2017 Annual Report of the Senior Minister –
I am literally half way to China at 30,000 feet. 31 persons, including Denise and I are participating in this tour of China. About an hour ago, I had a moment of pastoral pride that our church has been able to organize several international tours, seemingly without a hitch. The first church tour that I organized was to Liberia in 1988. Art White, who was Liberian approached me and asked if the church might be interested in a tour to his homeland. Looking back on that trip in 1988, our timing was fantastic because the country had not been torn by civil war and the trip went extraordinarily well. The 1988 tour of Liberia concluded with stops in Ghana and Senegal. Since that first trip to Liberia in 1988, the church has sponsored several Married Couples Weekend of Romance, also in amazing countries that include: Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
A major aspect of my ministry has been to balance our local missions with international mission projects led by individual members of the church, including: The Sarbo Unity Foundation, a mission to former Liberian refugees of war, which is coordinated by Dr. Jewelee Weah; The Ethiopian North American Health Professions Association, led by Dr. Ingida Asfaw; and the newest international mission project is a mission to impoverished children in Guatemala, Friends of Forma, supported by the church is led by trustee, Craig Orr and his wife, Connie. A traditional mission observation tour of Guatemala is planned for January of 2018. This mission tour of Guatemala will be led by Craig and Connie Orr.
I mention these three missions that are supported by the church because they are happening right now and making a major difference in the countries where they are operating.
Back to the China 2017 Tour. Shortly after the 1997 and 1999 missions to refugees of war in Liberia, several members of the church approached me with a desire to travel, but as tours and not mission projects. The mission projects are difficult because the accommodations are often sparse, lacking the comforts of modern life in American. I am proud that I listened to the members of the church who encouraged me to expand our travel opportunities through the church.
In 2009, 27 persons joined me and Denise in a extraordinary tour of Egypt, right before the “Arab Spring” uprising. The church sponsored a tour of South Africa in 2012, with 62 persons participating. Ghana in 2014 was our next church tour, which included 42 persons. In 2015, the church sponsored its first religious, spiritual trip, “Following in the Footsteps of Paul”, where 55 persons toured major Christian sites in Greece and Rome.
One of my activities this year, in 2017, has been participating in the planning for a major tour of Christian and Jewish sites in Israel for 2018. There is a lot of interest in the 2018 tour of Israel. Already, 20 persons have indicated they would like to take part in the 2018 Tour of Israel.
I have organized a “Travel Ministry” in the church which is comprised of: Deirdre Weir, Dr. Dennis Woods, Henrietta Carson, my wife Denise and myself. We have evolved to the point where we are planning church travel opportunities one to two years in advance. Several persons in Detroit and around the country seem to be fascinated with the travel and tours we are sponsoring through the church. The biggest surprise to those who inquire about our travel ministry is that these tours are not operated as fundraisers for the church. From my perspective, this is a major reason why our tours have been successful: we can keep the cost to travelers substantially lower than private, for profit tours sponsored by major tour companies.
It was not my plan to draft the Annual Report of the Senior Minister today, but because this is a 13-hour flight, and we have another seven hours remaining, I thought this might be an effective use of the remaining time in the air. As I write this overview of the ministry and milestones accomplished during 2017, I would like to focus on some of the highlights of this year:
- Broadcast of the African American Passover Celebration: From Bondage to Freedom
During Holy Week, the Word Network offered to video and broadcast the African American Passover Celebrations: From bondage to Freedom. As part of an effort to make Passover more relevant to our experience, in 1993, I wrote the African American Passover Celebration. It was written with the intent to build upon a traditional Jewish Passover Celebration, like what Jesus and his disciples more than likely experienced prior to the crucifixion. What my writing brings new to the Passover experience is the infusion of the African American experience. Every year since 1993, the African American Passover Celebration has put a spiritual explanation point on the Holy Week Experience at our church. Typically, 150-200 persons attend our African American Passover.
This year, we celebrated the African American Passover Celebration twice. First, it was videotaped a few weeks prior to Maundy Thursday. 125 members of the church participated in the taped version of the African American Passover Celebration. Lauren Taylor, one of our younger members, brought her dance troupe, along with an African style drum group, which gave the videotaping an exciting, electric sensation.
The African American Passover Celebration was broadcast to several nations around the world. I would like to thank Tonita Cheatem and Edward Foxworth, III for assisting with the production of the African American Passover Celebration. I would also like to thank my brother, Steve Hood for his assistance in encouraging the Word Network to broadcast the African American Passover Celebration.
The African American Passover Celebration was published in 2017. It represents the second book that I have written, which is a personal milestone.
$50,000 raised to replace the floor on the lower level of the church
In 2017, the church raised $50,000 to replace the lower level of the church. I would like to thank Atty. Jerome Watson for the creative stewardship messages he gave for almost every Sunday between January and June. One unique aspect to the fundraising to replace the lower level floor was that the appeal was made to every member, regardless of their ability.
- 50 members of the church served as “Readers” at the Plymouth Educational Center
In February and March, I encouraged members of the church to volunteer to serve as readers at the Plymouth Educational Center. The Plymouth Educational Center is the first church sponsored charter school in the state of Michigan. It is also the first charter school in Michigan to have its own building that was built from the ground with the singular purpose as a charter school. The school was organized at our church. The reading project this year had the intent of improving the reading scores of the students. I am pleased to announce that all the classes in the k-8 grades experienced some improvement in the reading scores this year. I would like to thank each member of the church who participated in the classroom reading effort. I would also like to thank the following church members who serve as members of the Board of Directors for the school: Atty. Darwyn Fair (President); Celia Thomas, vice President; Reddick Grant; and myself. Also, I would like to thank Karla Middlebrooks and William Middlebrooks for assisting the school in the development of a “Dashboard” to better monitor the academic and administrative progress of the school.
- Youth Mentoring Program organized in 2017
Franklin Wilkerson and Atty. Tony Poole, with the assistance of Rev. Dr. Georgia Hill, met with me in the summer of 2017 to organize an effort to provide mentoring services to the youth of our community and the students of the Plymouth Educational Center. The mentoring program is set to begin during the month of November, 2017.
- “Unified Adult Christian Education Series”
In 2017, I continued to support the teachers and direction of the “Unified Adult Christian Education Series” in several ways. I help this Christian Education Ministry by hosting the class leaders at the beginning of a new series to orientation sessions at my home and sometimes at local restaurants. I would like to thank the exceptional leadership team which allows the church to offer multiple adult Christian Education classes each week: Sunday morning at 10:15 class leaders – Atty. Sydney Harvey, Judge Denise Page Hood, Walter Willis, Evelyn Hudson Wright. Wednesday morning class: Mamie Coakly, Evelyn Hudson Wright and Mary Johnson Lawrence. The newest addition to the “Unifed Adult Christian Education Series is the Tuesday night class which is led by Christian Shore, Cynthia Shore Banks, Dr. Brenda McGadney, Debra Gatson; and Sondra Williams.
- Easter Tea
Judge Deborah Ford continued to provide leadership to the Easter Tea, which is reviving a tradition of our church that dates back to the late 1950’s. The “Tea” took place immediately after the 11 AM worship service. Judge Ford has coordinated a souvenir book that provided the funds for the refreshments, decorations and entertainment for the “Tea.” Also, to be commended for their assistance with the “Tea” are Angela and Tyra Leslie and Lisa Biles with their leadership of the “Hat Parade” during the “Tea.”
- Mother’s Day Flowers
Lisa Biles, with the help of Shera Byas, coordinated the assembly of over 120 geraniums on the chancel of the church. This small committee arrives at 6am the day before Mother’s Day to receive and place the flowers on the chancel.
- Father’s Day Brunch
The Men’s Ministry, under the leadership of Clifford Rockefeller, with the assistance of Judge Deborah Ford, for the second year sponsored a “Tribute to the fathers” following the 11 AM worship service. Several members of the church stayed for this program and used it as an opportunity to share good thoughts, poems and more to let the fathers know how much they are loved.
- $62,000 donated to 32 undergraduate college students
2017 was a year where 32 undergraduate students received $2000 each from the church. I am so proud of this program of the church, because the first year of my ministry, we were only able to give each student $50. It has been a long journey to get to where we are today, but this is how we have accomplished this feat. The Scholarship Fund Committee, led by Al Carter, oversees the awards to the students generated by a monthly church offering. Additionally, there are several endowed scholarships which also support the total amount of money which is given as scholarships to the students. Thomas Seabron, a member of the church, serves as the professional financial manager for the endowment for our scholarships. The Investment Committee, which assists the Scholarship Fund Committee is comprised of Cassly Sullen, Trustee Chairman; Carol Estill, treasurer; Al Carter, Scholarship Fund Chair; Malcom Barnes, Moderator.
- 100th Church Anniversary Committee organized
In preparation for the 100th Anniversary for our church, I organized a leadership committee, led by Vickie Winn, with her husband Terry Winn as the co-chair. Even though we are two years away from the 100th anniversary, the committee has started to meet to provide leadership to this momentous occasion.
- River Baptism
Continuing a tradition that I have embarked upon for the last two decades, on the second Sunday in August, 20 persons were baptized by immersion in the Detroit River. In my opinion, this is one of the spiritual high points of the year. Those who were baptized this year in the Detroit River were: Marcus Skinner, Mya Skinner, Aniya Jones, Anthony Jones, Bryce Washington, Eve Washington, Celine Washington, Cionne Jones, Charles Jones Jr. Oliver Northcross, Brooklyn Northcross, Azure Northcross, Frances Clemons, Mark Northcross, Lynda Northcross, Suane Loomis Washington, Melisa Jones, Mike Daniels, James Morris and Anthony Jones.
I would like to thank Rev. Dr. Georgia Hill and my son, Atty. Noah P. Hood for their assistance with the baptism. I would also like to thank the deacon board for their help with the baptism. Special thanks to deacon Mike Daniels for joining us in the water to take photos of the river baptism.
- Church Picnic
The Men’s Ministry coordinated the Church Picnic in August. Our men, with the assistance of several outstanding women, put together an exceptional picnic, complete with food, games, tents and outstanding fellowship!
- Golf Outing
The annual church golf outing experienced a major leap forward this year with many more individuals participating and substantial revenue generated on behalf of the youth ministries of our church. Special thanks must be given to Russell Estill and Julius Reeves for serving as chairpersons of the golf-outing. Also, thanks to Rev. Hill, Atty. Tony Poole and special thanks to Thomas Seabron and Tom Goss in their assistance in coordinating sponsorships for the golf-outing.
- Combined Choir Trip to Atlanta
In October of 2017, I preached the homecoming sermon for the 150th Anniversary of the 1st Congregational UCC in Atlanta, Ga, where the Rev. Dr. Dwight Andrews, who was ordained at our church in Detroit, is the pastor. Accompanying me in Atlanta were seven of our choir members and almost all of the instrumental musicians. We were well received and helped to extend the fellowship between our two churches.
- Karla Middlebrooks assisting with the financial analysis of the church revenue and expense
One of the tools I use as pastor of the church is to try to build upon the unique skill sets of our individual members. In 2017, I reached out to Karla Middlebrooks, who is a member of the church and a retired vice-president of finance for the Chrysler Corporation, to review the finances of the church and to seek her advice. Mrs. Middlebrooks, working with our accountant, Henrietta Carson, reviewed the past three years of the church’s financial history and shared her observations with the Trustee Board. Her husband, Bill Middlebrooks, who is a retired entrepreneur, along with Karla have been extremely helpful in analyzing the financial path of the church, but also helpful in pointing out new directions the church might take in the future.
One of the observations Mrs. Middlebrooks has made is that the Current Expense and Mission Fund is covering the cost of the legacy mortgage payments for the renovation to the church ($1.1 million in 2003) and the loan on behalf of the Cyprian Center ($300,000 in 2006 ) The total amount for these two loan payments is just under $8000 per month. The good news is that the church is making these payments without interruption. The challenging news is that the church often makes these loan payments from the Current Expense and Mission Fund.
The Trustee Board, in consultation with Mrs. Middlebrooks and myself, is working on a debt-elimination strategy for 2018, which I will bring to the congregation in early 2018.
Projects the occurred after the 2016 Annual Meeting:
There were several major church programs that occurred between last year’s Annual Meeting and the end of the year. Some of those events included: The Christmas Toys for Children; the Christmas Eve Prayer Service and the New Year’s Eve Watchnight Worship Service. Evelyn Hudson Wright, who is a student for the ministry, coordinates the Christmas Toy’s for Children Event which featured hundreds of presents that were gathered by members of the church, circus entertainers, music, food and much more!
The Christmas Eve Family and Individual Prayer Service began at 4 pm and continued until 9 PM. I really like this prayer service that began during the pastorate of my father, because it gives me an opportunity to offer personal prayers for all who attend. I would like to thank Rev. Hill for joining me in the prayer service and the members of the deacon board who stand with us and offer communion to the worshipers.
The New Year’s Eve Watch Night Service has grown in attendance and last year attracted a church full of worshipers.
Additional Personal Pastoral Activities that I sponsored, led, or gave major support to in 2017:
- Sunday School “Play Date” at my home
- “Burgers and Bible”, Bible Discussion in my backyard on the subject, “Abundant Life in Jesus Christ”- well attended by an average of 37 persons each week.
- 10 Week Confirmation Class at my home on Sundays after church. I would like to thank my wife, Denise for preparing lunch each week for the children of the Confirmation Class.
- Two major programs: Healthy Lifestyle program featuring Dr. Orande White with close to 100 persons in attendance, and the 10 Commandments of Marriage that attracted 70 persons.
Efforts to promote Interracial Harmony through dialogue:
In 2017, I spent some time working on racial harmony through dialogue on several levels. The first effort actually began with a proposal I gave to the Michigan Conference of the United Church of Christ during its October Annual Meeting in 2016 for a concept called, “Pathways to the Beloved Community.” This began as an attempt to bring together our churches across racial lines, along with the local police jurisdictions. The first event was held at our church in January of 2017, and was attended by 150 persons, representing several white and black UCC congregations, the Detroit Police Department, Michigan State Police, the Wayne County Sherriff’s Department, and the Wayne State University Police Department. In October of 2017, a second installment of the “Pathways to the Beloved Community” was held at the Plymouth UCC in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Deacon Chair, Charlie Martin, Deacon Akweli Damu, and former deacon Chair, Clinton Griffin, joined me for this event.
Additionally, I have had several conversations with the pastors and representatives of the following churches to explore ways our respective congregations can work together for racial harmony: Grosse Point Memorial Presbyterian Church and Kirk in the Hills Episcopal Church.
In July of 2017, I led worship at a sunrise worship service for the former members of the Central UCC in New Orleans, La. Also, in July, I met during the General Synod of the UCC in Baltimore with the pastor and representatives of a merger of the Central UCC and the St. Matthews UCC, both from New Orleans to help them to attempt to reconcile some of their differences. Currently, the two churches are embroiled in a court battle.
During August, I conducted a major press conference at the east entrance of our church, that attracted the support of over 40 black, white, Hispanic and other ethnic clergy to speak out against the white supremacy march and violence in Charlottesville, North Carolina. One of the lessons I learned from this effort was the deep willingness of several of the local ministers and churches in Michigan, across racial lines who are willing to stand up to injustice, hatred and bigotry.
In addition to my duties as pastor and senior minister, I serve as a director or trustee on three non-profits organizations: Detroit Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors, McCormick Theological Seminary Board of Trustees; The Plymouth Educational Center Board of Trustees.
I would like to thank the staff of the Plymouth United Church of Christ who enable me to minister at the level I am called to serve: Rev. Dr. Georgia Hill; Rev. Dr. Jimmy Womack; Rev. Yvonne Bostic; Minister of Music, Lamar Willis. Additionally, I would like to thank each of the choir directors: Chenthia Wooten, Diane Reeder, and the muiscians: Sheila Oden, Jason Johnson, Ibrahim Jones, Fernando Sharpe; Jerome Clarke, Denard McClary. I also would like to thank the support staff of the church: Regina Yopp, church secretary; Latasha Washington, assistant secretary and event planner; Donovan Grant, custodian and Henrietta Carson, executive assistant and accountant.
Also, my thanks is extended to the following persons who volunteer every day of the week in answering the telephone and monitoring the doors of the church: Walter Willis, Jerome Smith; Stephanie Donaldson; Vickie White; Charlie Thompson, Glenda Steel, Kim Cox, Theresa Barmore, James Miller, Janet Whitaker, and Cheryl Newton; and Shirley Northcross.