Reflections and writing by a scribe who blogs and ascribes glory to God.
The 2016 General Synod of the Reformed Church in America affirmed marriage as “a joyful covenanting between a man and a woman,” but Synod’s atmosphere was more melancholy than joyful. And a similar level of disunity would strain any marriage.
Some delegates, who anticipated difficult decisions regarding denominational affiliation, felt a sense of reprieve.
“God showed His right arm of mercy upon the RCA, in my opinion,” said Rev. Mark Jicinsky, a delegate who pastors Ebenezer Reformed Church in Leighton, IA. “Many of us arrived thinking we needed to prepare to part ways with the RCA when Synod would finish, but not many left with those same feelings.”
Other delegates experienced Synod from a very different perspective. Rev. Jacinsky believes it was “an extremely difficult Synod, if not devastating” for many who were “shocked and saddened” by decisions. He said, “One thing was clear, the grief the last day of Synod was palpable as we all felt it.”
The lack of unity was recognized by denominational officials. “We do not have agreement as a denomination, and we do not have consensus,” reported General Secretary Dr. Tom De Vries. “[T]he decisions of General Synod illustrated how much diversity of thought there is within our denomination. For those looking for a more traditional view of marriage as between a man and a woman, the results of Synod were welcomed. However, those who sought to move the RCA to a fully open and affirming denomination experienced a General Synod that was not willing to go in that direction.” Regarding the mood of delegates, he added, “Synod ended on a somber note, with a recognition of nearly all delegates that the decisions of Synod brought pain to brothers and sisters.”
Still he expressed his hope in the future of the RCA, challenging its members to love one another “fully and completely” and through that “commitment to love…figure out how to find resolution and reconciliation that is God-honoring, and a witness to our faith in Jesus Christ.”
General Synod met from June 9-14, 2016, on the campus of Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, IL. In addition to actions related to marriage, delegates paved the way for commissioned pastors to become ordained ministers, approved matters related to mass incarceration, encouraged classes to develop family leave policies, and celebrated the RCA’s Transformed and Transforming ministry goal.
General Synod took multiple actions related to human sexuality this year. Delegates voted in favor of elevating the Order for Christian Marriage liturgy to constitutional status. The liturgy had been recommended for use in the churches in 2002, however, becoming part of the constitution would make it the approved form for marriages within the RCA. The document states: “Christian marriage is a joyful covenanting between a man and a woman.”
The recommendation was one of five presented by a special council that met in April, at the direction of the 2015 General Synod, to find “a constitutional pathway forward” regarding human sexuality issues related to “ordination and marriage.”
The other four recommendations called for a report on the church order and past synodical statements, defined marriage as “between two persons,” suggested the establishment of “affinity classes” for like-minded persons, or recommended the appointment of a task force to explore “options and consequences…for grace-filled and orderly separation over time, should the different perspectives regarding human sexuality keep us from remaining as one.” Although delegates debated these four recommendations at length, none were adopted.
The recommendation to make the Order for Christian Marriage liturgy part of the constitution must be approved by two-thirds of the classes and ratified at the 2017 General Synod.
Another action requires the same ratification process because it would amend the RCA’s Book of Church Order. The approved amendment seeks to “assure that marriages solemnized in a church or congregation are between a man and a woman.”
When the original form of this amendment came before the 2015 General Synod, it suggested only that consistories or governing bodies should “determine what marriages may be solemnized in a church or congregation.” Synod 2015 deferred that initial amendment to Synod 2016 to allow the special council to work with it in April. The special council recommended no substantive change, although it suggested emphasizing the authority and responsibility of classes and consistories.
On the floor of Synod this year, a substitute motion was adopted that introduced the language “between one man and one woman.” That substitute motion was reviewed by a committee before coming back for vote. Delegates approved this final form: “The consistory or governing body shall assure that marriages solemnized in a church or congregation are between a man and a woman.”
Again, the above two actions require approval by two-thirds of classes and then synodical ratification in 2017.
Before Synod dismissed, delegates demonstrated compassion by passing this resolution:
No matter what position we as Christians have taken on the moral status of same-sex behavior, we reject all forms of mockery, degrading words and thoughts, economic oppression, abuse, threats, and violence made against members of the LGBTQ+ community, and we call on anyone involved in such behavior to repent and immediately begin walking in obedience to Jesus’ command to love.
A related matter dealt with reparative therapy, which encompasses the spectrum of treatments aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation. Last year, the General Synod answered an overture by directing a committee to study the issue and report this year.
In its research, the study committee discovered documentation of reparative therapy’s adverse effects, but no data supporting its effectiveness.
General Synod responded to that report with a two-pronged approach. All statements regarding the use of such therapies will be removed from the denominational website. General Synod also declared “that the RCA does not support the use of reorientation/reparative therapy but does affirm the power of the Holy Spirit to transform all lives.”
Delegates also approved a motion directing the General Synod Council to “develop processes and guidelines for forming future special councils and RCA-wide groups so that the full diversity of the church may be accurately seen and represented.”
In recent years, the RCA has been defining and developing the role of commissioned pastors. These are elders trained and approved by their classis and commissioned for specific ministry needs such as church planting, ministerial staff, or hospice service.
The 2016 General Synod approved an effort to facilitate the ordination of commissioned pastors as Ministers of Word and sacrament. The action calls for a meeting between the Commissioned Pastor Advisory Team and the board of trustees for the Ministerial Formation Certification Agency in order “to clarify a more seamless path from commissioned pastor training to the Approved Alternate Route process.”
The Approved Alternate Route permits ordination eligibility without a master of divinity degree. The person must meet certain requirements, which are more extensive than those for a commissioned pastor and are listed in the BCO.
Another continuing discussion within the RCA is the subject of mass incarceration. This year’s Synod approved a document, “The Church and Criminal Justice: A Brief Exhortation,” for posting on the new “mass incarceration” page of the denominational website. Churches are encouraged to make use of the document, which laments multiple issues related to incarceration and injustice, including the evils of racism. Among several other things, it affirms a “biblical witness to God’s rich vision of love and justice for all humanity” as well as God’s providence in our lives. It recognizes “our own sinfulness” and the need for a “humane, fair, and appropriately limited” criminal justice system. It calls for a perspective “shaped by the prodigal grace and mercy of God in Jesus” and for prayer that remembers those in prison.
Synod also approved a meeting of persons “interested in the study and work of mass incarceration as the beginning of a learning community.” According to a report on the RCA website, the estimated cost of the proposed meeting will be over $11,000.
General Synod encouraged the classes “to develop and adopt family leave policies, commensurate with other professional positions in society, for ordained clergy serving in churches within their boundaries, as soon as practicable.”
While the recommendation came from the Commission for Women, based on a ministerial survey, the proposal would allow either women or men to devote more time in providing care for loved ones.
Transformed and Transforming
The RCA’s ministry goal, Transformed and Transforming, was highlighted throughout the 2016 General Synod with stories of positive transformation in individuals and churches. An interactive online tool, the Transformed and Transforming dashboard, is now available and shows at a glance how many churches, classes, and regional synods are involved with different aspects of the goal.
While the RCA General Synod met from June 9-14 at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, IL, the CRCNA Synod met from June 10-16 at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. As a symbol of the denominations’ desires to continue working toward closer fellowship, the RCA’s General Secretary, Dr. Tom De Vries, and the CRC’s Executive Director, Dr. Steven Timmermans, communicated via a video dialogue.
The RCA Synod also committed $5,000 for a survey regarding worship practices, to be conducted in partnership with the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship, which is located at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary.
The RCA will attempt to address the lack of unity within its ranks by beginning a denominational conversation regarding a Reformed perspective of the Bible. The General Synod Council is to consult with the Professors of Theology to develop “a process of denomination-wide discussion centered on a Reformed understanding of the nature, purpose, authority, and interpretation of Scripture; and further, to identify existing and/or develop new resources in support of this process.” A report on this effort will be presented to the 2017 General Synod.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6-8 of the August 24, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal. NOTE: Mark Jicinsky has since become the lead pastor at Crossroads Fellowship, the CRC in Des Moines, IA.
On May 4, 2016, Mr. Michael B. Deckinga began his position as the Vice President of Advancement at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, IN. The VP of Advancement nurtures the Seminary’s external relationships and advances its mission through marketing, communications, and development. Mr. Deckinga’s work includes managing fundraisers and gifts as well as providing input on matters ranging from technology to finance to planning for the Seminary’s future.
While still new to the position, Mr. Deckinga was enjoying his work, particularly its relational aspects. “It has been a really enjoyable two months here, and I have loved getting to know the faculty and staff,” he said. “I eagerly await the return of the students in the fall so I can begin to get to know them.”
Visiting with Seminary supporters has touched his heart. “I’ve especially enjoyed meeting many of our friends out on the road,” he added. “It’s such a blessing to hear their stories of how God has sustained them and their families, and I’m humbled that they choose to support Mid-America by lifting us up in prayer and sharing with us financially.”
Mr. Deckinga came to the Seminary after a successful ten-year career with the Sherwin-Williams paint company. He began as Assistant Market Manager, but quickly progressed to Market Manager, and then was promoted to Professional Coatings Sales Representative. He explains that because the paint supply business is more of a service industry than a consumer commodity business, it prepared him well for the multiple tasks he now faces.
“As a sales representative, I learned first-hand the importance of a quality professional relationship tailored to individual need,” he said. “As a market manager, I focused on relationships with my customers and employees, but other duties helped me develop a strong business acumen. This financial aspect taught me the importance of exceeding budgeted plans for the development of an organization’s sound future.”
He sees how these skills are being utilized in his work for Mid-America. “My previous career equipped me to handle multiple tasks simultaneously and taught me about being an effective and motivating leader, which is essential in working closely with other staff members in a ‘self-motivating’ environment.” He also learned a great deal about becoming a more patient person, and jokingly adds, “Picking out the right color for a den can be a tremendously hard decision for some folks.”
While Mr. Deckinga’s business experience has its benefits, he recognizes the priority of fostering personal relationships. “Everything comes down to the quality of the relationships built. This focus on relationships will continue for me in my duties on behalf of the Seminary.”
Seminary President Dr. Cornel Venema related how, when Mr. Deckinga was under consideration, “He impressed us with his enthusiasm for the task, energetic manner, and openness to developing in the position.” He added, “Mike’s strengths are his familiarity with and enthusiastic commitment to Mid-America’s statement of its purpose as well as his understanding of how students who aspire to the gospel ministry need to be prepared academically and vocationally for this calling.”
Mr. Deckinga was educated in Christian schools in the southwest Chicago area, graduating from Trinity Christian College in 2006 with a B.S. in History and minors in Theology and Business. He and Kim live in Beecher, IL, with their four children, who range in age from ten months to five years. Mike is Chairman of the Deacons at Lynwood United Reformed Church, where the family attends.
Dr. Venema explains that the Vice President of Advancement is not a new position, although it is part of a larger transition at Mid-America Reformed Seminary. Subsequent to the retirement of Mrs. Florence Kooiman, Vice President of Administration, Mr. Keith LeMahieu (who most recently served as Vice President of Development) assumed her role.
Another part of the transition includes Rev. Andrew Compton’s recent appointment as Assistant Professor of Old Testament studies.
Dr. Venema said, “These changes, though they do not quite amount to a ‘changing of the guard,’ do remind us of the need to find staff and faculty who will be able to serve effectively and faithfully in the future.”
Mike Deckinga has embraced his new calling with joy. “Training men to go out to the nations to preach the good news of salvation in Christ is good work, and I am humbled and delighted to be a part of it,” he said. “Working alongside and for like-minded Reformed brothers and sisters, and getting to meet and develop relationships with similar friends of the school is invigorating. I thank God every day for His providence in my life and for calling me to this work.”
The above is a slightly edited version of an article by Glenda Mathes that appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the August 3, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.
Vice President of Administration retires after 35 years
Over 100 people gathered on the evening of May 11, 2016, to celebrate Florence Kooiman’s 35 years of faithful service to Mid-America Reformed Seminary
. The bittersweet celebration also marked her retirement in the summer of 2016 from her position as Vice President of Administration.
Anyone who’s had much contact with the Seminary very likely knows Flo. She’s been the dynamo behind the scenes, the institution at the institution.
Florence’s pastor, Rev. Jacque Roets (Mid-America alumnus, 2001), characterized her as “courageous and humble,” performing her “hidden service” so that “the men in charge looked good.”
Dr. Cornel Venema noted how apropos the old joke: “Do you want to speak to the man in charge, or to the woman who knows what’s going on?”
He expressed his thanks for Florence’s energetic contributions over the years: running, reacting, multitasking, helping, and volunteering. He contrasted Florence’s devotion to the Seminary with the Lord’s example of the hired hand who doesn’t really love the sheep. Even though her volunteer work soon turned into full-time employment, Dr. Venema stated she remained “a volunteer all the way through.”
Board of Trustees President, Rev. Ed Marcusse, remarked how Florence was “in on the ground floor” of the Seminary’s establishment and how it “would not be what it is” without her and will not be the same. He described her in many ways, including: surrogate mother, life coach, time keeper, and sympathetic listener. He said, “You’ve made a huge difference in the lives of every single person you’ve met, and we thank you for that.”
An audio-visual presentation featured photos of Florence through the years and showcased greetings from many alumni and their families.
Alumnus and Board member Rev. Jim Sawtelle (1993 graduate) said, “I think the best way to describe Flo is ‘friend.’ She was a friend to every student.”
As a young mom, Florence attended the first Sem-Fest in 1981, a year before classes began. Because her daughter was starting Kindergarten, she signed up to volunteer two days per week.
She said, “The Board underestimated how much work there was to do in setting up a new school, so I spent quite a bit of time there in September. In October, Dr. P.Y. De Jong said, ‘Flo, you’re here so much, I think we should just put you on the payroll.’ That’s how I started my career at Mid-America.”
Among the unique experiences that Florence recalled during the retirement party were two “sleepovers” at Mid-America. The first occurred on the original campus, when an Iowa blizzard with blowing snow kept many people at the Seminary overnight. After she and her husband, Orv, found places for everyone to sleep, the only spot left for them was on the mailbags in the janitor’s workroom. “They had an awful odor,” she said. “I can still remember the smell. That was a long night, and morning was a welcome sight.”
The second “sleepover” happened in Indiana, when Dyer police called Florence one night and asked if she could open the Seminary for flood victims. “The people arrived on flatbed trucks, and we created makeshift beds in every room.” Several nearby students and Professor Vander Hart assisted by bringing in blankets and helping with crowd control, which included herding dogs into one room and cats into another.
Dr. Venema mentioned some concern about Flo’s heart after the “Darth Vader episode,” and Florence admitted, “It probably took some years off my life.” She later explained, “I went out to lunch, and when I returned, I offered to take some boxes back to the storage room. When I walked into the room, the light was off. I switched it on, and there, by the back wall stood a person in a Darth Vader costume, mask and all, with a big stick in his hand. I screamed and collapsed to the floor, as this creature jumped over me and ran out.”
She recalled getting to know Board member James Folkerts as a boy when his father, Fred (1992 graduate), enrolled at Mid-America in 1989. James graduated from the Seminary in 2004, and his brother Christopher graduated in 2005.
With the assistance of individuals and churches in the area, Florence has helped dozens of students and their families settle into the community. She also answered countless of student questions, a couple of the more memorable being: Can I wear patent shoes with blue jeans? Where do I shop for a diamond ring?
Over the last 35 years, Florence has seen technology transition from the electric typewriter to a word processor with floppy discs to a computer. Filing documents has gone from metal cabinet to invisible cloud.
Her work at the Seminary was a godsend after the loss of her husband. “When God called Orv home, I felt my world had ended. But He revealed that He had plans for my life,” she said. “My family and the Mid-America community played an important part in my healing.”
A precious time for Florence was a trip to New Zealand with other Seminary personnel a few years ago. “I anticipated the scenery would be the highlight, but God showed me something even more beautiful. He filled me with joy at seeing what He had done and continues to do in the church through the training of men for the gospel ministry.”
As she anticipates this new chapter in her life, Florence praise the Lord for the privilege of serving Him at Mid-America. “Thanks be to God for allowing me, in spite of my human failings, to be a part of training men to proclaim His Word!”
The above is a slightly edited version of an article by Glenda Mathes that appeared on pages 11 & 12 of the August 3, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.
On June 30, 2016, the Lord called home Rev. John P. Galbraith at the age of 103. Rev. Galbraith was a highly-respected minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) who earned a reputation as a servant leader. He was the oldest living minister in the OPC and the last survivor of those who founded the denomination in 1936.
Rev. Galbraith’s humility is expressed in his opening words to those gathered to celebrate the OPC’s 75th anniversary on June 11, 2011. At 98 years old, he spoke slowly and paused often for breath, saying to the crowd who welcomed him with a standing ovation, “You’re all so kind. I don’t know if you dwell so much, as often as I do, on one of those well-known, well-remembered statements of the Apostle Paul, ‘The good that I would, I do not, and the evil that I would not, that I do.’ And you give me your applause. I thank you.”
The death announcement released from OPC Stated Clerk, Rev. Ross Graham, stated. “His accomplishments in the development of the ministry of the OPC were unparalleled.”
Less than three weeks prior to Rev. Galbraith’s death, Reformed Forum posted “The Life and Ministry of Rev. John P. Galbraith” podcast. In this documentary-type interview, Camden Bucey wove together audio clips from recent interviews with Rev. Galbraith and Rev. Danny Olinger, General Secretary of the OPC’s Committee on Christian Education. Rev. Olinger, who is widely-recognized for his extensive knowledge of OPC history, spoke at length about Rev. Galbraith’s contributions to the OPC and his “unmatched” integrity. He concluded: “We’re fortunate that we’ve had such a great man with regard to integrity and commitment to the scriptures to try to help the Reformed world.”
On the occasion of Rev. Galbraith’s 100th birthday in 2013, Rev. William Shishko (minister of the OPC in Franklin Square, New York) wrote a tribute in honor of Rev. Galbraith, who had become known “Mr. OPC.” He concluded:
Of all of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s many blessings, one of the foremost is to have had…Rev. John Galbraith as Christ’s gift to us. He is, indeed, Mr. OPC. His service continues to make an impact on the church of which he has been a part from the first day of its existence. In fact, no other OPC minister has influenced the course of the OPC more than John Galbraith. He would be the first to deflect this tribute, giving all glory to God…. The entire Orthodox Presbyterian Church praises God for his grace in giving us the life and labors of Rev. John Galbraith, Mr. OPC.
John Patton Galbraith was born on March 10, 1913. He studied under J. Gresham Machen at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and became friends with him, even attending Machen’s trial in Trenton, NJ, and his appeal at the General Assembly in Syracuse.
On June 11, 1936, seminarian John Galbraith was one of about 130 people who stood to show their commitment to the new denomination that would become the OPC.
Following Galbraith’s graduation from Westminster in 1937, he was ordained to the gospel ministry by the Presbytery of Philadelphia and served the Gethsemane congregation for three years.
At the new denomination’s fourth General Assembly, he heeded the call for someone to write a defense of the OPC. In 1940, his booklet Why the Orthodox Presbyterian Church? was published and became the best-selling denominational literature in the OPC’s history.
During the Reformed Forum podcast, Rev. Olinger credited that tract with earning Rev. Galbraith the name as Mr. OPC. “It sold all through the 40s and 50s and was reissued in the 60s,” he said. “It established him as someone who knew the issues and could articulate them very well.”
Rev. Galbraith served Grace OPC in Westfiled, NJ, from 1940 until 1942, and the OPC in Kirkwood, PA, from 1942 to 1948. Having served these congregations during the first 11 years of his ministry, Rev. Galbraith remained a pastor at heart. But his gifts soon were put to administrative use within the fledgling denomination.
In 1947, he was elected as Moderator of the OPC’s 14th General Assembly. Rev. Shishko relates in his tribute: “It was during that assembly (after which many of those who favored a broad evangelical course for the OPC left the church), that John Galbraith made his mark as the ecclesiastical statesman he would become. A heated floor debate had ensued between Minister Clifford Smith and Dr. R. B. Kuiper, who was…revered by John Galbraith. That deep personal respect (and, no doubt, the sympathies he had with Kuiper’s position) did not prevent moderator Galbraith from gaveling down the heated debaters. As moderator, he did his duty and told them both to apologize for their conduct on the floor. They did. And John Galbraith established his reputation as a man governed by principle rather than by personality—something that has made an inestimable impact on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.”
Rev. Galbraith was appointed as General Secretary for the Home and Foreign Missions Committees in 1948. He continued serving both committees until 1961, when he began his full-time work as General Secretary of the Committee for Foreign Missions.
Rev. Olinger explained that the OPC struggled to pay its missionaries and operated with a deficit in this area every year. “When Mr. Galbraith became the General Secretary, he instituted the Thank Offering to make up the deficit and have something to move forward.” Rev. Olinger also spoke about the amazing way OPC missionaries have gone into “hotspots” at difficult times in history, saying that Rev. Galbraith “did all the spade work that allowed our missionaries to work in these very tough areas.” He added, “He did these types of things over and over again as General Secretary and he was just amazing at it.”
Rev. Galbraith’s influence extended beyond his thirty years of work for foreign missions. He served on numerous other denominational committees and twice as Clerk of the OPC GA. After his ‘retirement’ in 1978, he threw himself into other avenues of service for the cause of Reformed Christianity, which included stints as president of ecumenical councils such as NAPARC.
Rev. Shishko’s tribute cites a dizzying list of service: 32 years on the OPC Committee on Pensions, the Committee on OPC Involvement in the Center for Urban Theological Training, the Committee on Methods of Worldwide Outreach, the Committee on Ministerial Training, a Special Committee to Study the Oversight of Ministerial Candidates, over 30 years on the OPC Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations, delegate and OPC missions correspondent to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod (where he served various years as second clerk, first clerk, and moderator), the OPC’s Committee on RES Matters, Committee to Confer with the Christian Reformed Church, and chairman of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). He also authored the article, “The Ecumenical Vision of the OPC” for Pressing Toward the Mark, a semi-centennial volume honoring the OPC in 1986.
“He just did it all,” Rev. Olinger said. “As far as one carrying on Machen’s vision for the church, he carried that mantle well.” He was “the greatest ecumenical figure in the history of our church.”
LIFE IN BALANCE
Rev. Galbraith’s commitment to the OPC and Reformed Christianity did not preclude his dedication to his family, according to Rev. Shishko. He married Ada Mae Kievitt in 1941, and they were blessed with two daughters. He often took the girls to Philadelphia Phillies baseball game, and the family spent a month’s vacation each summer in Maine. Although he sometimes traveled to foreign mission sites, whenever he was home on Saturday nights, he scrubbed the kitchen floor on his hands and knees to help out Ada.
His beloved wife died on July 5, 1995, but his two daughters were by his side when he passed away.
In his message to those celebrating the OPC’s 75th anniversary on June 11, 2011, Rev. Galbraith concluded: “I say to you, ‘Keep standing fast.’ That doesn’t need any exegesis. You know exactly what it means. Stand fast in the faith once delivered to the saints. Stand fast on the Word of God, and then get going on the things that God has given us to do. Teach our people well. Teach them to do their job, and to do it well. And to that I think I can say only my own amen and say also, to God be the glory.”
The above memorial report by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 9 & 10 of the August 3, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.
The shore of Chesapeake Bay provided a scenic setting for the 83rd General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, when it met at Sandy Cove Conference Center in North East, MD, on June 8-14, 2016.
Throughout that time frame, this assembly celebrated the denomination’s 80th anniversary. Part of that recognition included displays and videos highlighting the contributions of six women in the OPC: Charlotte Kusche, Dora Duff, Mabel Danzeisen, Bobbi Olinger, Grace Hard, and Betty Andrews. The stories of these and other women will be featured in a book under production, Choosing the Good Portion: Women of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
But one day during the OPC GA had particular significance: June 11.
Rev. Jack Sawyer said, “It was very moving to be in session on the exact anniversary date that J. Gresham Machen struck the gavel to convene the first General Assembly.” Because the General Assembly initially met more frequently than once a year, the number of Assemblies is three more than years of denominational existence.
The Bay’s glassy surface served as a metaphor for a smooth Assembly. Although commissioners sometimes became bogged down in debate, most issues generated little controversy. Issues regarding sexuality were explored in a pre-assembly conference, the Committee to Study Republication presented a unified report, the Trinity Psalter Hymnal received overwhelming support, a study committee will examine the concept of publishing a study version of the Westminster Shorter Catechism in updated English, a new church school curriculum was introduced, and various committees reported positive progress.
Before the GA began, commissioners had opportunity to attend a pre-assembly conference on “Marriage, Sexuality, and Faithful Witness” at Glasgow PCA in Bear, DE. According to the daily report posted on the OPC website and written by Rev. David J. Harr (Immanuel OPC; Medford, NJ), the conference “was designed to uphold the biblical view of marriage and sexuality in light of the increasing antagonism from the surrounding society” and consisted of three plenary sessions and a panel discussion.
Speakers included Dr. Carl Trueman, Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, Elder Randy Beck (PCA), the Justice Thomas O. Marshall Chair of Constitutional Law at the University of Georgia School of Law, and Rev. Tim Geiger, Executive Director of Harvest USA (a ministry for those struggling with sexual sin). Also participating in the panel was Ms. Jennifer Marshall, Vice President for Family, Community, and Opportunity at the Heritage Foundation of Washington, DC.
During a later GA session, Danny Olinger (General Secretary of the Committee on Christian Education) reviewed the work of the Special Sub-committee on Marriage and Sexuality, which had organized the pre-assembly conference.
Two years ago, the OPC formed a Committee to Study Republication, the concept that the Mosaic covenant is in some way a republication of the Adamic covenant of works. This year, the Committee presented a unified report.
According to the website article by Rev. Harr, the reporter “explained that the confessions teach the covenant of grace ‘was administered differently in the time of the law and in the time of the gospel’ (WCF VII.5). There are not ‘two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations’ (WCF VII.6). So the Mosaic covenant must be viewed in substance as a part of the covenant of grace, though administered differently than the new covenant. This confessional language of substance and administration helps us to define which views of the Mosaic covenant are confessional and which are not.”
Although the report is not an official denominational statement and does not carry constitutional weight, it will be distributed to presbyteries and interested parties for study and possible guidance in examining ministerial candidates.
Trinity Psalter Hymnal
Dr. Alan Strange detailed the history behind the Trinity Psalter Hymnal, which the OPC began developing in 2006 and eventually became a cooperative effort with the URCNA. The fraternal representative from the URCNA was Rev. Derrick Vander Meulen, who served as chairman for that federation’s songbook committee. According to Rev. Harr’s report, “He praised God that this joint venture of the OPC and URCNA has provided a wonderful demonstration of the unity of the faith that these two bodies share.”
Commissioners approved three motions: the section of 428 hymns, the Trinity Psalter Hymnal as a whole, and communication of these decisions to Synod 2016 of the URCNA. It is anticipated that the new songbook will be available late in 2017.
The Committee on Christian Education introduced G2R, a revised curriculum for older elementary children that overviews the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
Commissioners supported a recommendation (from Presbytery of Central Pennsylvania) that the Committee on Christian Education consider publishing a study version of the Westminster Shorter Catechism in updated English. The aim would be to retain meaning while making language more easily understood, especially for those who speak English as a second language. Although commissioners held differing opinions, they agreed the project should be considered and a proposal presented to next year’s assembly.
For 2017, commissioners approve a $4.1 million budget for Worldwide Outreach, which consists of the OPC’s committees on Christian Education, Foreign Missions, Home Missions and Church Extension. Last year’s Thank Offering to support these endeavors was over a million dollars.
Four new mission works in 2015 brought total efforts to 38, according to the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension (CHMCE) report. Eleven new works are scheduled for 2016.
Mr. Mark Bube, General Secretary of the Committee on Foreign Missions, reported on the many international fields where OPC missionaries are establishing churches. Rev. Calvin Cummings, Jr., who has retired after more than 40 years of missionary service, reviewed God’s work in Japan.
Rev. Jack Sawyer, Administrator of the Committee of Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations (CEIR), introduced fraternal delegates from 11 federations: United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA), Bible Presbyterian Church (BPC), Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS), Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ), Reformed Churches of South Africa (GKSA), Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Evangelical Reformed Church Westminster Confession (ERKWB, a small federation in Austria & Switzerland), Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC), Free Reformed Churches of North America (FRCNA), Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC), and Christian Reformed Churches of Australia (CRCAus).
“I’m very pleased with the way the GA handles the hosting of fraternal delegates,” Rev. Sawyer said. “As we space them out, they become a nice little break from the work and a highlight of God’s work in the church around the world.” He also appreciates that the OPC practices a “colloquium” style of face-to-face discussions rather than a “Facebook-type” of impersonal interchurch relations. This year’s GA approved moving to full Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia (PCEA).
The OPC actively supports the work of chaplains and others in military service. This year’s GA thanked Elder Robert Coie, who is retiring after many years on the Committee on Chaplains and Military Personnel.
An appeal and a communication arose from a Presbytery that has been struggling with a difficult situation for several years.
The appeal came from a session after its complaint that another local session had failed to act biblically was ruled out of order by both the other session and presbytery. The appeal was eventually remanded to the presbytery to address the substance of the matter.
The communication contained three complaints, but was submitted after the deadline for appeals and complaints. Given the truncated time, commissioners decided the issues could not be dealt with adequately at this year’s assembly. The session will be permitted to bring the complaints to the 2017 GA.
A Special Committee that has been working for two years to resolve conflicts within the Presbytery of the Northwest reported positive progress. This included a resolution of repentance the Presbytery passed without dissent and its request for the Special Committee to continue working on a standby basis for another year. The GA granted that request and encouraged the Presbytery to continue moving forward in reconciliation.
A recommendation to increase the Committee of Appeals and Complaints from three members to five members was approved by this year’s Assembly and, because it involves an amendment to the Standing Rules, will need to be ratified by next year’s GA before it takes effect.
A Special Committee on Canadian Matters has been considering challenges of the OPC’s ministry in Canada, such as pastors’ pensions, tax matters, and mission donations. The Committee was able to present a preliminary report, but will continue its work for an additional year.
The GA approved changes in the OPC pension plan, which appear aimed at improving participation and performance. Commissioners also approved the formation of the Committee on Ministerial Care along with changes to the Standing Rules that will initiate the process.
Elder Paul Tavares (Covenant OPC; Grove City, PA) served this year’s GA as moderator. Rev. Ross Graham was elected Stated Clerk for another two-year term. Rev. John Mahaffy recorded the minutes as Assistant Clerk for the 18th consecutive year, and Mr. Luke Brown was elected OPC statistician for the 31st year.
The next General Assembly of the OPC is slated to convene on May 31, 2017, at Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, Il. The following GA is scheduled to run concurrent with the URCNA Synod in 2018.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6-8 of the August 3, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.
It’s a long journey from a prison cell to a church pulpit, but Lowell Ivey has traveled it by God’s grace. On May 27, 2016, the former prisoner was ordained and installed as the organizing pastor for Reformation Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach, VA.
“My testimony is the Lord’s testimony as he’s worked by his mighty grace and power in my heart and life,” he says, “and even been so gracious as to give me a covenant family.”
Abandoned by his birth parents, Lowell grew up with a rebellious nature and angry heart. He began stealing as an adolescent and was sent to prison for armed robbery as a young man. During his first six years in prison, he hated Christians. He enjoyed arguing with them and trying to prove them wrong, even using the Bible against them.
“I thought I was very adept, very smart,” he says. “But I was a fool.”
Lowell found his identity in a white supremacist gang, and his attempt to murder a member of another gang landed him in solitary confinement. Alone in his cell one night in 2000, listening to the radio, he heard the gospel proclaimed.
“That radio program showed me the depth of my depravity and wickedness,” he says, “and that it wasn’t something I could change.”
He couldn’t change himself, but the Holy Spirit transformed him. “One moment I felt as if I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t repent. But the next moment, the Lord by his mighty power broke all that, took it all away. And I fell on my knees beside my bunk, weeping, asking him for forgiveness. But not only that, asking him to change my life, to change my heart so that I would begin to live only for his glory, the glory of my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
During the remaining nine years of his incarceration, Lowell gradually moved through the slow process of sanctification. He embraced the Reformed faith through Ligonier’s “Renewing Your Mind” radio broadcasts. He grew in that faith by reading catechism sermons of Dr. Joel Beeke (Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary). And he contacted Rev. Nathan Brummel, (director of Divine Hope Reformed Bible Seminary), who regularly wrote to him and sent him theologically sound literature.
As Lowell grew in the faith, he thought about the need for prisoners to be discipled in the Reformed faith and considered serving in prison ministry some day. Prior to his release, Rev. Brummel put him into contact with Rev. Phil Hodson, a local OPC pastor.
Lowell says about Rev. Hodson, “He was a mentor to me after I was released from prison and even invited me to live in his home for a time. I became a member of the church he serves, Christ the King OPC in Longview, TX, where I also met my wife, Mae.”
Still thinking in terms of prison ministry, Lowell began seminary training in Texas in 2010, but then transferred to Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS) in 2011. He attended Covenant Community Church (OPC) in Taylors, SC.
“In seminary, and through the influence of my pastor, Rev. Peter VanDooedewaard, I began thinking more about pastoral ministry,” he says. “While I wanted to continue ministering to prisoners, I became increasingly convinced that the Lord was calling me to a broader ministry.”
In Lowell’s senior year at seminary, the session of his church discussed having him serve a pastoral internship. Early in 2015, he received a call from Rev. DeLacy Andrews, Regional Home Missionary for the Presbytery of the Southeast, to see if he might consider helping establish the church plant in Virginia Beach. Although Lowell was interested, he and his church session agreed that he should proceed with the internship.
“My prayer at that point was, ‘Lord, I want to go wherever You lead me. If it’s Your will for me to serve in Virginia Beach, I know you will keep the door open,’” he says. “I let Pastor Andrews and the Pulpit Search Committee know that I was withdrawing my name from consideration for the time being.”
Lowell graduated from GPTS in May of 2015 with his Master of Divinity degree and went on to serve for the next year as an intern in his church. When Lowell’s internship neared its conclusion, Rev. Andrews contacted him again. The Virginia Beach group still had not secured a pastor. The Search Committee interviewed Lowell in January of 2016, and he spent ten days in Virginia Beach in February, preaching, teaching, and visiting families. On the last day of February, the congregation voted unanimously to request the Presbytery to call him as its organizing pastor.
Presbytery approved his call when he sustained his examination on April 22. Lowell and Mae and their two children moved to Virginia Beach on May 10, and he took up the work there on June 1.
“Looking back on it now, I can see how faithful the Lord was in leading me as He did,” he says. In addition to learning from Pastor VanDoodewaard during his internship, Lowell served alongside a refugee pastor who had suffered intense persecution, including imprisonment and torture. “The internship was crucial to my growth in pastoral ministry. I’m using the lessons I learned every day in my calling here in Virginia Beach.”
Several men who participated in Lowell’s ordination and installation service on May 27, have been influential in his journey from prison to pulpit.
Although Reformation Presbyterian Church is a mission work of the Presbytery of the Southeast, the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic has assisted in the effort. Regional Home Missionaries from both presbyteries, who have been involved with the church plant, took part in the service. Rev. DeLacy Andrews (RHB, Southeast) provided instructions regarding the office of minister. Rev. Steve Doe (RHM, Mid-Atlantic) gave the charge to the congregation. Rev. Jay Bennett, Moderator of the Presbytery of the Southeast, officiated the service. Rev. Peter Stazen, pastor of Grace OPC in Lynchburg, VA, and member of the provisional session of Reformation Presbyterian Church, led a prayer of adoration and the invocation.
Dr. Joseph A. Pipa, Jr., president of GPTS, gave the charge to the evangelist. Dr. L. Anthony Curto, Associate Professor of Missions and Apologetics at GPTS, supervised the laying on of hands and offered a prayer of ordination.
Rev. Peter VanDoodewaard, who had been Lowell’s pastor for five years, preached from Psalm 2. Rev. Nathan Brummel read Scripture.
“I am amazed at how God has poured out His grace in Jesus Christ upon Lowell,” Rev. Brummel says. “God has showered him with grace upon grace. He immediately transformed Lowell at the moment of his conversion from a proud racist member of a dangerous prison gang, into a humble, loving servant of Jesus Christ. God has given Lowell a Proverbs 31 wife and two beautiful covenant children. May God be glorified through Lowell as this new OPC minister begins his evangelistic and pastoral ministry in Virginia Beach.”
Rev. Phil Hodson was not able to be present, due to a death in the family. Having spent years as Lowell’s pastor and observing him in the church community, he says, “We have seen in Lowell a mature understanding of the Reformed faith, a faithful handling of the word of God, and a good grasp of biblical and systematic theology. We have also seen him attain to these things by adorning them with a faithful walk before the Lord. His manner and speech are crowned with actions that demonstrate the sacrificial love of Christ. He joyfully confesses that he is a ‘prisoner of the Lord,’ and embraces whatever circumstances the Lord calls his to. He does not pursue the credit for labors he has been engaged in. Rather, he is focused on bringing attention to Christ and to serve His glory.”
Rev. Ivey explains that Reformation Presbyterian Church (RPC) has met since 2012, first with informational meetings and then home Bible studies, led by Revs. Andrews and Doe, Regional Home Missionaries. Worship services began in November of 2013, and the session began searching for a church planter in 2014.
Rev. Ivey says, “The church is vibrant, friendly, historically Reformed in terms of its confessional stance and its worship, and has a passion for outreach and evangelism in the Tidewater region.” He describes that area of eastern Virginia as containing 1.5 million people, more than 60 percent of whom profess no religious affiliation.
The RPC group meets for 11:00 AM worship at Fleet Reserve Association, 357 Edwin Drive, and for 6:00 PM worship at Indian Lakes Community Center, 1313 Indian Lakes Blvd, both in Virginia Beach. For more information on the church plant, see its website.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 16-18 of the July 6, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.
No controversial issues came up during the 270th Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States, when it met from May 16-19, 2016, at Grace Reformed Church in Bakersfield, CA.
“I would have to say that this year’s Synod was unique in that there were no major decisions or position papers to approve,” Clerk David Fagrey said. “Every year I’m increasingly thankful for the camaraderie we share in the gospel and in the Reformed faith.”
In addition to a host of normal business, Synod’s agenda included a few noteworthy matters, including cremation, Two Kingdom theology, and relations with the GKN.
The previous year’s Synod had appointed a committee to study the theological and pastoral implications of cremation. Rev. Jim Sawtelle (Redeemer, Golden Valley, MN) said, “This is an increasingly pastoral challenge with the rise of the widespread acceptance of cremation. So questions being explored by the committee are things like: Is cremation consistent with a biblical practice and view of those who die in the Lord? How should the church advise its members about such a practice? Does the Bible speak to this issue clearly, or is it a matter of indifference?”
That committee asked for and was granted an additional year to complete its study.
Two Kingdom theology
The issue of Two Kingdom theology arose within the context of Western Classis, which had studied the matter and submitted a report to Synod. A synodical committee was appointed to read the material and bring recommendations or comments to next year’s Synod.
“The special committee was not directed to write a new paper, only to study the existing paper from the Western Classis,” explained Rev. Sawtelle, who chairs the committee. “Only one of the original authors of the paper in on the special committee. This was done purposely so that the special committee could read the paper with fresh eyes. The synod is very aware of the fact that a number of denominations and federations in North America are debating and studying this issue as well, and we are interested in how this discussion in the broader Reformed and Presbyterian community plays out.”
Relations with the GKN
For some time, the RCUS has been interacting with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN) regarding matters such as homosexuality, women in office, and the Theological University of Kampen (TUK).
This year’s Synod directed its Interchurch Relations Committee to warn the GKN that if it persists in neglecting “our admonition and continues its present course of de-formation, contrary to scripture and the Three Forms of Unity (TFU) at its next synod, that the RCUS will break its fraternal relationship with the RCN, and consider our fraternal relationship to have ended.” If, however, the next RCN Synod indicates a return to acknowledging the “full authority of Scripture” and the applicability of the TFU to the above-mentioned issues, the RCUS will continue its relationship with the RCN.
The subject of missions may be a normal part of Synod discussion, but the scope of RCUS labors exceeds the efforts of some larger denominations.
The RCUS is actively involved with three foreign federations: the United Reformed Churches of the Congo, the Reformed Fellowship Church of Kenya, and Pearl of the Orient Covenant Reformed Church in the Philippines.
“While the needs for support of pastors, missionaries, theological training for such, and various diaconal support far exceeds our limited resources,” Rev. Sawtelle said, “we remain committed to giving financial and advisory support as much as possible. The Lord is truly building His church in these places.”
The RCUS maintains home mission efforts in several locations: Rehoboth Reformed Church in Cerritos, CA (Rev. Michael Voytek), Grace Reformed Church in Rogers, AR (Rev. Steven Carr), First Reformed Chapel in Dickinson, ND (Rev. Wes Brice, pulpit supply), Christ Reformed Chapel in Casper, WY (Rev. Matt Powell), Valle de Gracia Iglesia in Shafter, CA (Rev. Valentin Alpuche), Calvary Reformed Chapel in Stockton, CA ( Rev. Jonathan Merica), and Omaha Reformed Chapel in Omaha, NE (Rev. Randy Klynsma).
This year’s Home Missions Committee meeting took a different approach than previous meetings. Rather than interviewing missionaries and focusing on writing a report about their work, this year’s February gathering was organized more like a conference. Speakers addressed issues of concern, and missionaries were given time to share progress of their work. This format afforded more opportunities for interaction on issues, prayer, and fellowship.
In summarizing the 2016 RCUS Synod, Rev. Sawtelle said, “One thing that really struck me was just how much the cultural instability of our nation is stressing and challenging our churches with how to minister effectively to our own members, and then also, how to bring the gospel to our fellow citizens in our times.”
He added, “It is heartening to talk to fellow ministers and elders about such things and find wonderful unity of commitment among us to stand on the authority of Scripture, the Reformed confessions, and to proclaim Christ as the only hope for all manner of sinners and the brokenness that sin and rebellion has brought about. There is an increasingly hyper-individualistic spirit at work, even among Christians. Facing this spiritual battle is going to take an equally united spirit of unity in Christ and to His Word among Christ’s people.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the July 6, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.
In a joint worship service held with Hills URC on May 8, 2016, the Sioux Falls United Reformed church plant formally organized as Christ Reformed Church (URCNA). Rev. Spencer Aalsburg led the service, installing two elders and two deacons as Christ Reformed’s first council. Attendees participated in a fellowship meal after the service and enjoyed a slide show and display of memorabilia. Since its inception, the church plant in Sioux Falls, SD, has been under the supervision of the URC in Hills, MN.
Once the church was organized, the council of Christ Reformed Church extended a call to Rev. Aalsburg. He has served the group since 2007, when he was ordained as Hills’ Associate Pastor to plant the Sioux Falls church. Rev. Aalsburg was installed as Minister of the Word and Sacraments at Christ Reformed Church during a special service held on Friday, May 13.
Rev. Dan Donovan, minister of Cornerstone URC in Sanborn, IA, offered a meditation on 1 Timothy 4:6-16. Rev. Doug Barnes, who serves Covenant Reformed Church in Pella, IA, and is a former pastor of Hills URC, presented a charge to the minister from Ephesians 4:1-16. Rev. Jody Lucero, pastor of Providence Reformed Church in Des Moines, IA, gave the charge to the congregation, based on Ephesians 6:10-20.
The installation service took place at Heritage Reformed Church, 3800 E. 15th St., on the east side of Sioux Falls. Christ Reformed rents the Protestant Reformed Church’s facility and meets there for Sunday worship at 11:15 AM and 6:15 PM.
According to Rev. Aalsburg, 60 to 70 people usually attend services. Membership is comprised of 11 families and a few singles for about 55 souls. “This includes 29 baptized members, and we’re expecting five more babies this year!” he says. “Thankfully, five more families and a couple singles have expressed interest in joining and are at various stages in the process.”
The church has seen significant growth in numbers and spiritual maturity since it began meeting in 2005. Although some of that growth has been internal, the group also makes an effort to welcome visitors and reach out to the community.
“We seek to create a variety of venues to begin and deepen relationships with the newcomers that the Lord brings,” Rev. Aalsburg explains. “Over all, by God’s grace, we’ve been told we’re a warm church and easy to visit—for which we’re very thankful.”
Events during the week include book studies that often draw people who are not members. Many non-members also are attracted to monthly events like picnics with sand volleyball or movie and pizza nights.
Rev. Aalsburg says, “These events are not only a great time of deepening fellowship among members, but also a disarming place to invite friends for an evening of community.”
The church hosts several annual events: a worship conference, a Reformation Day festival, a men’s day out trap shoot, and a Christmas sing. A Reformed Mission Services team has conducted a vacation Bible study during the last two summers. “These have been a great opportunity to build inner community and also receive guests,” he relates. “Most of the guests are not neighborhood visitors, but those friends who had been personally invited.”
Each year, the church hosts a booth at the county fair, distributing literature and engaging the public. They’ve recently begun serving free meals prepared by a local program.
“We have found it helpful to set aside times to process these events—how they went, and how we can be faithful to the Lord in word and deed,” Rev. Aalsburg says. “In the past, we’ve also had book studies on personal evangelism, which were well-received; however, this is an area we cannot study too much.”
Although Sioux Falls is located near the Dutch Reformed enclave of Northwest Iowa, Christ Reformed Church represents a wide ethnic composition. “The congregation comes from a diversity of backgrounds,” he says. “And over the years, we marvel at our God bringing together a people with different histories and experiences to worship Him and share life together.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 11 & 12 of the July 6, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.
Republican senator Ben Sasse, from Nebraska, spoke at the May 28, 2016, commencement service of Westminster Seminary California. His topic was “Never Again Will Jerusalem Grieve.”
Mark MacVey, Vice-President for Enrollment Management, said about the speech, “Senator Sasse reflected on his experience in the U.S. Senate and provided observations regarding the unique cultural challenges that our country is facing at this time, drawing some parallels to the plight of Israel. He encouraged the graduates, especially those that will be pastors, to understand these challenges and the effect they have on the everyday lives of the people in our congregations. Concluding that, ultimately, these are not problems that can be solved by government, but our trust and hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ and the kingdom that is to come.”
This year’s graduating class was the largest in WSC’s history. Of the 55 graduates, 26 received the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree, while 29 received the Master of Arts (M.A.) degree. Graduates plan to serve as pastors, teachers, missionaries, scholars, and leaders in the PCA, OPC, URCNA, KAPC, CRC, or ARBCA. Students came from 15 states and eight foreign countries: Brazil, Germany, New Zealand, Turkey, South Korea (3), Romania, Malaysia, and Scotland.
About 750 people attended this 35th Commencement, which took place at 10:00 AM at Emmanuel Faith Community Church in Escondido, CA. A graduation reception was held in the WSC chapel at 7:00 PM on May 27.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 10 of the July 6, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.
During the first week of May, 300,000 tulips in beds lining streets and filling parks of Pella, IA, usually bloom. Whatever the condition of blossoms, local people celebrate their Dutch heritage with an extravaganza of colorful parades, folk dancing, interesting exhibits, and delicious food. Copious amounts of food. Visitors can feed their inner child with funnel cakes, cotton candy, and sno-cones. Ethnic foods range from walking tacos to egg rolls. But highlights for those who graze their way through the three days are distinctly Dutch delights like poffertjies (tiny custardy pancakes), stroopwafels (small round waffles with syrup layered between), and vet bollen (deep-fried dough balls filled with raisins and covered with sugar). Pella bologna can be purchased in many forms, including on a stick. And tourists wait in long bakery lines to buy pastries, especially almond-filled Dutch letters, shaped like an S.
Each year, over 100,000 people flock to Pella’s Tulip Festival to eat the food and see the sights. A successful festival depends in large part on thousands of local volunteers who do everything from donning authentic costumes and scrubbing streets to pushing their babies through the parade in antique buggies. Generations of families carry on such activities as treasured traditions.
Many participants descend from Dutch grandparents or great-grandparents who settled in the area. A few trace their lineage to Dominie Scholte, the minister who led about 800 immigrants to America in 1847 to escape famine and religious oppression in the Netherlands. The colonists determined to name their New World settlement Pella, based on the Decapolis city where Christians found sustenance and refuge when fleeing from Jerusalem in the first century.
Most of the Holland Colony camped outside St. Louis, while Scholte and two other men scouted for a suitable site in Iowa. The three selected a spot on the fertile prairie between the Skunk and Des Moines Rivers and purchased 18,000 acres at about $1.25 per acre (land in the area now can sell for $6,000-8,000/acre).
Many of the families initially lived together in a large shed constructed for shelter. Some stayed in sod houses for two winters, until they could afford to build more permanent homes. A few, like the Scholtes, moved into cabins purchased from previous inhabitants.
Scholte’s wife, Mareah, may have been the most reluctant settler. Accustomed to a more genteel life, she found it difficult to adjust to pioneer living. Although an accomplished woman, she is remembered for crying over broken china. Only a few items of her prized blue and white Delft survived the voyage. The remaining pieces paved a path from the family’s original cabin to the two-story house Scholte built to assuage his wife’s longing for her old home.
Although the Scholtes are often idealized, they were flawed people. But the biblical record repeatedly shows how God uses broken people for His purpose. We are jars of clay—often cracked—through which the light of Christ shines by His grace (2 Corinthians 4:6–7).
Not every settler agreed with Scholte’s theological convictions. Some refrained from joining his church, believing that it did not follow the church order adopted at Dort. Later immigrants of similar beliefs joined with earlier settlers in establishing the True Dutch Reformed Church in 1866. The first congregation of its denomination west of the Mississippi River, this church became the First Christian Reformed Church, which still exists, and from which Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) and many other local and far-flung Reformed congregations sprang.
Nearly half of Pella’s almost 30 Christian churches remain Reformed in theological perspective. They embrace doctrines of grace often summarized by the TULIP acronym: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance (or better, Preservation) of the saints. When it comes to the Reformed faith, you could say tulips bloom year around in Pella.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 18 & 19 of the June 15, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.