The stately building of First United Reformed Church sits on a tree-lined corner of Oak Lawn, Illinois. The historic building reflects a lengthy history of Christian worship, and the congregation celebrated its 100th anniversary on September 13, 2015. About 250 people attended that day’s morning service, 180 enjoyed a fellowship lunch, and 200 participated in the afternoon’s celebratory service. Robust congregational singing augmented each service, accompanied by Mr. Justin Rich on the organ and Miss Esther Van Groningen on the piano.
The congregation’s former pastor, Rev. Sy Voortman, greeted worshipers at the morning service and challenged the congregation to continued faithfulness. Current pastor Rev. Ted Gray led the service and administered communion. Rev. Larry Johnson spoke from Matthew 5:14-16 on “A Shining Witness for God in Oak Lawn and the World.”
Because the building is not air conditioned, attendees were grateful for sunshine and cool temperatures. After morning worship, refreshments were served outdoors. During this time and the subsequent meal, former and current members of the congregation renewed acquaintances and enjoyed fellowship with each other.
A hymn sing was held prior to the second service. For the final hymn, all men were invited forward and sang the first three stanzas of “How Great Thou Art,” with the congregation joining on the last one.
Rev. Gray says, “There were many tears of joy as we remembered the greatness and goodness of the Lord to His church.”
At the 1:30 service, Rev. Ken Van Kampen preached from Acts 2:42-47 on “All First Oak Lawn Needs.” According to Rev. Gray, he emphasized the power of God to equip and guide His people into another era of service. “Both sermons focused on the wonderful grace of God given to our church over her history.”
Rev. Johnson, a former URCNA minister, is ordained in the OPC and teaches at Zion Christian School in Byron Center, MI. Rev. Van Kampen pastors Atoka Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Atoka, TN. The two ministers are sons of the congregation.
“Both ministers uniquely exemplify the way the Oak Lawn church has been used by God to help other churches,” explains Rev. Gray. “Rev. Johnson and Rev. Van Kampen grew up in Oak Lawn, and then in God’s providence were moved to other parts of God’s kingdom for service. The same has been true for countless other church leaders. Almost all the churches in the surrounding area and beyond have members who grew up or were baptized in Oak Lawn.”
One speaker referred to First Church as “a feeder church” due to the way God has used it to feed so many other congregations.
“It truly was a wonderful day,” says Rev. Gray. “Having experienced the Lord’s faithful blessings for the last century, we look forward to the future, trusting that our faithful God will lead and guide us, and we pray that He will continue to use us as a witness in our community and as a blessing in His kingdom.”
Rev. Ted Gray accepted the call to First Church in 2004, and the congregation has been part of the URCNA since 2009.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 9 of the December 9, 2015 issue of Christian Renewal.