Unconventional pastor who revived church to address Idea conference
The Rev. Barry Randolph of the Church of the Messiah in Detroit doesn't take the conventional approach to addressing the masses.
He smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol during a sermon while making a point that faith and doing good can be just as addictive as drugs and liquor. Once, he pulled out a gun in front of his congregation. "Surrender to God!" he urged.
"Get up off your asset," he yelled to his congregation last month. "Use your God-given talent -- your asset -- and do something to help your community, and help yourself."
Randolph will be among the speakers at Crain's Idea: Detroit Conference, presented with Advertising Age at the Fox Theatre on March 7 to showcase ideas for revitalizing the city.
Randolph may have an unorthodox bag of tricks, but it has been effective.
The 137-year-old church at East Grand Boulevard and East Lafayette Street was on the verge of closing in 2009, with only 29 members and meager donations, when Randolph said he decided to mix it up and deviate from traditional Episcopalian sermons.
More than 200 members now attend Randolph's sermons. Hamilton said he's on the verge of running out of space.
"When the mission is right, the odds don't matter," Randolph said.
"We don't pay attention to crime and violence in Detroit, problems with the public schools and the city's fiscal problems. All we know is that we're making Detroit into the kind of place it's supposed to be."
The church offers a range of services: subsidized housing, urban gardening, mentoring, a food pantry, a computer lab, a small-business incubator and a thrift store.
Monique Sasser, owner of Nikki's Ginger Tea and a winner last year of a Crain's Salute to Entrepreneurs award, runs her business out of the church's basement, giving local youths business experience.
The church has caught the attention of local fashion figure Joe Faris, who has enlisted youths from the church to participate in his Fashion in Detroit event March 10. Faris will be a panelist at Idea: Detroit.
The Mt. Elliott Makerspace at the church is a community workshop that teaches technical and entrepreneurial skills.
"Rev. Randolph is a good mentor; he opens up so many opportunities," said Robert Hughes, a 19-year-old who uses computers in the Makerspace to produce music. "It's unbelievable. I've never even heard of something like this. That's why I'm so happy to be a part of it."
The Makerspace was funded by a $200,000 Kresge Foundation grant in 2010 and is run by Jeff Sturges, who came to Detroit after hearing about the church and Randolph through his former position at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-run educational "fabrication lab" in New York.
"Pastor Randolph, in his weekly service, challenges the community to really work toward discovering their talents and passions, so they can use them to make a better life for themselves and their community," Sturges said.
In 1978, the church started the COM Housing Corp., which has 203 units of affordable housing near the church. And for about 30 years, the church has offered a well-stocked food pantry for seniors. Board President Tamika Hamilton said Church of the Messiah's community outreach programs continue to grow. For example, Kraft Foods Inc., through the mayor's office in Detroit, heard of the church and sponsored its urban garden.
"People are really drawn to (Randolph's) personality," Hamilton said. "He's animated, funny, and when you listen, you actually learn."
Other Idea: Detroit speakers include Mike Jbara, president and CEO of New York-based music label WEA Corp.; Rob Weisberg, chief marketing officer of Cambridge, Mass.-based Zipcar Inc.; and Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics.
Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert will end the event as the closing keynote speaker.
Registration information at crainsdetroit.com/events.
Pierrette Dagg, senior producer for digital products, contributed to this report. See her video below: