Rev. Roland Stringfellow BTL photo: Jason A. Michael

Stringfellow Installed As New MCC-D Senior Pastor And Teacher

By Jason A. Michael

FERNDALE - It's been a few months since he stepped into the position, but Rev. Roland Stringfellow was officially installed as senior pastor and teacher of Metropolitan Community Church - Detroit at a special service Saturday at the Drayton Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Just days before the service, Stringfellow spoke with Between The Lines about the future of MCC-D.

"It's been really great," Stringfellow said of his time at the church so far. "We have seen an increase in people who are attending the church for the very first time. We're also seeing a lot of people who had been longstanding members return to the congregation."

MCC-D's last senior pastor, Rev. Mark Bidwell, left the church in September 2011. Though he is credited with growing the church greatly during his almost 20 years as pastor, he left embroiled in scandal and tragically died just a few months later. An interim pastor, Jim Lynch, served for most of 2012 and 2013. Now, with the appointment of a new senior pastor, the church is entering into a new phase and, according to Stringfellow, its resilience is shining through.

"I took the time to interview all the team leadership of the church to really get to know them," Stringfellow said. "With all that has happened, many, many church people would have fled and left the church. But that's not the case here. We really have this unity and that really inspired me as a leader and let me know that I have come into a very healthy congregation."

Now, Stringfellow looks toward the future with great excitement.

"My plan for the congregation is twofold," he said. "First, to continue to strengthen the core of the congregation, and, second, I would like to see us become a teaching congregation. You, as an LGBT person, can go down the street to a Lutheran church that is welcoming and hold your partner's hand. However, what you're not going to get at that church is how then do you recover from all the violence from Bible bashing that has occurred, where people have not been trained in queer theology? I want us as a congregation to be that teaching church for not only the LGBT community, but to other ally congregations as well."

"I'm being installed as senior pastor and teacher," Stringfellow continued. "If you look at the invitation, that's what it says. Even on my business card I want 'senior pastor and teacher,' which is a little unusual. Education is my passion. I feel that when it comes to be being LGBT or straight, or if you have a gay child, many, many people really want to understand these Biblical passages that have used to clobber and separate the people. They get so turned off from reading scripture because of how it's mistaught ...

"[The Bible] gives us our identity, our courage and our place. So I want us as an inclusive community to really embrace what's there. And the only way we can do that is if it's not taught so high shelf that everyone can get it and so people can say, 'You know what? I get that and see the application to my daily life.' My goal is to try to attract people through good teaching. When people are inspired to see themselves better than they are now, they can get really electrified and say 'Yes, I want to be in this place because I can see myself growing under this teaching.'"

So far, the church appears to be with Stringfellow in this endeavor.

"It's a new MCC-D," said member Paul Mattson. "MCC is known as the gay church. Last year at MCC's general conference, it was kind of undertaken as a mission to be known as the 'inclusive church' rather than the 'gay church.' That's what the focus is now. I think with us electing Rev. Roland as our new pastor that change is really coming into fruition at the local level. We've got more straight people coming into our congregation, more transgender people and more people of color. And it's really nice to see the face of MCC-D change in that way."

The national leadership of MCC is convinced Stringfellow can make a difference.

"Rev. Roland has that rare combination of being brilliant, well-educated, thoughtful and also kind and compassionate with pastoral skills - as well as a powerful spokesperson and activist - that is perfect for MCC-D," said Rev. Elder Dr. Nancy Wilson, MCC's moderator. "He will bring a new level of excellence and hope to MCC-D."

It was Wilson, in fact, who encouraged Stringfellow to apply for the position of senior pastor after seeing him at last year's convocation. She didn't make the recommendation lightly. MCC-D holds a special place in Wilson's heart, having gotten her ministerial start there many years ago.

"I came to MCC-D as a 25-year-old," she said. "We were less than 30 people, about five years old, and one of the earliest institutions serving the very nascent LGBT community in Detroit. Some of those folks who were there then are still around now. One of those members introduced me to my wife, Paula, now of 36 years. I learned so much from MCC-D."

"I love that the church has been so resilient through ups and downs, HIV/AIDS, tragedies, victories and defeats," Wilson continued. "All along, they have been there for each other and for the community. They are the best of MCC, and they have a great future, especially in attracting the kind of energized and highly qualified leadership they have in Rev. Roland. As the city of Detroit, and the surrounding metropolitan area, moves into a time of recovery and re-invention, I am so hopeful that MCC-D is committed to re-invention as well, in a way that honors their legacy and faces the future with joy."

Make no mistake, Stringfellow said he is committed.

"My challenge is how to inspire our community to see the value of inclusive worship," he said. "How I'm hoping to do this is to really say whoever you are, if you have been excluded from any type of worship, whether you're LGBT, a child out of wedlock, you've been incarcerated, you have a disability, the list goes on and on. We want to be your place. If other churches have turned their backs on you, you have a seat here."

For more information, visit http://www.mccdetroit.org.
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