On September 30, 2012, about 30 people attended the first worship service Trinity Reformed Church (URCNA) of Lethbridge, AB, held at a preaching station in Medicine Hat.
The term “preaching station” may be unfamiliar within United Reformed parlance, but it’s more familiar in Free Reformed dialogue. Trinity’s Rev. Hank Van der Woerd, who was in charge of three preaching stations at one time during his service as an elder in the Free Reformed Church (FRC) prior to attending seminary, explains “preaching station.”
“It means the consistory declaring a worship service in another town,” he says. “That’s what we call the model simply because we’re preaching there.”
“It’s distinctive from a church plant in that it duplicates Trinity’s services,” he adds. “We have a fairly thick umbilical cord to this thing.”
He and Trinity’s other pastor, Rev. Wybren Oord, travel alternate Sundays to Medicine Hat, usually with two elders but sometimes with a deacon and an elder. Medicine Hat is located east northeast of Lethbridge and the round trip consists of 368 km, nearly 230 miles.
“It’s about a two-hour drive one way,” says Rev. Oord. “We have just enough time to make it back to Lethbridge for the evening service.”
Trinity’s services in Lethbridge are at 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. The services at 2080 Saamis Dr. NW in Medicine Hat are at 11:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Coffee for all and a lunch for travelers are served between services. About 20-25 people usually attend, primarily Trinity members up to this point.
The preaching station began at the request of four Trinity families, who live in the Medicine Hat area and have driven the distance to Lethbridge for as many as 12 years.
“After driving the long journey from Medicine Hat to Lethbridge for over a dozen years,” says Rev. Oord, “the families thought it was time to begin efforts for a solid Reformed church for the next generation.”
Rev. Van der Woerd explains that the cost of travel, rent, and advertising is far less than the expense of hiring a full-time church planter. Ads run in local newspapers. About a quarter of the monthly budget funds local broadcasts of R.C. Sproul’s Renewing Your Mind weekend radio program, with a tag inviting listeners to attend Trinity’s services at the Medicine Hat location. Multiple daily radio spots are planned to alert listeners to the services.
Trinity has made a six-month commitment to the preaching station.
“We hope the Spirit will send people our way,” says Rev. Van der Woerd. He reflects that these “full-blown worship services” seem “viable,” and if the work progresses past the trial period, Trinity has the “flexibility” of calling a minister or hiring a candidate to intern temporarily.
“Our desire is to bring the good news of the Gospel to a major city in Southern Alberta,” says Rev. Oord. “We are not trying to steal sheep from other churches, but trusting that the Lord will use this instrument to draw a people unto Himself—people who have wandered away from the church and may not know how to return; people who have questions about God, religion, and the Reformed faith; people who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness. It is our hope that we may be used by the Holy Spirit to tell them about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”