The Rev. Faith Fowler, the pastor of Detroit’s Cass Community United Methodist Church, inspires far beyond her small congregation. She’s regarded as a visionary activist grounded in faith, whose creative entrepreneurship is changing lives and landscapes through the nonprofit Cass Community Social Services. Her latest project: building a unique neighborhood of 25 tiny homes for the working poor and homeless.
Q: Do you have a manual or procedure you follow to set up new programs such as the Tiny Homes project?
We develop a business plan for larger expansions and new programs. We use the spaghetti test for smaller initiatives -- throw it against the wall to see what sticks. We are not afraid of taking risks, nor are we afraid of failure. Failure gives a chance to learn and perfect things.
Q: What have you failed at?
Fasting. Time management. Going on to perfection.
I failed to secure a deal last year. The owners of a company were slated to give Cass their business -- their customers, equipment and products. We invested nine months and several thousand dollars doing due diligence, but ultimately, the arrangement fell apart.
The failure meant that the jobs we had hoped to relocate into the neighborhood vanished. It was a painful loss, because the company would have provided 30 to 40 full-time, living-wage, good-benefits jobs.
Q: What advice do you have for pastors who are leading congregations in decline? What can they learn from your story?
Remember that you are assigned to a neighborhood, a community. You should spend as much time interacting with people beyond your building as you do with those who sit in your pews.
Q: How can other pastors do what you did? What does it take for those in ministry to step up community outreach?
I think urban ministry requires longevity, in that trust takes longer in a large city. I also believe in proximity -- that a pastor should live close to the church community to understand some of the realities her or his people confront. I remember the Sunday I had to preach about “loving your neighbor” after dealing with the crack dealer who lives across the street from my house.
Q: What’s your advice to a new minister just starting out?
Find your own voice and listen to God’s.
Q: Do you have any tips for asking for donations?
I use stories to appeal to potential donors. Stories are more powerful than numbers. They invite people to imagine themselves in relation to the problem and how they might respond to it. Jesus liked stories, too.
Q: Do you have role models in business or community service?
I gravitate to entrepreneurs. Ben Franklin is one of my favorites. His ability to think across disciplines is something I aspire to do.
Q: Who are your role models in ministry?
Father Bill Cunningham and Eleanor Josaitis started a Catholic nonprofit, Focus: HOPE, in Detroit after the 1967 riot. Together, the city priest and a suburban housewife created one of the country’s most important nonprofits. The duo challenged racial and economic discrimination while providing critical services -- food, jobs, child care, etc.