people who live below the poverty line.
•    Hoey helped start a private school that meets at the church.

“He is a force of nature,” says Engebretson. It is a sentiment echoed by every person interviewed for this article.

Within 30 seconds, Hoey will be talking to a stranger as if he had known them for years. He readily asks personal questions that throw off the new acquaintance, but who also feels comfortable readily answering.

Longtime friends express gratitude for the way Hoey has ministered to them over the years. Butcher credits Hoey with keeping the pastor of Hope Community from making a terrible mistake after being fired from a previous church.

“Bob pulled me out of the gutter when I was going to quit the ministry,” says Butcher. He introduced me to the Covenant.”

Hoey’s passion for all aspects of ministry is obvious just by looking around his crowded office. Books fill a wall of shelves. Others are stacked on the floor and his desk. Pictures of parishioners cover another wall.

He draws inspiration from a quote by English missionary C.T. Studd: “Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell.”

Hoey sometimes speaks with the frustration and weariness that comes from years of ministering among people with so much stacked against them. But most often, he speaks with hope, as if he relished the challenge.

Outsiders often look at Detroit in the same way the people of Jesus’ day viewed Nazareth, Hoey says. “They wonder if anything good can come from there.”

When asked about the good ministry being advanced in Detroit, Hoey replies, “You can talk about all that, but it really is about bringing people to Jesus.”

His own spiritual journey began when he was 19 and started attending a Bible study led by “Jesus people” (no relation to Jesus People Evangelical Covenant Church). Hoey gave his life to Christ and now says, “It was a powerful conversion experience.”

He attended the Bible study every night for a year. “If somebody had told me I would be doing that, I probably wouldn’t have gone.”

There are a lot of people in Detroit who are thankful he did.

Editor’s note: this is the final installment in a three-part series covering the widespread ministries of Covenant churches in the Detroit area. The accompanying photo shows Hoey (left) and Engebretson. To read the earlier articles, please see:
•    Business Departs City, Yet Covenant Presence Grows
•    Federal Grant Keeps Medical Clinic Doors Open

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