July 10, 2020

Meet the Unconventional, Unapologetically Inclusive Jeremy Wicks

Pastor. Police reservist. Body piercer.
By Ross Boissoneau | June 20, 2020

When he was growing up, Jeremy Wicks didn’t want to be a baseball player. Or a doctor. Or an astronaut.

Nope, he had three career vocations in mind: police officer, teacher, pastor. Now the 41-year-old has done all three, though he’s not done yet. 

Wicks is the pastor at Mosaic Church, a Methodist church located just north of the intersection of Three Mile and Garfield roads in Traverse City. He moved here from the Lansing area with his wife, Toinette, and their children — Braxton, Alyxandria, MaKayla, and William — with the express purpose of starting the church — one that would be grounded in a sense of belonging for anyone and everyone.

THE JOURNEY NORTH
The family’s journey north started when Rev. Anita Hahn, superintendent of Northern Waters District of the Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church, said she didn’t see a modern, progressive experience available in the northwest lower Michigan region. She asked Wicks what such a church would look like, and apparently liked his answer so much she sent him to Traverse City.

“I reluctantly accepted that [assignment],” he said. “I landed in January 2019 … to start a progressive expression of church.” 

If by modern and progressive, one means accepting of all persons, reaching out to the marginalized, and supporting the LGBTQ and minority communities, Wicks appears to be delivering. 

The welcome statement at Mosaic Church puts it in black and white: “We welcome those who are single, married, divorced, separated, or partnered. We extend a special welcome to those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, asexual, intersex, and any other gender or sexual orientation — and their allies, families and friends. You are welcome if you are filthy rich, dirt poor, or no hablo Inglés.”

It goes on from there to extend that welcome to “soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree huggers … those who have or had addictions, phobias, abortions, or a criminal record.”

In short, the church Wicks leads welcomes everybody.

WALKING THE TALK
Wicks and fellow church members were on hand at a local Black Lives Matter protest recently, standing up for what they believe in while handing out water and engaging in conversations with fellow protesters. “We want to radically love all people,” he explained, including those who look or act differently. 

Wicks said he recognizes that as a white heterosexual male, it’s easy to take for granted that everyone has all the freedoms and advantages he enjoys. To combat that perception, he said, “We put ourselves in potentially uncomfortable situations with others not like us. As a white male — a WASP — I have power that black individuals, my sisters and brothers, don’t have. It’s a huge responsibility to use that privilege whenever I can.” 

He’s quick to admit he doesn’t have all the answers. “I don’t try to take over. I take direction from the LGBTQ community or from people of color.”

Jared McKiernan said he and his wife, Abby, got connected with the church through the nonprofit they run, Spark in the Dark, which connects those in need with those who can address those needs. “It’s a peer-to-peer resource-sharing Facebook group with over 11,000 members,” McKiernan said.

He said Spark in the Dark often works as a hub in connecting various nonprofit groups, and Wicks demonstrates that same approach. “That’s what sparked the relationship,” McKiernan said. “Jeremy and his family are awesome. They walk the walk.

“Jeremy leads by example,” he continued. “At the Black Lives Matter protest, he was all decked out in chaplain mode. He cares about the community — both the church community and the community at large.”

Wicks is upfront about how his personal life has impacted his professional life as a pastor. “I have a bisexual daughter. She’s out and proud.” That community — like all others — is welcomed at Mosaic Church. “I meet regularly with Northern Michigan People's Pride,” he said, noting he is good friends with the owner and patrons of the gay nightclub Side Traxx.

Linda Shields said she and her partner, Cathy Skowronski, are members of the church, and she enthusiastically endorses Wicks and his work. “He is an amazing man. This church is open to all people. So many organized churches tell you they’re open and affirming, but they aren’t. This church is open to all people, [whether] battling alcohol, black, gay, poor … We love going there. It’s more family than church.”

That family also includes Charles Comber and Natalie Ferrer. The husband and wife team owns and operates the tattoo parlor and beauty salon Pinups and Needles. The couple was involved with the gay community, and Wicks had contacted them about how he could get involved as well. “Jeremy reached out to use to see how he could help. Not many people had experience with church,” Ferrer said.

One thing led to another, and soon the couple began attending services at Mosaic Church. “He’s passionate and accepting of everybody. We’ve become close friends,” said Comber.

SO WHAT’S IT LIKE?
The services at the church blend the traditional and the unconventional. There’s music and Bible readings and a message from the pulpit. But rather than being seated in pews, or even lines of chairs facing the chancel, the room is filled with round tables surrounded by chairs. Items on the tables are designed to engage every age, from Bibles to coloring books. Wicks said the atmosphere is casual, and people are welcome to get up and get a cup of coffee during the service.

Oh, that educational and police work? While Wicks lived downstate, he was a member the educational community at Williamston Middle School, working as an athletic director and discipline officer. “I helped institute new forms of intervention,” he said. It was toward the end of his time there that he went into the ministry.

After becoming a pastor, he became involved with the local police department as a chaplain. That led directly to his becoming part of the police reserve corps. He said it was basically like training to become a police officer, only without the police academy. “I had to qualify with a firearm. It’s funny — I became one of the best marksmen,” Wicks said.

As a reserve, he was occasionally called to serve as a backup when needed. When on duty, he had the same responsibilities, liability, and authority as any other officer. He said he enjoyed his time and would be interested in a similar position in this area. “If I was ever to leave the ministry, I’d look at a career in law enforcement.”

While he has reached his three major career goals, Wicks isn’t done yet. He is also a licensed piercer at Pinups and Needles. “Right before the COVID-19 (shut things down), we brought him on board as a piercer,” said Comber.

“I was looking for a creative outlet,” Wicks said. “I didn’t want to get stuck on the church island.”

Wicks said when he was approached about becoming a body piercer, he didn’t immediately buy in. “I was horrified at first. It’s a little edgy,” he admitted. But as he thought about it, he realized it would be another way to reach out to those he’d like to serve.  Then he had to receive permission from his supervisors.

“When I called the superintendent, Reverend Jodie Flessner (the area agent of the Bishop) and said, What do you think, it was the longest pause,” Wicks said with a laugh. After reflecting on it, he was given the go-ahead; the role was ultimately seen as another means of connecting with others.

It’s in keeping with what Wicks admits is a rather non-traditional approach to ministering to anyone and everyone. “I have no problem going to a drag show and meeting new people. Bayside Bombshells are some of my best friends. We do not believe anybody is incompatible with the teachings of God,” he said. 

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