The History Of The Messianic Community In Metro Detroit

The beginning of the Messianic movement in Detroit can be traced to the arrival of Fred Kendal and his family from Canada in July 1934 to become the director of the Detroit Hebrew Mission, which had been led by Minnie Schulman. Fred was born into a family of Messianic Jews in London. His mother, Esther Kendal, had served as a missionary with the Mildmay Mission to the Jews. Esther was the daughter of a Chassidic rabbi in Zhitomer, Ukraine. She had come to faith in Yeshua through the influence of her first husband, Julius Finestone, while they lived in what was then called Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey. From London the family moved to Toronto, where Esther served with the Scott Mission. Esther had been widowed from Julius Finestone and then married Wilhelm Kendal. Fred was the younger of two children born to Esther and Wilhelm. Emma was his older sister born in Odessa, Ukraine, before the family moved to England. Both Fred and Emma graduated from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, one of the first Evangelical Christian schools in America to institute a department of Jewish Missions. Fred had served both as a director of a Jewish ministry and as a pastor of a church in Canada. He married Alice Ruth Ashwood; and they had two daughters, Joy, born in 1930, and Lois, born in 1934, just a few months before the family moved to Detroit. A son, Daniel, was born several years after the Kendals moved to Detroit.

At that time Jewish ministry was almost exclusively carried on through missions to the Jewish people. Missions to the Jewish people were organizations supported by individuals and churches. The leader of the mission or other representatives usually spent a considerable amount of time speaking in churches to gain support for the work. Those involved in the mission carried on their ministry through visits to homes, open air preaching, distribution of literature, humanitarian aid to the needy, children’s ministry, radio broadcasts, and meetings in homes and the mission center. New Jewish believers were directed to join a church. This was the kind of ministry that was represented by the Detroit Hebrew Mission. The Detroit Hebrew Mission was located on Clairmont Avenue on the northwest side of Detroit in the heart of what was then the greatest concentration of Detroit’s Jewish population. The ministry also had a reading room on Dexter Boulevard.

In the mid-1930s, another approach to Jewish ministry called the “indigenous approach” was developing. The emphasis was on leaders of the people being reached taking over the leadership of the ministry and developing their own expression of the faith that the people were more easily able to identify with. Since the early part of the twentieth century, another development had been taking place among Messianic Jews. The Hebrew Christian Alliance of America was formed in 1915. Its purpose was to enable Jewish Believers to gather in fellowships related both to their distinctive Jewish identity and to their desire to carry forward the effort to proclaim the Jewish Messiah to their people. At first this Hebrew Christian movement existed only in the United States and Canada; but, in the latter part of the 1930s, an International Hebrew Christian Alliance was formed with representatives from England, the European continent, and North America.

Fred Kendal became convinced that a more indigenous approach needed to be taken toward ministry to the Jewish people than was afforded by the traditional mission approach. While there were Gentile Christians who were sympathetic with the indigenous approach, there were a significant number who viewed this approach as Judaizing and rebuilding the middle wall of division between Jew and Gentile. This difference in point of view ultimately led Fred to resign his position with the Detroit Hebrew Mission and begin a ministry committed to developing a more indigenous approach. So in the mid-1940s, Fred began a new ministry with the name, Israel’s Remnant. At first Israel’s Remnant was carried on through personal contacts with individual Jewish people and through Bible study meetings in homes. In 1950 Fred’s sister and brother in-law, Emma and Arthur Glass, along with their daughters Marilyn and Grace moved to Detroit to join Israel’s Remnant. That year Israel’s Remnant saw a significant breakthrough. Sixteen people came to faith through their efforts. In those days that number of people coming to faith in the same year was considered a remarkable harvest. Among them were several entire Jewish families and a number of young people. In the two years following, more Jewish believers were added to the growing flock of Israel’s Remnant.

The First Hebrew Christian Church of Detroit was formed, and in 1952 the congregation purchased the building of a former Lutheran Church to be their new home. Arthur Glass became the pastor while Fred Kendal continued as the director of Israel’s Remnant. Ted Paul, also a Jewish believer, joined the ministry; and extensive door-to-door visits were made in the neighborhood of the congregation. The congregation hosted several conferences including some that promoted greater fellowship and networking of Jewish believers in other cities in North America and others to stimulate greater cooperation among those engaged in Jewish ministry outside of Detroit. Out of the former, the congregation was linked to the emerging Hebrew Christian movement. Out of the latter, there came into being the Fellowship of Christian Testimonies to the Jews, which brought together those working among the Jewish people in the United States and Canada for the purpose of mutual encouragement and the sharing of experiences and methodologies in the ministry.

While there was some effort to emphasize and maintain a sense of Jewish identity in the congregation, the style of life and ministry was more like an evangelical church with Jewish symbols and Yiddish and Hebrew words sprinkled in the sermons and teachings. When some of the younger Messianic Jews returned from Christian colleges and seminaries, they expressed a desire for what they felt was a more authentic approach to a Jewish lifestyle and a different form of congregational order. These differences became so great that some of the young people led a group from the congregation to form their own fellowship. This break ultimately led to the demise of the First Hebrew Christian Church of Detroit and later to the demise of the group that left. In the succeeding years, most of those who had been members of the congregation joined various churches. Israel’s Remnant continued to minister in the Detroit area and also established branches in Boston and Memphis, but the style of ministry reverted back to establishing ministry centers and holding home meetings.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a significant number of Jewish people became loyal to Messiah. As this new generation entered the Hebrew Christian movement and as they became the majority, they directed the movement to a more emphatic expression of Jewish identity. Reflecting this change, the name of the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America was changed to the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America. At the same time, a number of congregations in the United States and Canada were formed, identifying themselves as Messianic Jewish Congregations or Synagogues. Many considered themselves to be part of “Messianic Judaism.” There were also numerous Messianic Jews who remained in evangelical churches but at the same time chose to identify with the growing Messianic Jewish movement.

By the mid-1970s, Fred Kendal had left for his heavenly home. Before he died, Fred had merged Israel’s Remnant with Friends of Israel, directed by Victor Buksbazen. Arthur Glass moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to begin a Jewish ministry there. Ted Paul moved to California to serve with another Jewish ministry.

Around 1985 Haskell Stone and Harold Brickner, two of the younger leaders of the First Hebrew Christian Church, encouraged me to come to Detroit to start a Messianic Jewish congregation. I had graduated from Moody Bible Institute and Northeastern Bible College and had worked with Jews for Jesus in evangelism and congregational planting. Martha and I moved to the Detroit area in the summer of 1986 and started Shema Yisrael, which was an evangelistic ministry. Within a relatively short time, Congregation Beth Messiah was formed. For several years the congregation steadily grew until differences among Haskell, Harold, and me resulted in a division. I formed Congregation Shema Yisrael, and Harold became the leader of Beth Messiah. Glenn and Alexandra Harris joined Congregation Shema Yisrael in 1997 and have made considerable contributions to the growth of the community here.

Other Contributions: David Ben Lew originally worked for Fred Kendal. He left and began Hope of Israel, which was a Jewish mission located in Oak Park. David Ben Lew’s ministry ended several years ago.

Looking To The Future

As the Messianic Jewish movement grows, especially in Israel, it’s my hope that the Messianic Jewish movement in Metro Detroit continues to grow in numbers, in unity, and in influence with the Jewish and Christian communities!