Rev. Dean Van Farowe currently serves as Pastor of the Calvary Reformed Church located in the Detroit Shoreway Neighborhood. He discusses the rewards and challenges of working with an urban congregation and provides a brief history of the church and how the neighborhood has changed over the past 17 years.


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Van Farowe, Dean (interviewee)


Nemeth, Sarah (interviewer)


Detroit Shoreway



Document Type

Oral History


38 minutes


Transcription sponsored by Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:01] Hi, my name is Sarah Nemeth. I'm here today with Reverend Dean Van Farowe. Today is August 2nd, 2017, we are at the Calvary Reformed Church on West 65th Street. This is for the Cleveland Regional Oral History Project. Could you please state your name for the record?

Dean Van Farowe [00:00:19] Dean Van Farowe.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:21] And where were you born and raised, and when?

Dean Van Farowe [00:00:23] Well, I was born in Guelph, Ontario, Canada in 1974, and I was raised in Westfield, North Dakota, from the age of 4 until 14. And then Michigan for four years. Iowa for four years. Michigan for four years. Then the last 17 here in Cleveland.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:43] OK, so you have been around.

Dean Van Farowe [00:00:43] Yes. Yes. Many different places.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:47] How has that affected how you see- like how do you relate to your community? Being in so many different places?

Dean Van Farowe [00:00:57] Essentially, the places where I grew up were small towns that had a Dutch American background to them. And so for me, coming to Cleveland is a diverse experience that I didn't have growing up. And so I relate to it much. It's Very exciting to be a part of such a diverse community compared to when I grew up with. So I think that's maybe one reason why I appreciate it is because I didn't have that growing up. So, I had a great growing up time, but the diversity is something that I really enjoy about Cleveland.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:36] Ok. Um, and why the Seminary? Why did you decide to go into--

Dean Van Farowe [00:01:39] Yeah. I think certainly my, you know, my relationship with God was something that helped to bring it about, a desire to serve him. I also am the son of a pastor, so that had a big impact on me as well,watching what he did. Particularly a particular call to the city as well, being something that is very clear to me that that's where I need to be. And so I think those are all things that contributed to becoming a pastor. I truly believe that Christian communities have changed the world, and can and should continue to do so. When you think about things like labor unions, things like Social Security, women's right to vote, the African American Civil Rights movement in this country, all were fueled by Christian groups. So I think they have, we have a potential to do much good. Fortunately, sometimes we do a lot of bad as well, but-- So I believe that it could be a really powerful change agent, and is a powerful change agent. Making the world a better place.

Sarah Nemeth [00:03:01] Excellent. Did you work in another church before here?

Dean Van Farowe [00:03:03] I did not. This is the one place that I've served since seminary.

Sarah Nemeth [00:03:07] Did you always desiring to move to an urban area?

Dean Van Farowe [00:03:12] Pretty much, yes.

Sarah Nemeth [00:03:16] Just from maybe talking to others, or from your own educational background, what is the difference between a urban church and a rural? Or a suburban?

Dean Van Farowe [00:03:27] Definitely diversity, both culturally, economically, racially very diverse compared to those other two that I've experienced. I know there's exceptions to that. The kinds of experiences that I have compared to my suburban and rural colleagues are different, because of low income issues that are related to ministry here, because of cross-cultural sometimes challenges, people getting along with people who are different. Those would be the things that come to mind,I think. There's also a sense of politics, or what I would call powers that be, have an impact on life here in ways that is less visible in the rural or suburban area. I think there is a lot of power happening anywhere you go, but in the city it's somehow more present. I have to think more about why that is. Maybe because you have such a diversity of opinions, and voices, and experiences, and cultures; so a decision that is made on a level of power has a different impact on people that are there. And there's more opinions to weigh before you make a decision, whereas in a small town there is more of a group think that tends to be uniform, I think. I don't know what the stats would say, but in my experience at least, more of a uniform perspective on a move that a politician or a local leader makes.

Sarah Nemeth [00:05:20] Could you possibly give an example of how politics have, affected maybe your tenure here? Or The church as a whole?

Dean Van Farowe [00:05:37] Well, I'm now on the board of the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, and so just in the past couple of months. I guess that's one reason why I answered the question that way, is that I've seen the importance of that organization in this community, and it does have ties to political channels. In part, because we get things done and the city grants us money to get things done, but when you grant money to an organization, somebody else doesn't get it. Somebody may not like the services that are that that money is used for. Some folks are and end up being beneficiaries of those services and some don't. And not through any ill will of the city or the community development organization, but it's kind of reality. So maybe part of it is the funding aspect in that particular case of community development organization or nonprofit. Typically speaking in a small town, I think those entities are less, probably there's fewer of them and they have less power. So, that's kind of this neighborhood where I've seen some, you know, some politics come into play. I think for an example, another example thinking of the state, so the state funds public transportation. So our current governor is cutting down the amount of money that's coming into cities. And so the 45 bus that used to come by the church is now no longer there, in part because the RTA has had to cut services when the funding has dried up. So that's a direct impact on this community, whereas in a small town, there is no public transit. So you just wouldn't come face to face with a funding issue that directly affects your community. So I think that's more, more common in the city.

Sarah Nemeth [00:07:50] Ok. You mentioned that you are on the board. Was there a particular reason why you ran? Like with a focus of some sort?

Dean Van Farowe [00:07:56] Yes. So Detroit Shoreway is kind of made up of, in a sense, two or three, you know, communities. What I call north of Detroit, tends to be a higher income community. It's the area near Gordon Square Arts District, so there is a lot of money coming into that area, businesses, the theater district itself, the theaters themselves, and then all the restaurants that come around with that. So that's kind of like one community. Then you have our community here, which is the Eco-Village community, tends to be folks interested in, you know, the earth and sustainability. And what I found is pretty connected to both. That that richer, if you will, community north of Detroit and then the third would be south of Madison between Madison and Lorain tends to be lower income, tends to be in poverty in comparison to certainly north of Detroit. So this group in the middle seems to be kind of connected on both sides. But but really I think shares my, I think I'm part of this perspective that we need to do more to help those who are south of Madison. And not, you know, don't forget that we're all part of one community. So because Gordon Square gets so much adulation in the press, you know, LeBron comes and does a show. I mean, it's just so much going on over there. People forget that within a mile is desperate poverty. So I think us in the middle kind of have a sense of that. Maybe in a way that folks north of Detroit, as well as folks south of Madison tend to look down on north of Detroit. Which it's not bad, it's just-- I just think we're in a sense, a hinge community to try to help create good relationships for the whole.

Sarah Nemeth [00:09:58] A lot of people have always talked about the one side and the other side, but not the middle.

Dean Van Farowe [00:10:00] OK. OK.

Sarah Nemeth [00:10:01] So that's a nice perspective.

Dean Van Farowe [00:10:02] OK, good.

Sarah Nemeth [00:10:05] Do you want to go back to when you first moved to Cleveland? What were your person-- did you look directly to this area?

Dean Van Farowe [00:10:14] Mmhmm.Yep.

Sarah Nemeth [00:10:15] What were your first impressions? What did it look like 17-ish years ago?

Dean Van Farowe [00:10:20] It's changed a lot. Pretty much if I were to walk you through the neighborhood in various corners, I could say this has changed, that has changed. Definitely more money coming in has meant that many more businesses are now open compared to when I first came. There have been different kinds of businesses come in. So arts, restaurants, boutiques, if you will, have, you know, niche kind of marketing has increased a lot. And the--Yeah. There really wasn't a lot of other businesses, when I first moved here. So things have changed quite a bit in that sense. Less vacancy in the business community.The diversity of the neighborhood, I think has decreased a little bit with gentrification so that folks moving in tend to be Caucasian, tend to be higher income, and therefore rents are raised and housing is flipped, and so people who don't have those means are having to move out. And that's very sad, I think. So that's a way that's changed as well. Parks have been greatly improved. Green space has improved. Community gardening is more prevalent. Trails and walkways are improved so that it's even more walkable than it was at the beginning, even though it was walkable at the beginning. Streets have been fixed up. Pocket parks have developed, making a particular area nice compared to where, you know, it might have been just an empty lot before. A lot of corner, stores have been eliminated, which to me is both good and bad. Thankfully there are several that are still left.I think those are the things I would mention.

Sarah Nemeth [00:12:30] Ok. What was it maybe demographically when you first moved here? You mentioned that mostly caucasions have moved in since?

Dean Van Farowe [00:12:39] Yeah, I think it's, I think it's something like-- I think when I moved in with something like 50 percent Caucasian and 25 percent African American, 25 percent Latino. I would say probably now the Latino population has grown, the Caucasian population has grown, and probably has somewhat of a decrease in African American. I honestly don't know what the 2010 census said compared to 2000. There's probably updated figures since then for the neighborhood. But anecdotally, I would say right around here, at least more Caucasian, more upper income Caucasian. We, this neighborhood and you probably know this, but back in the '70s, it was called Hillbilly Haven. So folks who moved in from Appalachia to get jobs in the steel mill, so they were Caucasian, but they tended to be lower income. So now we have upper income people moving in. So in some sense, maybe the racial diversity hasn't changed too much, with the exception of an increase in Latinos.

Sarah Nemeth [00:13:42] So maybe a class-?

Dean Van Farowe [00:13:44] So, yes, very much so.

Sarah Nemeth [00:13:47] A class change?

Dean Van Farowe [00:13:47] Mmhmm. Yep.

Sarah Nemeth [00:13:51] What are some of the rewards from working in an urban center?

Dean Van Farowe [00:14:01] Just the friendships with a variety of people. I think one of the great rewards is refugee and immigrant relationships. So, so deep and so wonderful, you don't tend to see those in rural areas as much.That's a real benefit to living here. Rewards? There's a certain sense of the longevity of living here 17 years.The relationships that you develop is a reward. That's, that's true anywhere you go. Awards for living here? I mean, there's a lake. The 12th largest lake in the world is just down the street. That's a great reward. I'm having a little trouble with the word reward.Not quite sure how to connect that to my experience.

Sarah Nemeth [00:14:58] I guess I was going after working in a, like how do you, do you feel good? Obviously I'm sure you feel good helping others.

Dean Van Farowe [00:15:04] Uh huh.

Sarah Nemeth [00:15:04] But how is that different, working in, what kind of, I guess, what do you do for the people in the community? Is this an outreach?

Dean Van Farowe [00:15:11] I see, so in a sense of personal reward?

Sarah Nemeth [00:15:14] Yeah.

Dean Van Farowe [00:15:15] OK. Yes, absolutely. We, I think, are probably seen like a community center. So a lot of neighborhood groups will use our space to do various things. So the reason that the chairs are not here in the sanctuary is because we have a Karate group that meets here three nights a week. So-- so there is a reward of being able to connect with an entire swath of the community. So those folks I mentioned earlier, the upper income, just to use that term, use this space for community meetings and community advocacy. For example, we did a anti-racism seminar last month that was led by some of those newer neighbors. So there's a reward of being a place where people can connect, in a neighborhood that doesn't have a specific community center. So the church, this a very dense neighborhood in terms of housing, so there's a lot of people and this is kind of a central point. 45th to 85th is, you know, roughly the neighborhood we're on 65th. The lake to Lorain, we're kind of almost halfway, and so we're kind of like right in the center of the neighborhood and that tends to be how our church building is used. Our people, I think the most the greatest reward is the multiethnic character. And the example I like to use is after Tamir [Rice] was shot, we had a meeting after Sunday school or after Sunday worship to talk about that, and a diverse group of people that we're talking about it. And to me the heartening thing as a pastor was the African Americans tended to say, "Tamir's mom should never have given him a toy gun." And the Caucasians tended to say, "but, yeah, the police broke every rule" you know, in that case.So just the fact that they could see each other's perspectives, which tend to be on the news, you would think that, well, it's the African Americans who are up in arms and it's the Caucasians who are supporting the police. So it was neat to hear people really understanding the situation for its complexities. So that was really encouraging to me. So it's a reward working in a multi-ethnic community and working to try to build those bridges.

Sarah Nemeth [00:17:28] That was a really interesting with all of the sensationalization--

Dean Van Farowe [00:17:28] Right. Right.

Sarah Nemeth [00:17:28] -- of it on the news, to hear that from actual people.

Dean Van Farowe [00:17:36] Mmhmm, yeah. Yes.

Sarah Nemeth [00:17:42] Do you live nearby the community?

Dean Van Farowe [00:17:44] I live next door to the church here. That's a church owned home. So the pastor gets to live there. So, yeah, beautiful 100-year-old house. I think I like to say I have the shortest commute in the city.

Sarah Nemeth [00:17:59] [Laughter]

Dean Van Farowe [00:17:59] So, ten steps.

Sarah Nemeth [00:18:04] So you're pretty close to the Eco-Village?

Dean Van Farowe [00:18:06] Yes, we're actually in the Eco-Village. Mmhmm, yep.

Sarah Nemeth [00:18:08] What are the paramaters? Is there a--.

Dean Van Farowe [00:18:13] Yeah, I think it's something like 52nd to 74h?. Kind of like a smaller inset of the larger community. I think it goes from like Madison to Bridge. So it's like kind of the center of Detroit Shoreway, if you will.

Sarah Nemeth [00:18:29] Would you say that the people that live within the Eco-Village proper, do they know that they are in the Eco-Village?

Dean Van Farowe [00:18:38] I'd say about half and half. Those of us who do really care about sustainability and that kind of thing in some sense moved here because of that. I would say it doesn't go far enough. It's it's a great concept, and it's great for marketing, but really it doesn't look that much different than your average neighborhood. There are some things that have happened, but it could go a lot farther. And that's not anybody's fault. It's just saying that to market it as Eco-Village is a little deceiving because there isn't quite as much as we, as gets marketed. Like, you know, your question basically asked, do some people know that it's Eco-Village, and they don't. And I think in part that's because there isn't that much going on sustainability wise.

Sarah Nemeth [00:19:27] What are some of the things that are going on?

Dean Van Farowe [00:19:30] So, for example, community gardens is kind of trumpeted, but they're not all that strong in this community, in my opinion. There's trying to build a transit oriented neighborhood so that the train line becomes a focus so that it can be less cars and using public transportation and building a neighborhood around that. I think, I think there's been some attempts towards that. I think there's some movement in that direction. But again, the average person here, I don't think would think of it that way. They would just think, OK, the train's over there, you know, they wouldn't think of it as, because really it's, yeah. I'll just leave it at that.

Sarah Nemeth [00:20:15] The place was chose for a reason to be, like this section--.

Dean Van Farowe [00:20:16] Right.

Sarah Nemeth [00:20:19] Like this section was chose for a reason.

Dean Van Farowe [00:20:19] Yeah. Mmhmm. I think largely because of the train.

Sarah Nemeth [00:20:28] Do you think that-- Do you work with the refugee program?

Dean Van Farowe [00:20:33] Unfortunately, we don't. No.

Sarah Nemeth [00:20:34] Do you have anybody from that program come here?

Dean Van Farowe [00:20:36] Not right now. We did for a while, but they had to move out of state, so. I think highly of it.

Sarah Nemeth [00:20:46] I'm trying to track down someone that knows something about it. I've heard about it--

Dean Van Farowe [00:20:49] You should you should meet Brian Upton of Building Hope in the City. He's probably the most, one of the greatest advocates for refugee work in Cleveland. Building Hope in the City, yep, I could give you this number.

Sarah Nemeth [00:21:05] Ok. Thank You! Do you know much of the history of this church in particular?

Dean Van Farowe [00:21:10] Yes, I do. It's a hundred and twenty-five years old. And at that time when it began, it was called-- this neighborhood. Small section of the neighborhood was called Wooden Shoe Alley because of the Dutch people. And so this is a Dutch background church. The Reformed Church is, had different segments coming from various parts of Western Europe, but this particular church began out of a Dutch Reformed background.And so that was the initial, initial beginning of the church. So they had a church on the East side and that church, um--So when Dutch people moved into this neighborhood, they would walk across the river on Sunday to worship. But as they began to have kids, they said, we don't want our kids to have to walk two miles to go to church, so let's begin a Sunday school over here. So they did that in 1880 and then that morphed into a church community in 1890. And so that's the that's the history of it. The other thing I would say is that like others in the city, it went through a period of white flight, if you will, or suburban sprawl or suburban movement. So 1820s [1920s] this church had, I think I read something like, over 200 people in the Sunday school itself. And by 1960, there were 12 people in the church. So the good thing about that is we started four suburban congregations essentially because where our people went, churches started. The other thing is this church building is new, the other one burned down in 1969. That fire really impacted the church as well. But so. So then in the '70s, we morphed into Appalachian church to the point where we had a branch of the Appalachian library here at the church. We had programs that were directed towards them. So then around 2000 when I came, we morphed more into the African American community. So, now I would say we have somewhere around maybe a third Appalachian-born folks, a third African-American and a third, you know, a variety of things. So. So we've had to morph as the community has changed.

Sarah Nemeth [00:23:38] Ok. But you are a commuity church?

Dean Van Farowe [00:23:40] Yes.

Sarah Nemeth [00:23:41] In the sense that-- do suburban dwellers come in?

Dean Van Farowe [00:23:47] Yes. Yes, it is a mixed church. But our primary mission is this community.

Sarah Nemeth [00:23:52] So they live relatively close?

Dean Van Farowe [00:23:55] We have people from all over the city that come here, primarily near west side. Only part of which, though, from this specific Eco-Village.

Sarah Nemeth [00:24:08] What are some of the programs that you do? Commuity outreach programs?

Dean Van Farowe [00:24:14] Yeah. So I think people would say in the community that we're known as the church that gives out food. So we definitely have a food ministry in, you know, in collaboration with the Cleveland Food Bank. So we're able to put on three different things: meal, two different meals, and then a produce ministry once a month. We are developing a discipleship perspective in terms of personal and family growth. So, for example, this past year we offered a program called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. So we found that a lot of people deal with mental illness. A lot of people deal with emotional issues, that they may not go and talk to a counselor about. But if we can develop a culture of safety and sharing, and a culture of talking through things, you don't need to go to a counselor to do that if you have friends who really will understand you and talk through things with you. So it's also true that sometimes, speaking very generally, but some Christian groups tend to be more focused on knowledge. So we're going to study the Bible and we're going to get facts out of it, which is very important, but it really should lead to transformation. And so one of the areas where the church has, I think, been a little bit lax has been the emotional side of who we are. And so our goal is to create programs and ministries that will affect, you know, the whole person. So the support of the karate program is a kind of a physical development. We've had self-defense classes here as well, so that people can have a sense of not being violent, but being able to protect themselves. So food, small groups and then connecting with the various community groups, supporting them in what they're doing. Karate is one of those things, the seminars and workshops like the anti-racism seminars, a recent one. What else have we done with the community, I'm trying to think there's at least one other one that's not coming to mind right now. But yeah. So, oh, we have a prayer group that meets here and a Spanish speaking congregation as well. So those are the other thing. Oh, and now a youth group to some looking over there at the at the sign. So a great youth group, which is another church that we're in collaboration with and primarily reaching out to African American youth. So which we used to do, and then that program kind of died off. And now this new group, we're working with, to reach kind of a new generation of African American youth. So it's fun to work with others.

Sarah Nemeth [00:26:55] That was one of my other questions, was do you work with the other churches in the area?

Dean Van Farowe [00:27:02] The Spanish church and the youth group church are the primary ones. I have relationships with some of the others, but we don't have any direct collaborations with them at this point in time. People from other churches come here and volunteer. But in terms of a direct partnership, I think it's just those two. Plus the suburban partners in our tribe, so to speak, the Reformed Churches, we all put together those meals. And, for example, we have a big picnic coming up on August 13th where members of the five churches are all getting together for a big picnic. So we do some things together with them as well.

Sarah Nemeth [00:27:40] What does Reformed mean?

Dean Van Farowe [00:27:40] That's a great question. So there's a historical answer to that. And the historical answer is that in Germany, around 16 or I mean 1520. You know, Martin Luther saw a lot of things that were happening in the church that were really unhealthy, and so he wanted to reform the church. And so that was happening in various places in Europe at that time, not just in Germany. Things like a teaching of one priest, that said, if you give money to this cause, you know, building St. Peter's in Rome, you will go to heaven. You know, that kind of thing. He was reacting against because scripture teaches that it's by faith, it's by God's grace, his compassion towards us to invite us into his family. And we respond in faith, not having to merit or get by our actions. His gift is a gift. So that's kind of the history of it. And that led to, you know, some, you know, social transformation.And I think there's some people who would say that that led to kind of a Democratic perspective, because he had the sense and others had the sense that the priestly class had become kind of controlling. They were connected a lot with, you know, politics. And so in a sense, you could say historians, I'm sure, argue about it, but that reformation led to more of a democratic world. I think that's fair to say. But again, like I said earlier about life transformation, we like the phrase "reformed" and "ever reforming" according to the word of God. So if the word of God is talking about getting along with other cultures, then we should become less racist or we should become less prejudiced. So trying to be changing ourselves according to what scripture says and not just kind of going along with being our own, you know, being our own person, we should live like Christ does. So that sense of being reforming would be a keyword for us as well.

Sarah Nemeth [00:29:45] What about, did you ever hear of Interact?

Dean Van Farowe [00:29:49] No, I haven't.

Sarah Nemeth [00:29:50] It was this program, that a whole bunch of suburban and urban churches kind of got together. They had at one point like over seventy congregations all together and they did various programs. I just was wondring if this church was one of them?

Dean Van Farowe [00:30:07] Is it I-N-N-E-R? or I-N-T-E-R?

Sarah Nemeth [00:30:08] I-N-T

Dean Van Farowe [00:30:12] Ok. No, I don't know that now.

Sarah Nemeth [00:30:15] Its defunct now, but um--

Dean Van Farowe [00:30:15] OK. Is it something like the Greater Cleveland Congregations?

Sarah Nemeth [00:30:19] Yeah.

Dean Van Farowe [00:30:19] OK. OK.

Sarah Nemeth [00:30:21] It was kind of a predecessor to that. It sprung from the Loaves & Fishes and the food bank. And they help the community meals every where .Are you part of the community meal, like one church that has a kitchen. And then--

Dean Van Farowe [00:30:38] We don't directly work in collaboration, but for example, our third Friday meal, we have it once. And Bethany Church up the street, Bethany Presbyterian has it the other three. So if you're on West 65th on a Friday night, you know, there's gonna be one of two churches where you're going to know where you're gonna go. So that was set up that way. But no, we don't have any specific collaboration on food except for the Cleveland Food Bank.That's where we get our food from.

Sarah Nemeth [00:31:16] Are there other landmarks in the community as a whole, other than you would say this church?

Dean Van Farowe [00:31:23] Yes. I think that Michael J. Zone Recreation Center is a definite landmark place where people gather. Certainly the Capitol Theater, I think would be a landmark. Typically speaking, the schools. So Gallagher School, Waverley School is being rebuilt on 54th. Yeah, I think those are probably the principal landmarks.

Sarah Nemeth [00:31:50] Is this church nondenominational, or is it specific?

Dean Van Farowe [00:31:55] Yeah, we're part of the Reformed Church in America.So there's about a thousand churches in the states that are part of our group. So.

Sarah Nemeth [00:32:07] You did say that the church adapts to how the community changes. Well-- we'll move on from that I guess, we can move on--What are some things that people do for fun in the community?

Dean Van Farowe [00:32:28] Definitely the parks. Michael J. Zone and the other parks, going to the lake with the with the tunnels that are now accessible there, and there's now a road that goes directly to the lake. That's been part of the sustainability thing that has really been good. The reconnecting our neighborhood with the lake, which is why there's a lot of development north of Detroit, is in part lake views and that connection. Whereas before you drive around your own community to get to the lake, that that was right there. So that's been a huge improvement since I've come here. So people go there. Definitely, you know, community events like the Near West Theatre is a place where people love to go to shows there. I think out of the three theaters that be the one that this community would probably go the most to, because their youth are involved in it. Like my daughter was acting in there on two different shows. Sports and recreation, you know, baseball for the kids or softball teams, you know, soccer games up at Zone, softball, softball, you know, gymnastics, you know, karate here. So kind of things that are active and then are kid oriented, people are going to those things.That's I think that's basically, you know, in the restaurants on Detroit Avenue are a draw as well.

Sarah Nemeth [00:33:55] Do people, since Detroit has been so built up, do you think that some of

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