Many URCNA members grieved to hear about the closing of the Grace Church of Kauai, in Hawaii, on Easter Sunday in 2016. The consistory of Grace United Reformed Church in Torrance, CA, had supervised the church plant for more than eight years.
Rev. Derrick Vander Meulen explains that his family moved to Kauai and he took up the church planter role in June of 2009, after the work had already existed for about a year and a half.
“When we came, only one family had their membership with our overseeing church,” he says. “Soon after our arrival, three other families committed to the work and transferred their memberships. In addition to these, we had a few families and individuals who worshipped with us but were unwilling to become members.”
The group slowly grew to include ten member families with several children and additional regular visitors. By 2013, fifty or more people regularly attended services. Then three of the core families, each with three children, moved off the island due to work and economics.
“They all hated to leave Grace Church of Kauai, and we shed many tears over their departure,” Rev. Vander Meulen says.
Worship attendance remained strong at about 35 people, and members prayed for God to bless their efforts with more growth. But two additional families left the island for job-related reasons in 2015, including the group’s elder.
“So over the past three years we’ve seen declining numbers, we lost our elder and had minimal prospects for replacing him, and with the diminished numbers came diminished financial giving,” he says. “In December of 2015, the council of Grace URC decided to shut down the ministry.”
This sad news led to a rapid decline in attendance. Many people chose to no longer attend, and one family with four children decided they would move to the mainland early in May.
“There are still four families and a few individuals who are left,” Rev. Vander Meulen says. “Where will they go for worship? I don’t know. There is no other church that is Reformed or even remotely similar. As long as my family is on the island, we will meet at one of our homes for Sunday worship, where I will preach. But when we leave, those left will struggle to find a church home.”
The Vander Meulens are in the process of preparing their home for sale and packing for their move at the end of May. He is available for call and has agreed to serve Coram Deo Reformation Church in Littleton, CO, as interim pastor for six months.
He says, “When the decision was made in December to close the church plant, I requested that we continue for a few months, and the council agreed. We decided that Easter Sunday fit the timeline and would be an appropriate closing date. Although the occasion was sad, the reminder that Jesus lives as head of the church is a great comfort. He is the one who opens doors and closes doors. None of this was a surprise to Him. And will not the judge of all the earth do right?”
Easter, indeed, brings resurrection to mind. Seeds that lie dormant for years may again spring to life.
While many grieve to bid Aloha to Grace Church in Kauai, that Hawaiian greeting is used for meeting as well as departing. Who knows what God has in mind for the saints in Kauai?
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the May 25, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.