Does Detroit need Presbyterians?

In the summer of 2011, I was in downtown Detroit (site of the 2014 General Assembly) for the annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.


One evening, the husband of one of our members fell ill — so ill that an ambulance was summoned to the conference headquarters hotel.


As my friend Stu Bykofsky of the Philadelphia Daily News later reported in a column, the wife of the ill man “called 9-1-1 and waited. And waited. And waited. The hotel, the Westin Book Cadillac, called 9-1-1. Fifty-five minutes later, with no help on the way, 9-1-1 advised (the caller) to take a cab to the hospital.”


With such foundational problems, Detroit, now having filed for bankruptcy, needs all the Presbyterians (and others) it can get. I’m glad the next General Assembly will meet there. If a city can fill the role of the robbed, beaten man in the parable of the Good Samaritan, surely it’s Detroit, which probably should change its slogan from Motown to Potown.


In the end, the man who got cabbed to the hospital recovered and is fine. I saw him this summer at our NSNC conference in Hartford, Conn., and he’s a happy survivor.


But whether Detroit can emerge from bankruptcy as a happy survivor with reliable public services depends on lots of things, including on whether it can draw more tourists and convention-goers.


So what might those who attend our General Assembly in Detroit do to make a difference for its citizens? A few ideas:

» Before you charge off and do anything there, talk to members and staff of Presbyterian churches in Detroit. They will know what might be helpful and what might not be.

» Extend your stay in Detroit either before or after General Assembly. Go see the fabulous art and Holocaust museums there. Go to a Tigers game. Visit or call Quicken Loans there and thank the company for locating and investing in downtown.

» Talk to people of faith there beyond Presbyterians to see if they might be willing to join you in a prayer vigil for Detroit. The city has a vibrant interfaith community with active involvement by its large Muslim population. Follow interfaith developments there by reading the excellent blog at, edited by David Crumm, former religion reporter for the Detroit Free Press.

» If any organization to which you belong is planning a convention, push for it to be in Detroit (but, of course, if that doesn’t work, your next choice should be Kansas City).


Although no doubt Detroit will be glad to see a gaggle of Presbyterians, the last thing it needs is for us to appear and brag about the fact that we showed up in this poor city and then leave. If we are to be a healing presence in suffering places, we must figure out how to make longer-term commitments than that.


Might that be through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance or another of our agencies? I don’t know. I just know that Detroit needs help now and we can find ways to be part of a sensible solution.


billtammeusBILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog. Read about his latest book. E-mail him at