As you might know, I recently uprooted my family and moved us all to Michigan in order to take a new job with the company I work for. Officially we live in part of the Metro Detroit area but it’s as far from what we in the UK think of as Detroit as asparagus is from sewing. Northville, the nearest town to us, is like something out of an American dream. Wooden fronted houses with expansive porches sit in patrician splendour alongside the quiet, tree lined roads. They proudly display their Stars and Stripes alongside the holiday wreathes they haven’t yet taken down and their porch furniture for watching the world go by. There is an artisanal bakery, a couple of galleries, a Cheers style bar. In the summer they have a Victorian festival around the market square and the old clock, the schools are excellent and there are two community theatres for goodness sake! I only tell you all this to show how our picture of Detroit challenges expectations.
But in another way Detroit has met and exceeded my expectations. Our definition of much of the USA is bible-toting and gun-believing. God and Guns as Obama put it. I was interested to see what the truth was of this, after all, I’ve been a member of a church where the whole congregation of consisted of my family (4) the vicar and his wife. But I’ve heard about mega-churches, we all have, and I wasn’t sure that I was interested in that.
Let me tell you about the churches here in Detroit. There are 2 churches just in Northville one Catholic and one Protestant. On Sundays they are full, standing room only, both services. Yes they have 2 services. Then there are the services during the week and on Saturday night. Northville has a population of 6,005 (according to Google) and, just in the church we have chosen, there would be 800 people worshipping in two services each Sunday alone. Neither church is a mega-church, they’re just the parish churches. And we’ve shopped around, we visited more than one church and found it to be true nearby too.
And it’s not as if these churches are impersonal and barren. These people aren’t going through the motions, their leaders aren’t mouthing the words. The sermons are thoughtful, the community outreach to local prisons, social projects, education, charities, its simple and profound, just like the churches I’ve chosen to attend in the UK – but soo much bigger.
For me this is a new thing. Even though I am part of the Anglican church, the established church in the UK, I have never been part of something this ‘established’. In the UK you would never be asked what church you go to, never be questioned about the state of religion in your home country until you were known, certainly you would not observe anyone saying grace in a public restaurant as we did on Sunday. Christianity has a different position in society here and it’s not the judgemental, evangelical , closed-minded picture we are so often fed.
I’m not claiming everyone in these churches is a saint and I’m not claiming everyone in Detroit even has a faith. I just wanted to share a new perspective. It’s odd to be in the unquestioned majority it’s a new perspective for me and it is giving me a new perspective on the American people.