January 29, 2013
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First parish to start Changing Lives Together completes first church improvement project

The Changing Lives Together leadership team at St. Michael the Archangel: (back row) – Sharon Williams, Nancy Rhatigan, Larry Utter, Dan LaViolette, Rev. William Tindall, Lonnie Valentini, Gene O'Dowd, and Inger Griffin (front row) – Kate Barczuk, Rita Virant, Helen Burger, Sr. Carolyn Ratkowski, Pam Little, Maureen Blair, Sara Yarrington, and Julie Maher.

About five years ago, Rev. William Tindall, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia and his lay leadership team set goals to increase parishioner involvement, deciding to prioritize parish facility improvements. The resulting challenge was how to organize a cost-effective campaign to raise the funds and ignite support from those in the pews. When the Changing Lives Together campaign was in its earliest stage of being organized, Father Tindall made sure that St. Michel’s would be the first of more than 250 parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit ultimately participating in the initiative.

After more than fifty years of use, the parish pews were showing their age.

Launching their Changing Lives Together campaign in February 2011, more than 500 registered households at St. Michael’s have pledged more than $737,000 – enough to enable the parish to recently complete its top priority – restoring worn out pews and kneelers in the church.

“Our pews are solid oak and were installed when the church was built in 1961,” explained Larry Utter, Business Manager at St. Michael’s and a parishioner for more than 30 years. “More than 50 years of use resulted in the pews becoming gouged, scratched and faded,” he continued. “The kneelers deteriorated so much that nails occasionally penetrated the padding, which brought discomfort instead of reverence,” he said. “We found a firm in Fraser, Audio Woodworking that refurbished the pews at the main chapel at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, and they got our pew and kneeler restoration done on time and on budget. We’re ecstatic with the results and really pleased that the work went to a family-owned business in southeast Michigan,” Utter said.

The same pews after restoration by Audia Woodworking & Fine Furniture of Fraser.

St. Michael was among 18 parishes participating in the pilot wave of Changing Lives Together, which helped to determine the feasibility of the archdiocesan-wide campaign and refine how each parish campaign should be organized and implemented. “One of our most important steps was getting about 100 parishioner volunteers involved in making phone calls to their fellow parishioners, encouraging them to attend Mass and asking for prayer intentions,” he said. “Pretty much every organization in the parish was involved, including school parents, seniors, the women’s guild, the ushers, and the men’s spirituality group. This start to our initiative had nothing to do with money – it was about reaching out to our extended parish family.  We were able to update our parish registry, build a prayer intention list built a prayer list, and started a prayer team that prayed weekly during the campaign,” Utter said.

As funds become available, other facility improvements planned at St. Michael the Archangel include replacing the church doors, and potential upgrades to the heating and air conditioning system. An architectural study is planned in the months ahead to determine the feasibility of renovating the church vestibule and making the restrooms accessible to the handicapped.

Updated February 2013


Changing Lives Together is a series of parish campaigns to generate resources to fulfill parish-developed plans and priorities. Learn more about the initiative in your parish.