>Gig Harbor effort dies before planting

>A mission effort that initially showed much promise has been discontinued. Bellingham URC recently decided that its church planting work the Gig Harbor area of Washington would end on November 9.

Although a number of reasons led to the decision, the two biggest factors were lack of finances and loss of core group members to another church plant.

Mark Vander Pol, a 2009 graduate of Westminster Seminary California and a candidate in the URCNA, had been working closely with the group, traveling from his home in Escondido every other week to lead a Bible study. He explains that the effort looked very promising in March and April with as many as 25 people attending the study.

Believing this was sufficient indication of interest, the Bellingham URC hoped to bring a man to the work full-time and begin Sunday services in late summer or early fall. They sent a letter requesting financial assistance to the all the councils of the URCNA, but that letter failed to garner any additional funding. The Bellingham URC council was forced to put on hold their plans to begin regular worship services.

About the same time, a lay pastor from the congregation formerly attended by many of the URCNA Bible study members initiated his own church plant and began holding Sunday worship services. Being familiar with this leader, over half of the Bible study families began attending those services.

Mr. Vander Pol explains that the idea of merging efforts had been explored earlier, but significant liturgical and ecclesiological differences prohibited combining efforts.

Although the Bible study continued for some time in hope that more funding would become available or that changes in format would bring in more core families, he says it became apparent this fall that the work was no longer feasible.

Although the demise of the effort is sad for all those involved, Mr. Vander Pol relates a consolation. Seeking a new church home, some families from the Bible study visited a small independent Reformed church in the area, in spite of having heard negative things about it. What they discovered was that the teaching and liturgy were biblical and Christ-centered.

“What they’d heard about this pastor was completely unfounded. This man has been a faithful minister for 18 years and has brought this small congregation of about 30 to 40 people, formerly a community church, to a theology that is very Reformed,” he says, “which at least two of the Bible study families have found very refreshing to their weary souls.”

In the Lord’s providence, the death of the URCNA Gig Harbor church plant may actually inject life into an already existing Reformed church.

Nearly all the members of the Bible study have church homes in Reformed fellowships, although most are traveling farther than they would like each Sunday.

As for Mr. Mark Vander Pol, he will continue living in Escondido while working at his full-time position as Webmaster for the White Horse Inn. And he will continue “waiting for a call.”

“It’s discouraging,” he says, but “seeing how things have worked out, I can hold my head up. The Lord is faithful.”

The above article appeared on pages 13 & 14 of the December 15, 2010 issue of Christian Renewal.

© Glenda Mathes, 2010

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