The Adventist Apostle of Ecumenism

The Adventist Apostle of Ecumenism The Unique Ministry of Felix Lorenz, Jr.


A Seventh-day Adventist pastor of non-SDA churches for over 36 years, Felix Lorenz, Jr. has been both a devout Adventist and a member of the United Church of Christ (UCC) since 1963. His dual membership in the SDA church and UCC is both a matter of concern for some Adventists and an inspiration for others. A public relations professional by education and experience, Lorenz--who insists on not being addressed as "Pastor," or by any such title--describes his ministry as "putting Seventh-day Adventism in a favorable light and witnessing as a Seventh-day Adventist to non-Adventists."

Now retired from public relations, business and education, Lorenz serves full-time as a minister to two small churches, St. Paul¹s United Church of Christ and Dearborn Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), both in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. He began pastoring them in 1990, after spending 15 years as associate minister of Cass Methodist Church in Detroit's inner city, then six years as minister of historic Old St. John¹s UCC, and a brief time as interim minister of Greenfield and Breckenridge Congregational churches. He also currently serves as chaplain for the Wayne County Sheriff and the Wayne County Emergency Response Team and is active in many religious and civic organizations, openly and publicly proclaiming his Adventist faith.In addition to all this, Felix has been an active member of the Plymouth Adventist church for over 25 years. He has served as its elder, head elder, choir director, and chairman of the school board, until critics recently stopped his participation out of opposition to his dual membership. This 78-year-old self-described "tentmaker" says, "My membership in the United Church of Christ does not violate Seventh-day Adventism, in policy or in principle. I am proud to be part of the UCC, proud of its history. Dual membership is in no way a repudiation of my Adventism. Unusual? Yes, my ministry is unique, structured only for me." He goes on, "It is not a ministry for new seminary graduates but only for a mature Adventist. I know the Bible, the Spirit of Prophecy and Adventism as well as any of my critics. I am a fourth-generation, lifelong Seventh-day Adventist. I taught Bible doctrines and Daniel and the Revelation at Madison College and in several academies. Incidentally, the meditations in my church bulletins have for more than 20 years been quotes from Ellen G. White, usually from The Desire of Ages."

Since 1944, back when he was just a young man of 22, Lorenz has been a self-supporting lay preacher, inspired by the example of the apostle Paul. During 1949-53, he attended the SDA Theological Seminary, then in Washington, D.C. There he was told that his goal of becoming a self-supporting Adventist minister was not really an option, and upon the advice of his dean, he eventually went into public relations so he would have a vocation with which to make a living while serving as a lay minister. Working in public relations has paid his bills at times, but out of his commitment to be self-supporting Lorenz has also worked as a greenhouse transplanter, electrician, surveyor, mechanical contractor, symphony orchestra musician, taxi driver, driving instructor, registered music therapist, radio disc jockey, and singing evangelist, to name just a few of his many occupations. Still, throughout the years, his two main occupations have been teaching and the ministry.

"After 55 years of ministry, [Lorenz] is still effective. What is he emphasizing? To take Jesus literally and seriously. Make Jesus real in your life. Don't judge others. Love everyone unconditionally, even those who are different. Don¹t be dogmatic; rather be open-minded. Celebrate the love of God. Celebrate life by being positive and healthy," former student Gerald Morgan affirmed via e-mail. A former Presbyterian Youth minister, he now belongs to one of Lorenz's current churches.

"Are these SDA teachings? I don¹t know," says Morgan. "What Felix demonstrates, teaches, preaches, and talks, he presents as the teachings of Christ, not the teachings of a particular sect. That's not to say he avoids SDA distinctives. Each week's bulletin carries a paragraph penned by Ellen G. White. He has given me several books and tapes from SDA publishing houses and has gently urged me to honor the Sabbath. The distinctives do not seem to be central to Felix's ministry, although he makes it clear they are important to him. He is not belligerent or dogmatic about SDA distinctives, so I respond well to his overall ministry. From what I observe, others do as well."

At first, Lorenz worked primarily within Adventist institutions. He pastored two Adventist churches, performed as a singing evangelist, directed Adventist choirs, taught music and Bible at Adventist academies, and taught music, Bible and speech at Madison College. Eventually, however, several key incidents caused him to drastically change the direction of his ministry.While doing graduate work in theology at Vanderbilt, Lorenz studied under Dr. Nels Ferre, a Congregational minister and a Methodist layman. He encouraged Lorenz to go into a similar ministry, which the younger man just could not fathom at the time. Several years later, Lorenz and his wife, Lucille, moved to Detroit, where he worked with Henry Warren, a Methodist conscientious objector, social activist and pacifist, who became a major influence in Lorenz's eventual conversion to social activism and pacifism. In 1963, Lorenz was introduced to Gordon Outlaw, a devout Christian who told him that God wanted him to be at Cass Methodist Church. Understandably skeptical, the young Adventist lay minister was ultimately persuaded that God wanted him to be a Methodist minister, even though he and his wife were members of the Farmington Adventist church. Lorenz began preaching concurrently in both churches; every other Sabbath at Farmington, alternate Sabbaths in the many other Adventist churches in the area, and most Sunday mornings or Wednesday evenings at Cass.

It was the beginning of both an ecumenical ministry and inner-city involvement for Lorenz, who began to take seriously the Sermon on the Mount. In hindsight, he sees his faith journey as having changed him from a right-wing Republican to a left-wing social activist, from a competitive capitalist to a "co-op" enthusiast, from a triumphalist to an "ecumaniac." He concedes that it has been trying and very painful but, again like Paul, believes that the rewards have far outweighed the cost. In the spirit of Paul, who continued his work despite criticism and persecution by the Pharisees, Lorenz continues to minister to those to whom he feels he was called. And finally, like his mentor, he uses his writings to minister: according to his records, he publishes 425 copies of his weekly sermon, which are mailed out and read by about 150 Adventists as well as non-Adventist ministers, Catholic priests and nuns, and at least one avowed atheist.

"I think a whole lot of Felix and have a great deal of confidence in his ministry," stated Pastor LeRoy Leiske (an Adventist minister) in a telephone interview. "He's a very broad-minded Christian. He has a heart big enough to love people of all denominations. I know he's had problems with [certain] churches but he has withstood it all and is a full-fledged member of our church ministering to people who are not members of our church. It¹s an opportunity to gain a great blessing. God loves Felix." Leiske also confirmed that Felix is presently undergoing chemotherapy to deal with an ailment that Felix would probably prefer to dismiss as merely a "thorn in the flesh."

Sandra Furukawa is a second-generation Adventist, and PUC graduate in journalism. She is both a student and staff member at the multi-denominational Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.