GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (RNS) Decades ago, Daniel Parker would pretend to be a preacher, belting out sermons as he jumped up and down on his bed.
His big sister, Doriane, was right in there, too, doing her best “Hallelujah Jesus” into the spiky end of her hairbrush.
Someday, the kids decided, they would be preachers together at their own church. The Parker siblings are at it again. This time, with a real microphone—and a real church.
“Get out of your seats!” Doriane Parker-Sims shouts amid the frenzy of worship at Kingdom Life Ministries. “Go find three people here and tell them God is doing something wonderful in their life, and give them a hug.”
“Open your mouth and celebrate the king of kings!” her brother hollers.
The siblings started the nondenominational church nine years ago in Daniel’s basement. “We had seven people and my dogs,” he recalled. “My dogs were the most vocal ones there.”
These days, about 600 people show up at an old factory building. They’ve fixed it up, with carpeting and lighting and decorative decals on the windows that mimic stained glass.
“This is a building,” Daniel says. “What makes it a church is the people. That’s why we could have it in my house, or at a hotel. It’s a church, wherever we are. A group of people who love you, in spite of you.”
The siblings share the pastor duties, but Daniel also has a full-time job as a computer acquisitions specialist. Daniel, 32, is dynamic, charismatic and always on the move. Doriane, 41, is quieter, thoughtful, deliberate.
“My sister spends more time praying than most people watch TV or eat,” Daniel said. “That’s her calling. I’m the person who takes care of the building, who meets with the finance committee.”
“I do the prayin’, you do the payin’,” his sister said, laughing.
The Parker pastors are biracial, born to a black father and a white mother.
“Being mixed is a hard place to be,” Doriane said, sitting in the empty church on a weekday afternoon. “You’re not light enough to be white. You’re not dark enough to be black. But our parents taught us it’s not a negative. It’s a positive. We have the best of both worlds.”
In elementary school, kids would call her “Oreo” or “zebra,” she recalled. “I was so shy,” she said, shaking her head.
“Now, I can preach to hundreds. In kindergarten they thought there was something wrong with me because I never talked.”
“Daniel, on the other hand, came out feet first and never stopped running,” she said with a laugh. “At church, we had to make a barricade to keep Daniel in the pew. Mom on one end and me on the other.”
The siblings grew up in a Pentecostal church where, Doriane said, “The preaching, the singing, the Bible teaching—it changed our lives.”
Doriane, who her brother called “squeaky clean,” initially planned to go into business while Daniel, “headed down the wrong way,” as he put it, figured he’d play pro football.
He took classes at local colleges while working at a computer company. Doriane did one year of college and got married at 19. She had four children in six years and devoted herself to motherhood. She was a pastor’s wife for 15 years before the marriage ended in divorce in 2004.
She was suddenly a single mother of four.
“Everything that happens to you shapes you,” she says. “Being a single mom, experiencing a divorce—there was a sense of failure I felt. Just the hardship of it. Just the brokenness. Brokenness.”
Her brother, listening quietly, spoke up.
“It helps deepen your compassion,” said Daniel, who also got divorced after three years of marriage and wrestled with his own sense of failure, particularly as his son, Isaac, went to live with his mother.
Each of them remarried. Daniel’s son got a new baby brother and two step-siblings from his wife’s first marriage. His sister remarried on Valentine’s Day and her four kids joined her husband’s two kids.
The two siblings talk a lot about reaching beyond the walls of their church. They’ve brought in substance abusers, preached and ministered at a mental health clinic and last year gave away 12,000 pounds of food to the neighborhood.
“They’re reaching a significant number of young people that some of us older pastors aren’t reaching,” said another local pastor, the Rev. Nathaniel Moody, who has watched the young pastors grow. “Young people who would otherwise still be sitting on their porches, continuing their bad habits.”
The siblings say the struggles they’ve faced are sort of mirrored in the greasy old building they turned into a place of deafening praise.
“When we came here, the building didn’t seem like it had a future,” Doriane mused. “But God is a God of restoration. He takes a life messed up, and he makes it beautiful.”
(Terri Finch Hamilton writes for The Grand Rapids Press in Grand Rapids, Mich.)