Rev. Ralph Pontier began his ministry in sunny Florida, moved to northwest Iowa, and then much farther north and west to Alberta. After his emeritation, he and Lois moved back to Iowa, but this time to Pella, in the southcentral part of the state.
A 1976 graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Rev. Pontier was ordained in the Cape Coral CRC in 1977. In 1986, he accepted a call to First CRC in Orange City, IA. That congregation became the Redeemer Alliance Reformed Church in 1994 and joined the URCNA in 1995. Rev. Pontier then served Emmanuel Reformed Church of Neerlandia from 2008 until May of 2017. Interestingly, his formal ministry has been bookmarked by pastorates of nine years before and after a 23-year stint in Orange City.
May 7 was Rev. Pontier’s final Sunday as Emmanuel’s regular pastor. At the noon service, he preached from Jude 20-21 on “Keep Yourself in the Love of God,” with the theme: Effective service and personal assurance require seeking God. His four points were: 1) The love of God in which we are to keep ourselves is a sovereign love in which we are kept; 2) Keep yourself in the love of God by building yourself up in the faith; 3) Keep yourself in the love of God by praying in the Spirit; and 4) Keep yourself in the love of God by waiting for the mercy of our Lord in eternal life.
At the 2:00 PM service, Rev. Pontier spoke about “What the Father Seeks,” based on John 4:19-24. His three points were: 1) He seeks worshippers. Worship is the most important thing we do as Christians; 2) He seeks true worshippers. Worship must be to the true God and in the manner he prescribes; and 3) He seeks true worshippers who worship in spirit and in truth. No longer do we worship at an earthly sanctuary. Rather by the Spirit, our worship is directed to the heavenly Zion, the true Temple.
Emmanuel held a farewell program for the Pontiers on Friday, May 12. According to Yvonne Harink, different church groups gave special presentations. The Men’s Society sang, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” the Young People’s Society organized a “How Well Do You Know the Minister” game, the Young Adults presented a humorous skit, the church choir performed some hymns, and various members shared stories and memories. The Women’s Society thanked Lois for nine years of active participation and presented her with a plaque of Isaiah 40:31.
“A power point presentation highlighted some of the memories of the last nine years, such as weddings, baptisms, professions of faith, church picnics, canoe trips, and Gleaners,” Yvonne wrote. “The congregation also compiled a photo album with a page from each family.” Children sang “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music, and the congregation sang, “God Be with You Til We Meet Again.” She added, “After the program, everyone was invited to stay for food and fellowship, thankful for the blessings provided by a heavenly Father, and confident that He will provide also for the future.”
Rev. Pontier said, “I was deeply moved by the expressions of appreciation from the congregation while yet keeping the evening light-hearted. I was also grateful for the many greetings sent from URC and Canadian Reformed Churches, with two men traveling from as far as Lethbridge (seven-hour drive) to be there, and two local CanR congregations giving gifts to help express their gratitude for my ministry among them. Between the two Neerlandia CanR congregations, I preached a total of 53 sermons, and in the Barrhead CanR congregation I preached 33 times.”
More than a year ago, Rev. Pontier requested that his council grant him emeritus status effective May 8, 2017. In accordance with the Church Order, Classis Western Canada offered concurring advice. Rev. Pontier explained that he prefers the term ‘emeritus status’ to ‘retirement’ since he hopes “to remain active in ministry in various ways yet to be discovered.”
Following his official change in ministry status, he preached in URC and CanR churches in Edmonton on May 14 and returned to Emmanuel’s pulpit as a guest minister on May 21 for one service, during which two of his catechumens publicly professed their faith.
The Pontiers hoped to arrive at their new home near Pella, IA, on May 26. Part of the attraction to the area, no doubt, was the presence of two daughters. Grace is married to Rev. Doug Barnes, minister of Covenant Reformed Church. Sarah and Dan DeVries (Prairie City) and their family also belong to the congregation. Other siblings include David and Andrea Pontier in Oak Forest, IL, Jonathan and Tonya Pontier in Orange City, IA, and Rachel Pontier, who is transitioning from Houston, TX, to Macon, GA. Rev. Pontier and Lois have 15 grandchildren and anticipate another later this year.
Rev. Pontier does not view emeritation as inactivity. Even before the move, he was scheduled to preach in northwest Iowa for three Sundays in June. Synod Wyoming 2016 had elected him as alternate and Rev. Talman Wagenmaker as Stated Clerk. But upon the unanimous advice of the Grace Waupun council, Rev. Wagenmaker declined to take up the appointment, and Rev. Pontier will now serve as the federation’s Clerk. He has also been appointed as Secretary pro tem for NAPARC, subsequent to the resignation of Rev. Ron Potter for health reasons.
URCNA Church Order permits emeritation due to age or disability, but declares that a minister of the Word “is bound to the service of the churches for life” (Article 9).
“Ministers in good health ought not to be too quick to seek emeritation, especially if there is a shortage on ministers,” Rev. Pontier said. “But neither should older men try and stay on too long since age inevitably reduces stamina and vigor even where no obvious disability is present. The ministry is demanding and stressful, requiring vitality and strength. But each person and each situation is different, and it is good that there is no one rule binding on all.”
He said, “Retirement, as a time of self-indulgence, is a worldly concept that has no place in the lives of God’s people. But retirement as an opportunity for different avenues of service appropriate to age and changing circumstances is a gift not to be squandered.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the June 14, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.