Church coalition keeps growing, plans for early 2013

Goal is to unify churches to serve Madison Heights community

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published January 23, 2013

MADISON HEIGHTS — At a time when cities are being asked by the state to consolidate services wherever possible, a number of churches in Madison Heights are thinking along the same lines, believing they have a mandate from an authority higher than the state to pool resources and achieve more good together than they could apart.

Collectively known as “The Church at Madison Heights,” the coalition started last year with Gospel Life Church and Central Church, and has since grown to include the Madison Heights Church of the Nazarene, Prince of Glory Evangelical Lutheran, Red Oaks Assembly of God, St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Ten Mile Free Will Baptist and the United Methodist Church of Madison Heights.

“It’s going far better than expected,” said Pastor Ben Rathbun of Gospel Life Church, who started the coalition, along with Pastor Sam Anderson of Central Church. “I could not have imagined us being this far already. My previous efforts had been just a dead end, and now to see it blossoming is a God thing … since I tried it before and that didn’t work.

“The struggle before is every pastor has their own agenda, ministry, schedule and families, and a lot of them work outside of the church, as well,” Rathbun explained. “So to get them together all at one time is nearly impossible, but these guys are dedicated.”

Their first meeting was at the Madison Heights Public Library this past September. The pastors outlined their core values and mission statements and became acquainted with each other’s ministries.

The second meeting was at a local restaurant in October, where they drafted up some of the events they would like to attempt in 2013. They decided to meet in each other’s churches from that point forward, in order to better understand one another.

Then, as one of their first joint efforts, the coalition created Thanksgiving Day “Appreciation Gifts” for workers who had to work on Thanksgiving Day in Madison Heights, dividing the city into eight zones and asking at least five families in each church to give out five plates or baskets of cookies, brownies or flowers to five businesses or organizations open that day, with priority to first responders and healthcare employees.

It was a spectacular success, with more than 50 families across the different churches giving away between 200 and 250 gifts to those working on Thanksgiving. Alone, Rathbun says they each would’ve only been able to do a fraction of that.

“That just goes to show you the power in unity,” Rathbun said.

As the coalition’s co-founder, Anderson had a similar sentiment.

“The impact is broadened exponentially,” Anderson wrote in an email, “when the individual faith communities come together as the church of Jesus Christ, crossing denominational lines, breaking the barriers of the peripheral issues in our specific faith traditions, and focusing on the essentials of our faith, in order to find common ground, and move forward as a united body of believers.”

Moving forward into 2013, there are already some events lined up that will take on a greater scope and scale, thanks to the combined resources, manpower and creativity of the churches that make up “The Church at Madison Heights.”

On March 30, around noon, there will be an Easter egg hunt, much like the one Gospel Life has held at Rosie’s Park for three years now, which has attracted as many as 400 kids hunting for more than 3,000 eggs. Now, thanks to the coalition, the hunt will span both Rosie’s Park and Civic Center Park, meaning the city will have two massive Easter egg hunts to look forward to this year, and even more eggs to find.

On May 2, the National Day of Prayer, the coalition will bring together all of their congregations in a powerful show of spiritual support for the city. The location is yet to be determined, but once it is, all are invited.

And in August, the coalition will sponsor a “Back to School” picnic event at Civic Center Park. By teaming up with local stores like Meijer and Kmart, as well as Volunteers of America’s Operation Backpack, the coalition will give away loads of free school supplies to families with students.

The giveaway will be set to a festive atmosphere: The various church bands will play live music, a Jaws of Life demonstration will show how crash victims are extracted from car wrecks, police and fire vehicles will be on display, and there will be a petting zoo, bounce houses and face paintings, in addition to free food.

The details are still being finalized, and new events and initiatives are still being planned. The coalition is also still recruiting new member churches.

In the meanwhile, the leaders of the different churches have been meeting at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday every month. Rathbun feels everyone is driven by a genuine desire to create positive change in Madison Heights.

“To give up your sleep shows a commitment,” Rathbun said. “We’re moving along quickly; nobody has an ego. Everyone is coming together for the good of our city. It’s refreshing; it’s energizing to leave the meeting and know everyone has the same commitment. It’s unbelievable.”

Gospel Life Church is located at 1042 E. 12 Mile, between John R and Dequindre. For more information, call (248) 850-0375. Central Church is located at 1529 E. 12 Mile, west of Dequindre in Madison Heights. For more information, call (248) 547-3555.