Pastor Grant Speece is a long way from the deserts that once slithered under his boots as he sermonized to America’s fighting men and women during some of the most prominent military campaigns of the past couple of decades.
The crunch of snow under his shoes accompanied by the brisk Michigan wind stinging his face is both different and welcomed to St. Andrew’s United Church of Christ‘s newest congregation and faith leader.
“I found my military chaplaincy was actually, in my opinion, not different from my civilian pastoring,” said Speece, who began serving the St. Andrew’s congregation Jan. 9. He previously served at a rural church just outside of Marengo, Iowa.
To Speece, people are people — and a group of people who come together to share their faith and spirit with one another are a congregation — no matter what terrain they stand upon, regardless of the clothes they’re wearing or the roles they serve outside of the group’s worship.
Although not everything is the same when tending to the spirits of soldiers on a battlefield.
“I saw a lot more of the world than I had seen before,” Speece said. “I saw how people live and I could see how in this country, we are much more fortunate than we realize that we are.”
Speece said he learned other lessons from the time he spent tending to the spirits of a flock fraught with literal conflict on all sides.
“I also had the experience of seeing what it’s like when people can be at both their worst and their best. I think war brings out the worst and the best in all people,” he explained. “Coming back, it gave me a feeling that I can accomplish my task of proclaiming the gospel anywhere if I can even do it in a war zone.”
Speece hopes that his experiences will ultimately help him encourage people to work together across all denominations in the Dexter community. He spoke of the lack of prominence and visibility of some of the smaller and less visible churches and congregations in the area as if their obscurity pained him greatly.
“We are all Christian — all of us … we may believe certain things differently from one another, but the one thing we have in common is Jesus Christ,” he said solemnly. “And that one common thing should help us work together as people of faith, of different Christian churches.”
Speece spoke a great deal about his plans for St. Andrew’s future and the future of its flock. That future hinges on young families and their young children.
He hopes to refine the organization’s Sunday school program and better communicate exactly what children will be learning at each grade level. “If we can get together a booklet that says, ‘This is what we expect to teach at this grade level, (and) this is what we expect to teach at this grade level,’ so that potential families that want to look at joining the church or at least attending it would have some idea of what their children would be learning.”
Speece paused for a moment and considered his existing congregation, which skew towards the older adult population.
“This church is a very good church with a lot of good elderly folks; which is good, but it needs to do more to attract younger families,” he said with thoughts of the distant future of his congregation.
Attendees both young and old rejoice when the congregation’s children are called to the chapel steps to sit before Speece as he attempts to bring as many of the senses that God gave them as close to the actual experience of the life and times of Jesus Christ as he possibly can.
“This is where I sit when I do the children’s sermon,” he says while seated on the carpeted steps facing the first row of pews in his church’s main worship area.
Every Sunday morning at 10 o’clock, the children are called up to gather round and receive a special lesson that relates to what the adult members of the congregation heard during the main sermon.
One of Speece’s first special lessons involved showing the children actual frankincense and myrrh, so they could see, touch and smell two of the three gifts given by the Three Wise Men to Mary and Joseph at Christ’s birth.
The children are often surprised to learn that the two items they’re handling were more monetarily valuable in Jesus’ day than the third gift — gold.
“Children are more than just auditory,” Speece said, in response to being asked what he wants to get across to the children. “They learn by smell, they learn by sight and they learn by being involved. By having something for them to see and smell and maybe touch, it gives them more of an understanding of what I’m trying to tell them.”
“It’s also important for them to come forward, because they really feel like they are a part of the worship service,” Speece said. “They feel like they are involved, and hopefully when they get older and worship, (they) will feel like it’s something that’s important to them, where they feel that they have been a part of it and want to continue to be a part of it.”
When he’s not thinking of ways to keep his congregation demographically sound so as to continue to thrive into the future, Speece is enjoying the little things.
“I really like the food at…,” he struggles for a moment, before remembering the name of Dexter’s most colorful and tasty local barbecue joints. “Hotel Hickman’s? Yeah, I get my breakfast to go there every morning.”
Speece and his wife are still unpacking their things at the house on Fourth Street next door to St. Andrew’s, located at 7610 Ann Arbor St. The house is owned by the church and is part of the church’s main building lot.
“We were here a week before (my first day working at the church), and I would say that ever since we’ve come here we’ve felt a part of the community,” Speece said. “We’ve been getting out a lot because our kitchen isn’t unpacked so we can’t really cook.”
Speece admits it isn’t fancy, but he’s been most excited about living so close to the Big Boy on Zeeb Road in Scio Township. It’s been a long time since he’s had such a luxury in his life.
“This is the first time in 20 years I’ve lived in an area with a Big Boy,” he said, before his face lit up a bit with a smile before completing the thought. “My wife has never before lived where there are Big Boys, so she’s experienced them for the first time now.”
Speece said he’s very much looking forward to delving deeper into what the Dexter area has to offer. He is not resting on his laurels or his Scrammy Hammy.