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Ascribelog

Reflections and writing by a scribe who blogs and ascribes glory to God.

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Rev. Ronald Scheuers: epitome of servant leadership

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Rev. and Mrs. Scheuers (photo by Richard Docter)

The retirement of Rev. Ronald Scheuers may be his and his family’s gain, but it is certainly a loss within the URCNA. In decades of denominational conflict and as the new federation felt its way forward, Rev. Scheuers provided humble, servant leadership.

“During the early, growing years of the URCNA as a fledgling federation, Rev. Scheuers proved again and again to be a special gift of the Lord to the churches,” says Dr. Cornel P. Venema, President of Mid-America Reformed Seminary. “In a period of history marked by conflict and distress, immaturity and growing pains, Rev. Scheuers was steady at the helm—gentle in manner, solid in conviction, wise through experience, fair with others, and firm in his leadership. Lest you think I exaggerate, I am confident that delegates to assemblies at which Rev. Scheuers was elected chairman will agree with me.”

Rev. Bradd Nymeyer, who served many years as the URCNA’s Stated Clerk, concurs with that assessment. He says about Rev. Scheuers, “His service to the federation cannot be over-stated. His gentle, pastoral approach to difficult issues gave many great reassurance in times of uncertainty.” He adds, “His calm demeanor served him well in the three times that he served as chairman of synod. He is a churchman, a pastor, and a preacher, and excels at all three. His retirement will be felt by the entire federation, as well as his local congregation.”

The congregation of First URC in Chino, CA, marked the retirement of its senior pastor with a special celebration on Friday, January 6. The retirement committee decorated the fellowship hall, where attendees enjoyed a catered meal of tri-tip sirloin, mashed potatoes, and vegetables. About 200 people gathered for the meal, and many more arrived later for a program in the sanctuary, which seats 600 and seemed nearly full. Guests went beyond members of the congregation to include friends, former staff members, fellow ministers, and surprise appearances by relatives from Wisconsin.

The program featured a slideshow and video clips, a skit, and singing. The church presented Rev. Scheuers and his wife, Faye, with a gift of appreciation for his years of faithful service. Rev. Scheuers spent 39 years in full-time ministry, more than 23 of them in Chino.

“Our church family has been so good to us through the years,” says Rev. Scheuers. “We are grateful that we can retire in this area and continue to live among the people of the congregation of First Chino.”

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The Scheuers with the Rev. Joel Weaver family

On January 8, Rev. Scheuers preached his farewell sermon on the theme, “Let No One Take Your Crown,” based on Revelation 3:11. He noted three points: The Lord’s Coming, The Church’s Calling, and The Believer’s Crown.

First Chino has called Rev. Bradd Nymeyer, scheduled to be installed on May 14. He has considered Rev. Scheuers his friend and mentor for over 20 years. “He personally stood up for me when I was being dismissed from the ministry in the CRC, even though it was costly to his name and reputation in that denomination,” says Rev. Nymeyer.

While the congregation awaits its new senior minister, Pastor of Youth Quentin Falkena is doing what he can to help make the transition smooth. And he’s thankful for the excellent working relationship he enjoyed with Rev. Scheuers.

“I have had the unique and unparalleled privilege of working with Pastor Scheuers for over eight years,” he says. “I’m grateful for the opportunity that I have had to work beside him and learn from him what it means to be a faithful servant of God’s people and a dedicated churchman. His diligence, dedication, carefulness and compassion have made a significant mark on my own approach to pastoral ministry.”

He notes, “For most of eight years, Pastor Scheuers and I would meet every Tuesday. We addressed the particular needs of the week, and talked about who needed to be visited, or other matters that needed to be addressed. But it was also a time during which I could pick his brain. Our meetings concluded by reading Scripture and praying. I’ll miss the opportunity those meetings provided to spend time with Pastor Scheuers.”

The Scheuers family, however, anticipates spending more time with a husband and father whose health is gradually decreasing due to Parkinson’s disease.

“Right now, Faye and I are enjoying more time together, more opportunities to enjoy our family, which also includes our first precious granddaughter, as well as life with less stress,” Rev. Scheuers says. “If my health permits, I would like to do some writing and, perhaps, some traveling.”

Rev. Scheuers and Faye are originally from Waupun, WI, and both attended Dordt College in Sioux Center, IA. Faye taught for six years in the Philadelphia area, while Rev. Scheuers attended Westminster Theological Seminary and fulfilled the CRC’s extra year requirement at Calvin Seminary. The two were married in Waupun on August 19, 1977.

The Scheuers have three adult children. Bethany is married to George Hoekstra and they have a toddler daughter, Kenna. Andrea, who has multiple handicaps, lives at home with her parents. Tim graduated from Mid-America Reformed Seminary and is pursuing his Ph.D. at Fuller Theological Seminary with a goal of teaching at the college or seminary level.

“We are so blessed to have all our children living near us,” Rev. Scheuers says.

A minister’s interest kindled the internal call Rev. Scheuers felt as a young man. He says, “In my teenage years, my pastor, Rev. Clarence Werkema, deeply influenced and encouraged me to consider entering the ministry.”

In 1977, Rev. Scheuers was ordained in the CRC at Baldwin, WI.  He went on to serve churches in Luverne, MN, and Kalamazoo, MI, prior to accepting the call to First Chino in 1993.

Reflecting on the highlights of his ministry, he says, “I was especially blessed to see a good number of adults come to faith in Christ through the years. We are greatly encouraged by the usage of the series of instructional material for young people, Life in Christ, which we edited and partially wrote. Some volumes have been translated into several foreign languages. I am also grateful to have been used of the Lord to give leadership on the classical and synodical level to our young federation.”

He concludes, “It has given me much joy and fulfillment to be used by the Lord to preach His Word and minister to His people.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the April 12, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal. Rev. Bradd Nymeyer has since been installed as the Senior Pastor at First URC in Chino, CA.

Pulitzer Prize Good News

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded last Thursday to Kazuo Ishiguro, which is good news. Ishiguro writes literary novels that defy genre boundaries and garner popular appeal.

Here’s the New York Times online story about the award. And here’s a Times 2015 interview with Ishiguro that explores his reading opinions and related reflections. A former editor, Robert McCrum, muses about his friendship with Ishiguro in this piece. And James Wood, of the New Yorker, gives his take here.

If you want to dip into the award-winning literature of Kazuo Ishiguro, be prepared for the unexpected. You may want to start with The Remains of the Day, his portrayal of a dignified butler on an introspective journey at the fading of his days.

From a church plant to an organized church in San Antonio

Moody prays laying hands-1An OPC mission work in San Antonio organized in a special service held February 10, 2017. Rev. Andrew Moody, who has served as the group’s church planter, was installed as its pastor. Elders Amit Kholsa and Thomas Roe and deacon Kyle Huizenga were ordained and installed.

About 100 people attended the service, including several Presbytery of the Southwest pastors, who participated in various ways.

Rev. Dr. Glen Clary (Providence OPC in Pflugerville, TX) preached from 1 Timothy 3:14-15 on “How to Behave in Church.” Referring to this and other texts in Paul’s letters to Timothy, he focused on three areas: worship, government, and discipline. He noted the priority of prayer in worship and how a minister must devote himself to preaching and teaching God’s Word. Worship must be done decently and in good order to reflect the character of God, whom we worship and who is with us when we worship. Church government should also be well-ordered because Christ governs the church by His word and Spirit. He does so through ordinary men who’ve been ordained to their offices and carry out their ministry under His dominion and direction. Finally, the church ought to be well disciplined because discipline is the means by which the Good Shepherd brings wandering sheep back into the fold.

Rev. Mark Sumpter (Regional Home Missionary for the Presbytery of the Southwest) exhorted the congregation to rely on God for discipleship strength in seven ways: 1) Be spiritually fervent in serving the Lord. 2) Be patient in enduring hardships. 3) Anticipate a variety of gifts in the body of Christ. 4) Remember to treat one another as gifts purchased by Christ’s blood. 5) Be eager to receive the preached Word with meekness. 6) Take up prayer and your post, eager to live out a witness for Christ. 7) Children and young people should realize they are being trained to make up the church of today as well as of tomorrow. 8) Make much of sin, but make more of Christ.

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Revs. Moody and Wagenmaker

In the administering of vows, Rev. Todd Wagenmaker (Covenant OPC in Ft. Worth, TX) addressed Pastor Moody, Rev. Bob Cannode (Providence OPC in Pflugerville, TX) spoke to the congregation, and Rev. Dr. Alan Story questioned the new elders and deacon. Rev. Andrew Moody prayed during the laying on of hands for the three officers.

Rev. Dr. Jim Cassidy (South Austin OPC) then gave the charge to the new office-bearers. Focusing on 1 Corinthians 4:1&2, he said, “Regard yourselves as servants and stewards.” He noted that being ordained is not a promotion, but a demotion as one goes from those being served to someone who serves. He acknowledged the authority of office-bearers, but reminded them it was not a license to lord it over others. He concluded by urging the men, “Be faithful servants.”

Out-of-town Presbytery visitors enjoyed a meal in the Moody home prior to the service, and all attendees were invited to a reception following it.

“Many people stayed for up to two hours after the service to fellowship,” Rev. Moody said.

Charter members of the congregation signed a special document prepared by local artist Maggie Gillikin.

“It is a 16 x 20” calligraphy that features Psalm 127:1 and Ephesians 2:19-22,” explains Rev. Moody. “It will be signed by our current members and framed to commemorate the Lord’s faithfulness in building His church.”

San Antonio Reformed Church began as a home Bible study in March of 2011. Its first worship service was held on October of 2011, and Pastor Moody was installed as an evangelist to continue his church planting work in May of 2012.

The group recently began renting a storefront space on the north side of San Antonio’s inner circle of freeways (8705 Botts Lane). Up to this point, the congregation has functioned under the oversight of elders from Grace OPC, which is about 20 minutes away. Grace has also provided financial support for the fledgling group.

“We have been blessed to have the session of Grace OPC oversee the life and ministry of the church for several years,” said Rev. Moody. “Now, the Presbytery has ordained and installed our own church officers.”

He adds, “This is a huge milestone for San Antonio Reformed Church. We are excited to see how the Lord will continue to grow His church and use us to glorify His name!”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the March 22, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.

Reading Recommendations

sunsetAfter a recent speaking engagement, I was asked for some book recommendations. Having expended a great deal of mental energy into the talks I’d just given, I felt a little brain dead and came up with only a few favorites. I did recall and mention, however, this earlier post that includes a variety of nonfiction related to literature as well as some fiction (both CBA and literary). That earlier post also talks about starting a book club.

Because I wrote that post several years ago, it’s definitely time for an update.  I also need to clarify something I said in front of the group. I spoke about finding one of Lynn Austin‘s books particularly meaningful when it described the struggle of Dutch settlers, and I’m pretty sure I gave an incorrect title. The book I was referring to is Waves of Mercy. But if you picked up Wings of Refuge, you’re also enjoy reading about how a woman’s archaeological adventure leads to a new understanding of the Middle East and her marriage. Lynn is a humble, godly woman who reminds me of Elisabeth Elliot.

Another favorite author in the Christian fiction genre is Ann Tatlock. In Every Secret Thing, a teacher learns how to cope with the present when she learns how to deal with the past. I’ll Watch the Moon is about a girl’s growing maturity while her brother is hospitalized with polio.

Jeanette Windle grew up as a missionary kid and spent many adult years in missionary contexts in foreign countries. This real life experience lends verisimilitude to her suspenseful books, and her painstaking research results in such remarkably accurate descriptions that she has been questioned by drug enforcement agencies about how she knew so much about their work.

I haven’t read any of the Amish novels written by Dale Cramer, but I enjoy the blue-collar male protagonists in some of his other books. One of my favorites is his Bad Ground, which is a coming of age novel with a young man who learns about work and relationships. His Summer of Light is a delightful novel about an unemployed husband and father who discovers a lot about himself and his family.

When it comes to literary fiction, the first name that comes to mind is Larry Woiwode. I had the privilege of participating in a week-long fiction workshop under his direction a few years ago (you can find my posts about that here, here, here, here, and here). Larry’s published works include novels, a memoir, and helpful books on writing.

Another literary author is Wendell Berry, creator of novels set in the fictitious town of Port William, Kentucky. His Hannah Coulter is a realistic portrayal of a woman’s long and difficult life.

Bret Lott has written many literary novels as well as an excellent book on writing, Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian.

Charles Martin is a fresh voice who skillfully constructs his plots in a way that keeps the reader guessing. I love When Crickets Cry, and I’m pretty excited to see the movie based on his The Mountain Between Us. 

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is one of my favorite novels. I love its imagery and mystery. I’m not a huge fan of her other fiction, but this one shines with luminous writing.

Island of the World by Michael O’Brien is a beautiful and tragic book about great loss with healing through faith. This is a difficult book to read, but one that shows redemption through Christ.

To Kill a Mickingbird by Harper Lee may be my favorite American novel. I also enjoy several Victorian authors, especially Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Anthony Trollope.

I hope you find these reading recommendations helpful. Feel free to leave a comment. If you’re interested in my work, hop over to my new author page on Facebook and comment there.

A dangerous book

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Choosing the Good Portion is available from the OPC online store

Choosing the Good Portion: Women of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church; edited by Patricia E. Clawson & Diane L. Olinger; published by The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church; cloth, 470 pages; © 2016

 

This is a dangerous book. Like Proverbs 31, it can make women feel inferior if they begin to think they somehow don’t measure up. But we know that Proverbs 31, like all Scripture, is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16) and Choosing the Good Portion is not only profitable, but also enjoyable and encouraging.

Yes, some of the women described in these stories seem almost superhuman, traveling to far countries and difficult situations, giving birth or raising children while husbands are distant or busy with other kingdom work. But if you read this book and come away feeling like a sub-par Christian, you’ve missed the point. The point isn’t how great these women were, but how great their God was in their lives and is in yours.

The title, Choosing the Good Portion, comes from the biblical account of Martha and Mary, which like Proverbs 31 can be dangerous. Am I a Martha or a Mary? I’ve personally struggled with the question for years. More than a decade ago, I wrote a poem confessing my affinity with Martha and my longing to be like Mary. This book is based on the premise that the featured women chose to first receive Christ’s teaching and then serve His church.

Editors Patricia E. Clawson and Diane L. Olinger deserve high praise for their excellent work in compiling and constructing these stories, as well as each writing one of them. Pat’s introduction explains the rationale and process that led to the book, while Diane’s afterword encourages readers to ask themselves: Am I Choosing the Good Portion?

Fifty-five women wrote these stories about ninety-three women who invested themselves in Christ’s kingdom, specifically as it has been expressed through the eighty-year history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).

What a job it must have been to determine who to write about and the women to write the stories! But what wisdom (if not pure practicality) to tackle the project with broad delegation. In the hands of different editors, the book could well have fallen into a boring litany of what began to sound like similar stories with only the names changed. As it is, the different styles and author voices add richness and variety that capture and keep reader interest.

While OPC readers will find the stories fascinating and recognize many familiar names, Christians from any federation will appreciate the accounts of sacrificial service for the Lord.

How wonderfully the Lord sustained women like Debbie Dortzbach, four months pregnant when kidnapped with Anna Strikwerda from a medical clinic by armed Eritrean guerillas in 1974. Debbie survived the ordeal, which included witnessing Anna die from a gunshot to the head.

Eritrea had long been an inhospitable mission field. Bandits, armed with AR-15s, nearly attacked the Francis and Arlena Mahaffy family, who arrived in 1944 and stayed 22 years. Arlena’s seven children were born in primitive and unsterile conditions. Feeding them involved boiling sour and dirty milk as well as soaking vegetables in chlorinated water before cooking them with the stalks.

Other stories describe women who served the church on the home front by giving time, money, or sound advice. Women like Betty Wallace, who helped found Franklin Square OPC in New York and taught Sunday school for many years. She hosted missionaries in her home and viewed life as a wonderful adventure: “Any better, I couldn’t stand it!”

Not all the profiles focus on positive productivity. The women are portrayed as real people with human frailties. Donna McIlhenny bravely pens a transparent narrative about how alcohol helped her cope with stresses few of us will ever experience—until it stopped being her helper and became her tyrant. She eventually overcame her addiction, but this story shows that being a Christian doesn’t automatically deliver a person from deep and long-lasting struggles.

Choosing the Good Portion could be a dangerous book, but only if you read it with a focus on the human instead of the divine.

The above book review by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 43 of the March 1, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.

 

The path to ministry from Michigan to New Zealand

benedictionOn December 10, 2016, Aaron Warner was ordained in the Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ) and installed as the minister of the Reformed Church of Palmerston North. Rev. Warner was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is a 2015 graduate of Mid-America Reformed Seminary.

About 100 people attended the ordination and installation, which took place at 1:30 on a warm Saturday afternoon during New Zealand’s summer. Rev. Albert Couperus, a recently-ordained Mid-America graduate, led the service.

“Albert was a classmate with me at the Seminary and spent all three years convincing me to come to New Zealand,” said Rev. Warner.

Another Mid-America graduate, Rev. Andre Holtslag (who supervised Aaron’s vicariate at the Reformed Church of Dovedale in Christchurch), preached from 2 Timothy 1:1-14. He focused on the essence of ministry revealed in five remembrances: prayer, fellowship, discipleship, preaching, and Jesus Christ.

Just as verse 3 notes Paul’s constant prayer for Timothy, the minister and congregation are called to pray continually for each other. Paul’s longing to see Timothy, expressed in verse 4, reflects the joy of fellowship believers can experience. Verse 5 relates Timothy’s godly upbringing and indicates the necessity to disciple others. In verse 6, Paul reminds Timothy to “kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (NASB). That gift was the calling to preach the Word. Rev. Holtslag encouraged Aaron to spend time in the Word so that he would be ready to preach it. He drew the final point from 2 Timothy 2:8, when Paul urged Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ.” A minister must always remember Christ in his personal life and in his preaching.

Rev. Michael Flinn, a retired minister and elder at Palmerston North, led the ordination section of the service. His son, Daniel Flinn, led a concluding portion of the service. He welcomed to the podium elders from several visiting churches, who brought greetings from their congregations and expressed wishes for God’s blessings. He also read letters from many other congregations without representatives present.

The Flinns have a Mid-America connection as Daniel planned to begin studies there in the fall of 2017, and his brother, Josh, graduated in 2016. Josh also persuaded Aaron to consider ministry in New Zealand, particularly at Palmerston North (which in on the North Island), and is now serving his vicariate at the Reformed Church of Nelson (on the South Island).

Aaron’s journey to ministry in New Zealand, which encompassed far more than moving his family to another country, began many years ago. He explains that God used Rev. Arthur Besteman, his former pastor in Michigan, “in a substantial way” in his life, and he made his public profession at a young age.

Having little desire for further education after high school, Aaron entered an electrician apprenticeship. Two years later, he shadowed a missionary in Toronto for a weekend and began to feel called to the mission field. But the prospect of completing both undergraduate and graduate degrees was daunting.

“I decided instead to invest myself in the church and other programs. I went on several short-term mission trips, led junior high youth group, and did a mentorship program for men dealing with substance abuse,” he said. “I had hoped these things would satisfy the hunger I had for working in ministry without all the schooling.”

Still, he continued to feel the tug toward more formal ministry and its prerequisite education. During a mission trip to Trinidad, a minister heard one of Aaron’s lectures to young people and suggested he consider ministry.

“He did not know that this had been already heavy on my heart,” Aaron said. After his return, he spoke to his own minister, who encouraged him to pursue the internal call he was feeling. He began university classes with a view toward attending seminary.

On that same trip to Trinidad, Aaron had become acquainted with Audra, a fellow team member who shared his passion for missions and interest in other cultures. The two were married in 2008 and blessed with their first child a year later.

Being a non-traditional student and caring for a family was not easy, but Aaron graduated from Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids with a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and a minor in philosophy. His plan to attend seminary, however, was put on hold.

charge to ministerWhen the Warners approached their church council for assistance, the elders expressed concern about their college debt and their anticipated second child. The council asked them to take off a year or more to try to pay down their debt.

“At first, it was difficult for us,” Aaron said, “but we soon realized the wisdom of our elders.”

Over the next two years, Aaron worked at an automatic car wash, drying cars. He took an online class from Mid-America to determine his ability to handle seminary level course work. It went well. He began full-time studies in 2012 and graduated in 2015.

The couple’s third child was born while Aaron was in seminary, and their fourth child was born in New Zealand, while Aaron served his vicariate at Dovedale. (The RCNZ requires its ministers to serve a year-long internship as a vicar in an established congregation under the supervision of an ordained minister and elders.)

When Aaron entered seminary, he and Audra had a goal of doing mission work. “New Zealand was not even a thought in our minds until I met Albert,” he said. “He helped us understand the need for pastors in New Zealand.”

By the time the Warner family arrived in Christchurch, seven out of the 20 churches had no full-time pastor. Some had been without a minister for several years. If ministers preparing to retire were not replaced, the federation could face empty pulpits in half its churches. Two of the three existing church plants had no minister.

Although Aaron and Audra realized they would miss family and friends in the United States and regretted living so far from their children’s grandparents, they came to believe that their struggles were well worth enduring to help God’s people in New Zealand.

After completing his vicariate, Aaron sustained his preliminary examination on July 8, 2016, making him eligible for call within the RCNZ. Two churches extended calls to him prior to the ten-week deadline. He accepted the call to Palmerston North on September 22, and passed a final examination on November 4 & 5.

laying on handsHis ordination on December 10 concluded his eleven-year seminary odyssey and marked the beginning of the formal ministry toward which the Spirit had nudged him so many years ago.

As the Warners adjust to cultural, geographical, and federational differences, they find Kiwis friendly and God faithful.

Aaron shared his personal goals. “In these first years, I hope to increase in my prayer life,” he said. “I hope to be shaped more by God’s word, so as to be a better shepherd to my family (both immediate and church). I hope and pray that God would strengthen me to the immense task that He and the church have called me to.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10-12 of the March 1, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal

November

winterIt’s November, the between month. Between leaves tumbling in sun-warmed colors and snowflakes feathering from a slate sky. Between roaring combines churning dust clouds and dazzling white blanketing latent fields. November. Cold, gray.

I was born in a dreary November more than 80 years ago. In the same old farmhouse that cradles my weary bones and bleary memories. I am cold and gray. I am November.

Shrieks pierce my mind. My heart thumps in my throat as the ambulance careens around the corner and lurches into our pasture.

My eyes flutter open and focus on the book in my lap. The sound is only the phone. And like the old fool I am, I’ve left it in the kitchen again.

I grasp the sides of my walker and hoist myself out of the recliner. It will probably stop ringing by the time I get there. “Don’t you dare do that to this old lady.”

My slippers shuffle across the linoleum to the table, where I’d left the cordless phone after Charlie called during breakfast. I pick it up and press talk. “Hello?”

“Maggie, that you?”

“You were expecting Marilyn Monroe?”

Elizabeth chortles, and I wait for her snort, but she cuts it short. “You okay?”

“Of course, I’m okay. I’m standing here talking to you, aren’t I?”

“You weren’t in church yesterday, so I just wondered.”

“You and half the county.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, honey.” She chuckles.

I ease into a chair. “Well, maybe only Charlie.”

“Checking up on the old lady?”

“Just like you.”

“You mean I’m an old lady too, or I’m checking up on you like Charlie?”

“Both.” I grin, even though she can’t see it. “When are you coming over for Scrabble?”

“You up to it this afternoon?”

“Sure, I’m always ready to trounce you.”

“Ha!” She laughs like a crowing rooster. “Look up last time’s score.”

“Can’t. I threw that paper away.”

Now her laugh ends in the familiar little snort. “See you at two.”

“Wear your asbestos pants.”

She doesn’t reply because she’s already hung up.

I guide my walker to the desk and replace the phone in its charger. No sense letting the battery go down before something happens and I really need it.

The ambulance vision flashes in my mind, and I take a deep breath, dancing around the other images vying to be seen. I stretch out both hands in front of me and focus on the gnarled knuckles. The indented finger around my wedding band.

When William slipped on the ring, he looked into my eyes and the corners of his lips rose in that slow smile. If not for his smile, I wouldn’t be here today. In the decrepit old house where I spent most of my life, except for those college years in Iowa City. My brother, Charles, worked beside Dad every day and was obviously cut out to be a farmer, but that wasn’t the life for me. I was going to be a teacher, move out east or maybe to the west coast. Anywhere far from hogs and corn.

Then during Christmas break of my junior year, William Briggs from down the road came calling. And his slow smile stole my heart. His brother wanted to take over their family farm, which was fine by him because he planned to become a doctor. I easily envisioned myself as a doctor’s wife. I could teach while he was in medical school.

But by the time I walked across the stage to receive my diploma and teaching certificate, things had changed. Charles had been killed in action in Korea. Dad came in from scooping a heavy spring snow out of a feed lot, laid down to rest, and never woke.

Neighbors rallied to put in the crops and do the chores, but my mother didn’t have a head for business and needed someone with brains—someone like William. We moved up our wedding, and then we moved in with Mom.

I shake my head in a vain effort to dispel those memories. Adjusting to married life and the first year of teaching had been difficult enough, but complicating things by living with my mother while William learned to farm the place had been insane.

I take a deep breath. What I needed was some exercise. On the enclosed porch, I slip on my hooded sweatshirt and zip it up. I wrestle the walker through the door, and the cold air startles my lungs.

The walker slides along the smooth path into the pasture. A wisp of morning mist rises from the pond in the hollow like an unsettled spirit. I bow my head. The moment stretches into minutes. Then I turn away.

I stand and survey the land, feeling like a tiny figure frozen in a Grant Woods landscape. Acres of corn stubble spread like dunes of raked sand. Bean fields that lay covered with gold and russet velour blankets only a few weeks ago, now rest like shaved gray heads.

Clouds scud above, and a gust of wind invades my jacket. Time to turn around.

As I near the house, the LP truck rumbles down the road and pulls into my driveway. A man hops out, gives an energetic wave, and dashes around the back of his truck. By the time I’m within talking distance, he’s already fastened the hose onto the nozzle and another five hundred dollars flows into the tank.

The driver is Harold and Lucile Stanhope’s boy. He grins. “Should you be walking clear out there by yourself, Mrs. Briggs?”

“You offering to come walk with me every day?” Why can’t I remember this guy’s name? He was in Margaret’s class.

He laughs. “I wish.” He makes a note on his clipboard so the Co-op doesn’t neglect to send me the bill. “Nothing I’d like better than to walk with you on a fine day like this.”

I raise my eyebrows. “What’s so fine about it?”

“It’s not raining, and it’s not snowing. Yet.” He checks the tank’s gauge. “The roads are clear and dry.” He looks at me and grins again. “Yep. It’s a fine day.”

His name still eludes me, but I remember he has a daughter getting married soon.

“How are the wedding plans going?”

“Oh, the planning’s done. Jennifer got married in October.” He patted the pulsing hose. “Now I just have to work my tail off to pay for the blessed event.”

My legs and arms are turning to jelly, so I head for the back door. “Well, best wishes to the happy couple.”

“Thanks.” He waves.

“See you later.” I maneuver through the door, and he has the good sense not to offer to help me. Why can’t I remember his name?

My hood hung up, I push into the kitchen. What’s for lunch? The daily question. The refrigerator contains some wilted lettuce in a baggie, a few cheese sticks, and Rubbermaid containers I don’t want to open for fear of what might be growing in them.

Soup’s always good. I open a can of chunky chicken and dump it into a pan.

The phone blares, and my heart leaps. But it’s probably only Margaret.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Mom.” It is Margaret. “How’re you doing today?”

“Fine. You?”

“Fine, too.”

My daughter and I have scintillating conversations.

I decide to ratchet it up. “What’s on your agenda for the afternoon?”

“Paperwork. Then leading bingo in the activity room at 3:00. Want to come into town for it?”

“No, thanks. Elizabeth is coming over for Scrabble this afternoon.”

“Oh, good deal. Keeps the Alzheimer’s at bay.”

“We can only hope.”

She laughs. “Mom, I work with elderly people all day, every day, and you’re the sharpest pencil in the box.”

“Well, that’s a relief. Glad I’m sharp enough to write, since I can’t dance anymore.”

“Who are you kidding? You never could dance.”

I chuckle. “You got that right.”

“Have you had lunch yet?”

She’d moved into hovering daughter mode. And her question reminds me of the soup on the stove. “I’m heating some soup, which looks like it’s boiling. I’d better take care of it.”

“Don’t forget to turn the burner off.”

Definitely hovering. “I won’t.”

As soon as I hang up, I shut off the burner and put the pan on a cold one. I check again to make sure the knob is turned to off. One time the oven was on all night. I shudder to think what that did to the REC bill.

I eat from the pan to save dishes and dump the extra in a container, which joins the others in the fridge. I slide my walker into the living room and sink into the recliner. As I reach for the open book lying on the table, my fingers brush Emily’s picture.

The book feels heavy as I pick it up, but I hang onto it like a lifeline. I smooth the page and stare at the words, which blur. My mind wanders shadowy paths.

A baby’s face smiles at me, drool dripping from her lips. She giggles and grows into a leggy teen, bouncing on Blackie’s back as he bursts from the barn and pelts toward the pasture. I run outside, yelling for him to stop. But Emily tugs the reins and spins him around, laughing. “It’s okay, Mom. I have everything under control.”

Only she didn’t. She couldn’t control the demons in her mind. The demons that drove her to tie a gunny sack full of heavy rocks to her waist and wade into the pond. She tied knots well, and her body stayed submerged until Charlie glimpsed her red shirt shimmering beneath the surface. By the time William and Charlie dragged her out, it was already too late. William cleared her airway and performed CPR during all the years before the ambulance screamed down the road. He kept at it, until the EMT pulled him away and told us she was gone.

So many gone before me! Charles, Dad, and Mom. My precious Emily. Two little grandbabies who never saw the light of day. And William. That dear man with his slow smile and his warm heart.

He would have been a wonderful doctor. He loved people. But he loved the land too, and he was a great farmer. He taught me to see beauty not only in breathtaking sunsets, but also in the deep sheen of corn leaves. The myriad hues of green in the trees and grasses covering the rolling hills.

And I taught. Other people’s children off and on, but mostly my own. Teaching Emily to sound out words as she cuddled on my lap. Teaching Charlie to count apples and subtract the ones we peeled. Teaching Margaret to form letters on the blank backs of desk calendar sheets. Good times. Special moments with my children who had grown up so fast. Now their children were adults, some married with kids of their own.

“Yoo-hoo! Anybody home?”

Elizabeth waltzes through the kitchen and into the living room as if she owns the place. “Oh, sorry. Did I wake you?”

“No.” I blink. “Well, maybe I dozed off for a minute. What time is it?”

“It’s 2:00 on the nose, honey.” She gets the Scrabble game out of the hall closet and brings it to the kitchen table. “I said I’d be here at two, and I am.”

My body seems heavy as I struggle to stand. “Sorry I’m not ready. I haven’t even made coffee.”

“I’m not drinking coffee lately anyway.” She opens the board. “It bothers my gallbladder.”

I ease myself onto a chair. “You ought to have that thing yanked.”

She wrinkles her nose. “Easy for you to say. I don’t want to have surgery if I can avoid it.” She shakes the bag of tiles and holds it out to me. “Go ahead and take one. Let’s see who starts.”

I examine my tile and smile. An A.

She glances at hers. “Aha! I got a C.”

I show her my tile. “Looks like I make the first move.”

“Oh, shoot.”

As I place my seven tiles on the rack, I keep smiling. This game is off to a great start.

Elizabeth loses gracefully as always and puts away the game. She goes to her car and brings back a small casserole in a disposable pan that she puts in the oven on timed bake.

She pauses on her way out. “Now, remember. Supper will be ready at 6:00.”

“I know.” You’d think I hadn’t just beaten her pants off.

Her car shoots down the road, leaving a comet trail of gravel dust. The sun has dropped behind the barn and casts long shadows.

I slip on my sweatshirt and head outside. The morning’s gray sky has broken into white clouds that sail across intense blue. The humidity must be low for once.

I pause by the pond. No mist rises now, and I allow the images to wash over me.

Emily’s pale face surrounded by her darkened hair, streaming dank water onto my shirt and pants as I cradle her head in my lap. William bending over her face, pressing his mouth to hers. Charlie pressing her chest with his crossed hands. Water bubbles between her parted lips like suffocating baby drool. I will her to gasp. I beg God to make her breathe again. But she doesn’t.

I lean on my walker and look at the hills. That’s where my help comes from.

Bent and broken corn stalks gleam in the light of the low sun. Tall grass stems glow like bronze reeds. It’s a fine day for a walk on the farm. Especially for November.

Time for this old lady to go home.

The above short story by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6-9 of the December 14, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.

Annual gathering provides fellowship and teaching for pastors and wives

2016 group-croppedFor the past several years, pastors and wives from Canadian Reformed and United Reformed churches in western North America have gathered for the Western Ministerial Conference (WMC), which many participants describe as more of a retreat.

Part of the relaxed feeling may arise from the conference’s scenic location at Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center in Sumas, WA. But the atmosphere also differs from ecclesiastical meetings because wives attend with their pastor husbands and the fellowship crosses federational boundaries.

Rev. Brain Cochran (Redeemer Reformation URC; Regina, SK) and his wife, Julie, have attended the WMC for the last five years.  He says, “It is a wonderful opportunity for strengthening our ecumenical ties as sister denominations. I’ve grown in my appreciation for the CanRC and in trust and thankfulness for my brothers who are serving in our sister denomination.”

Conference organizer Rev. Ben Schoof (Maranatha CanRC; Surrey, BC) explains who is invited to attend: “All pastors and missionaries and their wives of Regional Synod West of the Canadian Reformed church (Manitoba, British Columbia, Denver, and Washington state) plus any URCNA pastors in the same area.”

According to Rev. Schoof, the retreat aspect is the first intended goal of organizers. “It is a time for pastors and their wives to get away, to recharge their minds and strength and souls.” The WMC “allows ministerial colleagues to get to know each other, reconnect with each other,” and experience fellowship on many levels.

A secondary goal is for learning. “Each time we have a knowledgeable keynote speaker on a topic applicable for life and work in the ministry,” he says. “Often there will be workshops specifically for the wives.”

This year the Langley, Cloverdale, and Surrey CanRCs (Classis Pacific West) organized the Ministerial with the assistance of New Westminster and Cloverdale URCs. The approximately 50 pastors and wives, some who brought along infants, about evenly represented the two federations. The time frame of October 25-27 allowed attendees to enjoy fall weather as well as good food and creation’s beauty.

“The venue and the hospitality are amazing,” Cecilia Vandevelde says. “It’s lovely to be fed with the finest of food, and take advantage of our free time to do some hiking on the trails that are on the property, or rest on the trestle bridges and watch the creek flow past.”

Cecilia and her husband, Rev. Steve Vandevelde (Carman East CanRC; Carman, MB) have attended the conference for four years. While they love the hospitality, they also enjoy the interaction with colleagues during free times and meals. “It’s a safe environment for us to discuss and talk about the hard things that can come along in ministry (either in our homes or in our congregations) and support each other in these things,” she says. “We are both so glad that retired ministers and their wives come too, as they are a wealth of information and encouragement for us.”

As a young couple, the Schoofs are also grateful for the opportunity to learn from more experienced pastors and their wives. Rev. Schoof most enjoys “relaxing and recharging, spending time away from my work, and with my wife, and getting reacquainted with or getting to know my ministerial colleagues.” He adds, “My wife from her side very much enjoys getting to know the other pastors’ wives and learning from them how to manage some of the issues and difficulties that come from being a pastor’s wife.”

Attendees always experience such retreat aspects, but speakers and topics vary greatly from year to year. Rev. Dick Moes, pastor of Surrey Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) in Surrey, BC, says, “Every year the speeches make each WMC special and unique.”

This year’s speaker, Kevin Hoogstad, from Christian Counselling in Burlington, ON, enlightened attendees on the science of the teenage brain. He also administered a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test and applied it to aspects of life such as ministry and marriage.

“His speeches on the teenage brain were very insightful,” Rev. Moes says. “I wish I had heard this material much earlier in my life.”

Rev. Cochran says, “He helped everyone better understand teen culture and how we can engage our teens and disciple them.” He found the Myers-Briggs tests “fascinating” and adds, “It turns out my wife and I are almost opposites on the MBTI but complement each other well. He used it to help us understand how we can better interact with our church members and fellow office bearers.”

“I think everyone enjoyed the Myers-Briggs personality test,” Rev. Moes says. “It gave us a little more insight into what kind of personality we have with its strengths and weaknesses.”

Another unique feature of this year’s ministerial was a presentation from a pastor and wife, who shared their personal story of his struggle with clinical depression. “It was a very moving talk,” says Rev. Cochran, “and I felt very privileged and blessed to hear it.”

In some ways, the WMC functions as a retreat for couples. “The ministerial is definitely a highlight of the year for us,” Cecilia says. “Along with everything else, it’s also a time for us to focus on each other and our marriage. The ministerial is busy, to be sure, but there are moments in between where we can have a chance to talk together and touch base with each other and pray with and for each other.”

Rev. Moes, who served for a second year on the conference’s organizing committee, says, “Since the goals and purpose of the conference are first, warm fellowship and relaxation, and second, inspiring speeches, I think this year’s event was once again a success.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the January 18, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.

 

Rev. Jeff DeBoer examined at Classis Central US

Oord-De Boer
Revs. Oord and DeBoer

When Classis Central US met on September 12 & 13, 2016, a significant item on the agenda was the colloquium doctum for Rev. Jeff De Boer. But before that conversation began, a question was raised regarding its necessity. A little background helps explain Rev. De Boer’s path to that moment.

A 2000 graduate from Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Rev. De Boer was ordained in the RCUS and served the congregation in Garner, IA, for seven years before attending law school.

“I realized I lacked the ability to effectively connect with and minister the gospel to people who were not part of the congregation I pastored,” he said. “I’d never been outside the bubble of the Reformed world. So I went to law school to experience a bigger world.”

Although he thoroughly enjoyed his legal education, he began to question his future only a year later, when he received a call to a URCNA congregation. “I did not take the call, but it was the beginning of a great deal of soul searching that resulted in leaving law school.”

While Rev. De Boer was in law school, he and his family attended a PCA in North Liberty, IA, where he occasionally preached. After the church’s pastor resigned and some families left, the congregation expressed an interest in him as its new pastor. The PCA presbytery examined him, he accepted a call to North Liberty, and was ordained in the PCA.

Now employed as Director of Enrollment Management at Mid-America, he and his family attend Community URC in Schererville, IN. His wife, Karen, and their children became members soon after the family moved to the area, and Rev. De Boer assists with preaching and other aspects of pastoral ministry. He also volunteers as a chaplain for the St. John Police Department. The consistory of Community URC brought the request for his colloquium doctum to Classis Central US.

The question regarding the need for an examination was raised because Rev. De Boer’s work at the Seminary seems more administrative than ministerial in nature. Following a discussion that included employment requirements and URCNA emeritation policies, Classis proceeded with the colloquium.

Rev. Nick Alons (Lynwood URC) examined Rev. De Boer in the area of practica. This highly personal section focused on the pastor’s relationship with God and others. Questions additionally sought insight into his qualifications for ministry and his perception of the office. His views on liturgics, homiletics, pastoral care, and evangelism were also addressed.

“After the exam, it was clear to me that he has a real heart for equipping pastors for the rigors of ministry,” Rev. Alons said. “It was also clear that he understands the urgency for mission work to be carried out by the local congregation.”

Other examiners included Rev. Bradd Nymeyer (Sioux Center URC) on church polity, Rev. Tom Wetselaar (Immanuel URC; DeMotte, IN) on confessional knowledge, Rev. Harold Miller (Covenant Reformed; Kansas City, MO) on ethics, and Rev. Doug Barnes (Covenant Reformed; Pella, IA) on reformed doctrine. Rev. De Boer successfully sustained his colloquium doctum and was declared eligible for call within the URCNA.

Community URC has called Rev. De Boer as Associate Pastor, viewing him as on loan to Mid-America and the St. John Police Department. The consistory oversees his work and encourages his continued participation in church life.

“He is very active in our church,” said Rev. James Oord, pastor of Community URC. “Rev. De Boer has already been working with our church to develop a program where each seminarian who attends Community is paired with an older, experienced man for one-on-one mentoring. He serves as a member of our Discipleship Committee and is currently teaching a Sunday School class on ‘The Art of Neighboring.’ ”

Rev. De Boer recently became the St. John Police Department’s first chaplain under its newly-instituted program. Having found it rewarding to serve as a police chaplain in North Liberty, Rev. De Boer volunteered for similar work in St. John.

The Department sees the new chaplain program as a link in its efforts to unite the community and police, through participation in some events and provision of necessary assistance. Chaplains also provide counseling and comfort to officers and families experiencing crisis.

“Most of my work will be with the officers,” Rev. De Boer said, “although there will also be occasional, public functions.”

Rev. De Boer’s responsibilities at Community URC may continue to develop.

We are exploring ways to grow this role, always respecting his time commitment and calling to Mid-America,” Rev. Oord said. “We see Rev. De Boer as being very gifted in the areas of discipleship and evangelism and we hope that he can be an encouragement and blessing to our church culture in those areas.”

In addition to conducting the colloquium doctum for Rev. De Boer, Classis Central approved three overtures. Two from Sioux Center URC dealt with synodical procedure and will go to Synod 2018. The first recommended the addition of an Appendix 7 to the Church Order, which would provide guidelines for appeals. The second overture suggested adopting a classical rotation for hosting synods, which takes into account two recently-added classes.

The third approved overture, from Immanuel URC in DeMotte, established a classical church assistance fund. Similar to funds in other classes within the federation, the Classis Church Assistance Fund (CCAF) will provide assistance at the discretion of Classis to churches requesting financial support. Requests for assistance must be made in writing, but will not be published publicly. Individual churches determine their level and frequency of contributions, designating them for the CCAF.

Delegates advised several churches on discipline matters. One case not discussed in executive session sought advice to “exclude” a member, a newly-formed category in Pastoral Advice subsequent to the 2016 Synod. Because the new categories are not yet part of the Church Order, Classis eventually suggested the church move toward the second step of discipline instead.

One advice request questioned whether a member, not licensed to exhort in the URCNA, may exhort in a non-NAPARC church. This led to a discussion regarding the way licensure relates to exhorting in churches that do not belong to NAPARC.

Rev. Sam Perez informed delegates about the Grace Reformed church plant in Jersey City. Rev. Ruben Sernas introduced himself and spoke about his work with El Pacto de Gracia, the church plant in Chicago Heights, IL.

Delegates heard fraternal greetings from Rev. G.I. Williamson (Presbytery of the Dakotas of the OPC), Rev. Brian Janssen (Iowa Presbytery of the PCA), Rev. Jonathan Haney (Midwest Presbytery of the RPCNA), Rev. Herman Van Stedum (South Central Classis of the RCUS), and Mr. Jacob Kuik (Classis Manitoba of the CanRC).

This was the first time Sioux Center URC hosted Classis in its building. Rev. Spencer Aalsburg (Christ Reformed Church; Sioux Falls, SD) chaired the meeting, and Rev. Todd Joling (Faith URC; Beecher, IL) served as vice-chairman. Rev. Talman Wagenmaker functions as Classis Clerk.

Christ Reformed Church in Sioux Falls was slated to convene the next meeting of Classis Central US on April 3, 2017.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the November 20, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Classis Michigan declares URCNA candidate

Arjen Vreugdenil
Arjen Vreugdenhil

When Classis Michigan of the URCNA met on October 11, 2016, the primary item on the agenda was the candidacy examination of Arjen Vreugdenhil. According to Classis Clerk Greg Lubbers, delegates took most of the day to conduct a through exam before determining “without dissent” that Mr. Vreugdenhil had sustained all sections of the examination.

“I questioned Arjen in Bible Knowledge, and he was exceptional,” said Rev. Matthew Nuiver, pastor of Faith URC in West Olive, MI, “and he was just that through the rest of the exam as well.”

Because Vreugdenhil graduated from Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Mike Deckinga (representing the Seminary at Classis as its Vice-President of Advancement) was an interested observer. “Arjen readily provided answers to the many questions that were asked of him, making evident his love for Christ and his desire to serve him as a minister of the Word,” he said. “I was thankful to witness this event and I join, with many others, in prayer that God will make clear His will for Arjen and his family.”

While the Vreugdenhil family awaits God’s will regarding a pastoral call, they remain living in Lansing, IL, where Arjen is teaching at Lansing Christian School.

“This period of waiting is exciting, as we look forward to what the Lord has in store,” he said. “It is also a bit unsatisfactory to just sit tight and wait. I am glad I have work for the next few months; but even though I enjoy teaching, I am looking forward to fulfill my calling in the ministry, for which I have been preparing in the past several years.”

Arjen taught at the middle and high school levels in the Netherlands prior to arriving in the US to marry Jodi in 2001. He taught physics at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI, for nine years before attending Mid-America.

Tuinstra-Vreugdenhil-c
Rev. Tuinstra questions Arjen

During his seminary years, the family grew to include three young sons and the Vreugdenhils’ membership remained at Bethel URC in Jenison, MI (the church that requested his candidacy exam). Pastor Wm. Jason Tuinstra explained that the distance between church and seminary was not that great and didn’t preclude continuing supervision and support.

“Early on in Arjen’s seminary education, the consistory stayed in contact with the professors at Mid-America to give their input about his progress,” he said. Elders visited with Arjen at the Seminary and in his home as well as when he returned to the Grand Rapids area. “He also provided pulpit supply for us on numerous occasions, which has given the consistory a chance to observe his progress. Besides this encouragement and oversight, our council was very faithful to make sure that his physical needs were met.”

At its October meeting, Classis Michigan also conducted routine matters and offered advice on discipline cases. Delegates heard reports from Trinity, Dutton, and Eastmanville URCs, evidencing what Clerk Lubbers called “the on-going work of the Lord” in those churches.

“The reports emphasized the continual building of the Kingdom of God through the faithful preaching of the gospel and the proper administration of the sacraments,” he wrote. “In addition, the healthy organic life of these respective congregations was noted as displayed in the various societies, studies, and activities.”

Bethany URC in Wyoming, MI, hosted the 48th meeting of Classis, with Rev. Casey Freswick serving as chairman and Rev. Mike Schout as vice-chairman. Grace URC was scheduled to convene the next meeting on March 14, 2017.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 11 of the November 30, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal