Reflections and writing by a scribe who blogs and ascribes glory to God.
It’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.
“Hi, Mom.” It is Margaret. “How’re you doing today?”
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.”
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.
For 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Caffeinated Thoughts Briefing, a Christian worldview conference for students and adults on October 15, 2016, in Johnston, IA, featured an impressive line-up of speakers and panelists.
“The conference speakers sounded a clarion call to the church not to retreat, but to stand firm in their public witness as Western culture grows increasingly hostile to God’s truth and Christ’s lordship over every area of life,” said Mark Van Der Molen, an attorney and URCNA elder from DeMotte, IN, who attended the event.
The Briefing format allowed a half-hour for each speech, followed by a 30-minute panel discussion on that subject. Shane Vander Hart, founder and editor of the Caffeinated Thoughts website/blog and co-host of the Caffeinated Thoughts radio program, explained how panel dialogue augmented the lectures. “We were able to drill down a little more on the topics covered, and it allowed attendees to interact with the speakers.”
The conference began with Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, founder and national spokesperson for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, describing “A Christian Worldview.” The subsequent Worldview panel consisted of Dr. Beisner and Rev. Mike Ericson, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Reformed Church, which meets for worship at the Johnston Lions Club building where the conference was held.
Mike Ahmed spoke about “Responding to Islam” and participated in the follow-up discussion. Ahmad, who was an acquaintance of the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, narrowly escaped death when he declined an invitation to the military parade at which Islamic fundamentalist officers assassinated the president. Among those in close proximity to Sadat during the assassination, 38 were wounded and 11 killed. That experience led Ahmed to question his Muslim faith. After moving to the United States, he converted to Christianity and has helped pastor churches in North Dakota and Iowa. He often visits Cairo, where he assists with planting churches in Egyptian homes.
Sue Thayer addressed “A Culture of Life” from her unique perspective as someone who managed a Planned Parenthood clinic for nearly 18 years. She is founder of Cornerstone for Life Pregnancy Resource Center and a lead strategist for Iowa Right to Life. For the past 26 years, she has parented over 130 foster children. Others who participated in the related panel included Jennifer Bowen and Tim Overlin. Bowen is CEO of Iowa Right to Life and serves on the board of directors for And Then There Were None, a national ministry that assists anyone desiring to leave the abortion industry. Overlin is the Executive Director for Personhood IOWA and speaks about bringing the church back to life.
Dr. Robert Gagnon, associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, discussed “Responding to the LGBTQ Agenda.” He is the author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics and co-author of Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views. Gagnon’s articles have appeared in various scholarly journals and theological dictionaries. He also has been quoted in or written for many popular magazines and news outlets.
“Dr. Robert Gagnon powerfully demonstrated that the LGBTQ movement’s inversion of moral authority is not simply some culture war issue ‘out there,’” Mark Van Der Molen said, “but the Truth of the Word and the church’s very confession of the lordship of Christ are at stake.”
Joining Dr. Gagnon as panel participants were Dr. Nathan Oppman and Kelvey Vander Hart. Dr. Oppman serves on staff of The FAMiLY Leader, a public policy organization located in Urbandale, IA, which seeks to strengthen families by inspiring Christ-like leadership in home, church, and government. He previously worked for the Family Research Council and the South Carolinians for Responsible Government Foundation. Kelvey Vander Hart is a social work major at Hannibal-LaGrange University in Hannibal, MO, and a contributor to Caffeinated Thoughts and Hypeline.org. She has served as a student ministries intern and ministry leader at Grace Church in Des Moines, IA.
The final Briefing lecture featured Shane Vander Hart, speaking on “Our Religious Liberty.” He has served as dean of students for a Christian school and spent 20 years in youth ministry. He frequently speaks and writes about politics and policies and owns 4:15 Communications, a social media and communications consulting firm. The Religious Liberty panel also included Rev. Michael Demastus, pastor of Fort Des Moines Church of Christ, who has been active in the culture war and is often quoted on current and political issues in local and national publications.
Brian Myers, senior contributor at Caffeinated Thoughts and co-host of its radio program, organized this year’s event and served as emcee.
“I was pleased with the conference in terms of the incredible amount of information that was presented on some crucial subjects,” he said. “We always have a ‘content rich’ event, and our goal is that the attendees leave having learned a lot. This year’s event was exceptional in that regard.”
About 70 people attended the Caffeinated Briefing. Early registration was $20, while students paid only $15. Late registrants and walk-ins paid $30. Primary funding of the conference comes through a sponsorship program. Donors at different levels receive a variety of perks, including conference tickets, booth space, as well as website, brochure and/or radio advertising.
Caffeinated Thoughts was founded in 2006, and the first Briefing was held in 2014. Last year’s event focused on politics and featured three presidential candidates. While topics vary from year to year, the goal remains the same.
“Our goal has always been to provide those who attend with relevant information about issues that concern our readers and listeners,” Vander Hart said. “I think each year we’ve accomplished that.”
Caffeinated Thoughts addresses culture, current events, faith and politics with news articles, news analysis and opinion pieces written from a Christian and conservative point of view.
Caffeinated Thoughts Radio airs on The Truth Network, KTIA 99.3 FM in Des Moines, on Saturdays at 8 AM and 6 PM (Central). Broadcasts can be live streamed from thetruthnetwork.com or accessed from iTunes.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6-8 of the November 30, 2016, issues of Christian Renewal.
On October 16, 2016, E. Calvin Beisner spoke at Trinity Presbytery Reformed Church in Johnston, IA, on Godly Dominion versus Environmentalism. Beisner founded the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, a network of theologians, scientists, economists, and scholars promoting biblical earth stewardship, economic development for the poor, and the proclamation of the gospel.
Beisner began by describing two vivid memories from his childhood in Calcutta. The beauty of a red flowering vine in the courtyard of his apartment complex awakened within him his love for God’s wonderful creation. This second memory imprinted within him the devastating effects of poverty. Because his mother was paralyzed from a virus, a native woman cared for him while his father worked. As he was led several blocks to that house during early morning hours, he stepped over the dead bodies of poor people who had died during the night.
The October 16 lecture focused on threats springing from a denial of doctrines found in Genesis 1:27–28. Beisner defined godly dominion, or biblical earth stewardship, as “people made in the image of God, reflecting God’s own creativity, working together to enhance the fruitfulness, beauty, and safety of the earth for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors.” He explored what it means to live out the dominion mandate, how the environmental movement undermines that mandate, and how to recover it.
“Essentially, environment means everything,” he said, describing its etymological derivation from the word surroundings. Therefore, “environmentalism means everythingism,” which he equated with totalitarianism. “Environmentalism…is inherently totalitarian in nature.”
Beisner urged believers to use biblical terms for biblical activities, noting that the adjective “godly” distinguishes dominion from the “careless, rapacious, abusive activity” some wrongly associate with the term.
A biblical view flows from Genesis 1. Verse 27 reveals the essence of man: God’s image, male and female. Verse 28 expands on the mission of man: to multiply and fill the earth, to subdue and rule it.
“But these two ideas, multiplication and dominion, are the nemeses of environmentalism,” he said. “Even many Christian environmentalists,” who advocate what they call “creation care,” undermine the message of Genesis 1:28 by borrowing “without discernment, from a broader worldview,” which they fail to recognize as part of a “spiritual world war.”
Some of this stems from applying a faulty interpretation of Genesis 2:15 to Genesis 1:28. Beisner views this reinterpretation as involving two mistakes: assuming the command was for the entire earth rather than only the Garden, and restricting the meaning of the Hebrew verb to “serve,” which it means only when its object is personal, not impersonal.
“They insist that ‘serve and keep’ in Genesis 2:15 restates and controls the meaning of ‘subdue and have dominion’ in Genesis 1:28—despite the fact that the verbs have very different meanings.”
The threats to liberty and property
Beisner believes the environmental movement, with over a million organizations worldwide and billions of dollars spent on marketing its message, is the greatest threat to the survival of Western civilization with its rule of law, government by consent, and protection of “God-given rights to life, to religious and civil and economic liberty, and to property.”
The threat is particularly dangerous for four reasons: 1) It is not external like war or terrorism, but internal, and perceived as friend rather than foe. 2) It speaks to the inherent spiritual yearnings of human souls. 3) It incorporates strengths from other threats (Marxism’s utopian vision, humanism scientific façade, and jihad’s religious fervor). 4) It encompasses the “vague spiritualities” that have already overwhelmed secular humanism and threaten the Christian faith.
What some have called the Dark Green Religion “divines and resacralizes nature and so subjugates mankind to her, turning upside down the order revealed in Scripture,” Beisner said. “The worldwide environmental movement today unites pagan religion, ecological utopianism, and socialist politics and economics to create a vision for a global government that is the conscious goal of those who lead it…a fundamental transformation of the values, institutions, and practices on which modern civilization has rested.”
Beisner noted that Darwinism attacked Genesis 1:27, man created in the image of God, with tragic results to modern society. “We largely lost that battle, and the sad consequences are obvious all around us,” he said. “Our response to environmentalism’s attack on Genesis 1:28 today must be better.” From 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, he urged Christians to be “wise, courageous, and powerful in spiritual warfare, tearing down ideological strongholds and taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
Quoting many statistics, he showed that the last two hundred years have brought huge improvements to the human condition. Environmentalism threatens to “trap the poor in poverty and rob people of property rights” while expanding “oppressive government” and “weakening sovereign states” by pushing toward global government. Although industry provides the benefits of better living, many environmentalists promote abandoning industrial civilization and living ‘in harmony with nature’ as they mistakenly think human ancestors did. “For our ancestors,” Beisner said, “nature was to be feared because it hadn’t been subdued.”
The threat to science
Science is one of the most important tools in fulfilling the biblical mandate of godly dominion, but it is being undermined by irrationalism. Beisner contrasted the rationality of “real science” with the mysticism of “post-normal science.” Science from a biblical perspective views God as a rational being who created the universe and reveals himself increasingly to humans.
According to Beisner, post-normal science is “postmodern deconstructionism” applied to science. This results in researchers who go “through the motions” of scientific inquiry but with “preconceived conclusions to serve a predetermined agenda.”
To describe that agenda, he quoted from an influential professor of climate change, who wrote that “‘self-evidently’ dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth-seeking…scientists—and politicians—must trade truth for influence….. The function of climate change…is not about stopping climate chaos. Instead, we need to see how we can use the idea of climate change…to rethink how we take forward our political, social, economic and personal projects over the decades to come.”
Beisner said, “The global warming juggernaut is how environmentalists are promoting both socialism and global government…. And because it draws conclusions based on climate models regardless of real-world observations, it is also as irrational as pagan mysticism.”
The threat to faith
The threat to the Christian faith attacks the gospel and Christian ethics, biblical authority, and the pro-life movement.
Many books by environmentalists reduce the gospel from the truth of Christ’s complete atonement and present reign to the mere concept of loving God by caring for the earth.
“It’s true that if you love God you will try to take good care of the earth—and I encourage you to do just that—but that’s not gospel,” Beisner said. “It’s law, and law cannot give life.”
Although some books promoting “creation care” get the gospel right, they present environmental practices as “moral imperatives,” which replace or contradict God’s commands with traditions of man. He said, “So-called ‘Christian environmentalism’ can become a new legalism.”
To demonstrate how the greening of the church undermines the Bible’s authority, Beisner related his experience as a lecturer for “Care of Creation,” the 2012 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. Other plenary speakers, two New Testament scholars, were shocked that he challenged widespread environmental beliefs. They accepted without question that nearly 100 percent of climate scientists affirm catastrophic global warming, but that idea is based on an extremely limited and prejudiced survey.
To show how “creation care” organizations threaten the pro-life, Beisner explained how the largest and most influential organization, the Evangelical Environmental Network (heavily funded by the pro-abortion and pro-population-control Rockefeller Brothers Fund) promotes emissions controls as being pro-life. Based on how members of Congress voted regarding emissions, it praised those who voted for controls as pro-life, even if their record was 100 percent pro-abortion. The pro-life commitment of those who voted against controls was questioned, even if their record was 100 percent pro-life.
In response, the Cornwall Alliance prepared a statement “Protecting the Unborn and the Pro-Life Movement from a Misleading Environmental Tactic,” but the EEN campaign continues and increases. Still, a recent news article reported that despite millions of dollars poured into attempts to “green” American evangelism, the effort has failed. That failure was attributed largely to the truths about climate change communicated by the Cornwall Alliance, which does so with very little funding.
Beisner concluded with a call to spiritual arms: 1) Know and teach the Word, 2) Do the Word, 3) Support the Cornwall Alliance, and 4) Pray.
He explained how doing the Word might include helping your neighbors through local stewardship programs such as cleaning up lots, creating community gardens, or assisting with energy-saving improvements. But noting that “America is already pretty clean and safe by historical standards and compared with poor countries around the world,” Beisner encouraged listeners to consider assisting the poor in developing countries. One way is to help them resist pressure to adopt policies that would slow or reverse economic improvement.
“Finally,” he concluded, “we all need to pray for each other and for the church around the world to gain, and to put into practice, sound understanding of the biblical, theological, scientific, economic, and other aspects of godly dominion, to reclaim the blessings of Genesis 1:27-28.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 8, 9 & 39 of the November 9, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.
What do we mean when we speak of a worldview? At a conference in August of 2016, Dr. Joel Beeke defined it as how “we see and evaluate everything” with “assumptions that control how we think and feel and act.” A worldview, he said, is “not just a pair of glasses or contact lenses that we can take off or remove at will, but more like our eyes themselves, which are an organic part of who we are.”
Dr. Beeke was one of several speakers at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary’s eighth annual conference, The Beauty and Glory of the Christian Worldview. About 400 people attended the event, held at the Prince Conference Center in Grand Rapids, MI, from August 25-27, 2016.
Dr. Charles Barrett began the conference by addressing A Worldview for Pilgrims. In separate lectures, Dr. Derek Thomas spoke on two aspects of the Christian worldview: The Trinity and Daily Life. He summarized the latter by saying, “It’s realizing who Jesus Christ is and who you are in Jesus Christ that is the key and the secret to powerful, victorious Christian living.”
Other aspects of the Christian worldview included Dr. David Murray on Human Identity and Rev. Brian Cosby regarding Suffering. Attendees could choose from two breakout sessions: Rev. Mark Kelderman on A Christian Worldview of Sexuality or Dr. Charles Barrett’s Viewing This World by Following Jesus into the Next.
The blended voices of the Jubilee Women’s Ensemble provided special music to open the Friday evening session. In his speech on The Puritan Worldview, Dr. Joel Beeke spoke of how the Puritans took Calvinistic doctrines and applied them to every area of life, bringing “vital, Reformed, experiential, confessional piety” to the average person in the pew. He identified “one great truth that illuminated” the Puritan worldview as “God’s sovereignty, and more importantly, God’s fatherly sovereignty in Christ.” Friday’s session concluded as Rev. Kelderman moderated a Question and Answer session with a panel of speakers and one PRTS student, Sherif Atef Fahim.
Attendees were welcome to attend a Saturday morning prayer meeting, which was followed by lectures about two additional aspects of the Christian Worldview: Dr. Michael Barrett on The Old Testament and Dr. Jerry Bilkes on The Great Commission.
In a video overview of the event, Rev. Cosby spoke about how helpful these conferences are in encouraging Reformed believers that they are not alone.
The conference is an annual highlight for Mr. Randall Kirkland, who travels each year from St. Louis, MO, and is an elder at Christ Fellowship Bible Church. “The conference has been consistently rewarding in several respects,” he says, “solid Reformed experiential preaching, accessibility to the speakers, and wonderful hospitality.” He says, “All of the speakers very capably addressed the pivotal importance and implications of a Christian mindset or grid through which to process these challenging times, but with varying points of emphasis.” He found Dr. Thomas’s speech on daily life “a powerful overarching perspective that helped to frame the other messages.”
According to Chris Hanna, Director of Development, organizers were “very happy with the attendance, messages, book sales, and general response from those who attended.”
Speakers included several members of the PRTS faculty. Dr. Beeke is president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics as well as pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed congregation in Grand Rapids. Dr. Michael Barrett is Vice President for Academic Affairs/Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament as well as a minister in the Heritage Reformed Congregations who serves as the denomination’s Professor of Theology. Dr. Bilkes is Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology and is ordained in the Free Reformed Churches. Rev. Kelderman serves as Dean of Students and Spiritual Formation as well as instructor in Pastoral Theology. Dr. Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology and pastors the Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church.
Two speakers serve as ministers at Wayside Presbyterian Church in Signal Mountain, TN. Rev. Brian Cosby is Senior Pastor as well as Visiting Professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta, GA. Dr. Charles Barrett (the son of Dr. Michael Barrett) is Assistant Minister. Both men additionally teach as adjunct professors at Belhaven University in Chattanooga.
Dr. Derek Thomas is the Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Columbia, SC, and the Robert Strong Professor of Systematic and Pastoral Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta. He is a Teaching Fellow with Ligonier Ministries and Dean of its DMin. program.
Plans are being made for the ninth annual conference, The Beauty and Glory of the Reformation, to be held from August 24-27, 2017.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 16 & 17 of the November 9, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.
For the last five years, Christ Reformed Church (URCNA) has met for worship in the historic Grace Reformed Church building, located on 15th Street in downtown Washington, DC. Like other Gothic Revival style churches, the building features lofty spires and luminous stained-glass windows. But the architecture stands alone in its sculptural tributes to key places and persons of the Reformation.
About to enter the front of the building, you’d see an arch over the double doors that bears the name “Grace Reformed Church” and depicts Christ’s ascension. You might pause in surprise when you noticed the arch is flanked by shields for the cities of Zurich and Geneva. Lift your eyes higher, above the soaring stained-glass window to the very top of the building’s facade, and you’d see a carved figure holding the coat of arms for Elector Frederick III of the Palatinate, who commissioned the writing of the Heidelberg Catechism.
A Sunday School building echoes the Gothic Revival style as well as the theological emphasis. Dr. Brian Lee, Christ Reformed Church’s minister, calls the building’s outside wall on the south, “Washington DC’s version of the Reformation Wall.” Sculpted elements list Zwingli and Calvin, Bullinger and Beza, Ursinus and Olevianus.
How did the structures come to be embellished with such distinctly Reformed touches? The history page on the church’s website provides the answer. In order to appropriately represent the church’s philosophy, architect Paul J. Pelz studied the history of the Reformed church and became inspired by it. Sculptor James F. Earley incorporated the unique names and symbols, contributing to a final appearance that Pelz believed made Grace Reformed “more artistic than any church in this city.”
The Reformed Church Messenger, the denomination newsletter, agreed with that assessment while affirming the clarity of the building’s Reformed witness. An article about the church’s dedication in 1903 reported, “In erecting this building the Reformed Church has done an appropriate thing in a beautiful way…. Within and without it is as beautiful and artistic as it is substantial and complete…. It stands as a monument first of all to the power and grace of the kingdom of Jesus Christ but it represents at the same time the history and genius of the Reformed Church….. The style of architecture; the shields of Geneva, Zurich and the Palatinate; the emblems cut into stone arches over the entrances to the church and the memorials in the windows and the chancel, combine to make one harmonious story easily understood by anyone who knows the Reformed church.”
A structure with such Reformed elements seems the perfect place for the newly-organized URC congregation to meet, except for the fact that the building is for sale and Christ Reformed Church needs to find a new meeting location once it sells.
The building belongs to Grace Reformed Church, formerly a Reformed Church in the United States congregation, but now part of the United Church of Christ. The dwindling congregation, composed primarily of elderly parishioners, has realized for some time that it could not continue to maintain the building. In the summer of 2016, the church informed Christ Reformed that current rental arrangements would conclude soon.
Although the owners appear willing for the building to remain a place of worship and encouraged Christ Reformed to put together a proposal, that possibility does not seem likely. Church buildings in the DC area bring a premium sale price because real estate developers are keen to convert them into high-end condominiums or other lucrative secular uses. Because Grace Reformed Church, with its Sunday School building and parish house, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, its value could be even higher than average. While Dr. Lee hates to speculate, recent sales lead him to estimate the building could be sold for around $5 million. He foresees the proceeds being placed into a trust that would eventually benefit UCC charities.
While the loss of this unique location poses extreme challenges to the fledgling congregation, leaders and lay members are embracing the opportunity to assess and solidify the church’s vision and mission.
“This is a blessing,” Dr. Lee says, “especially for a newly-organized church like ours, a precious opportunity to ask anew where the Lord would have us plant our pilgrim flag and how he would have us serve him in this time and place.”
About a dozen volunteers, representing a broad range of the congregation’s demographic, are meeting for prayer and discernment. Part of their task is to determine questions and issues to bring before the entire congregation. Do they want to continue meeting downtown as the only Reformed witness in the city? Or do they want to move out to the suburbs, where most of them live? Do they want to continue focusing exclusively on Sunday worship and fellowship or find a facility that will permit the implementation of mid-week programs? Parking in DC is a problem, and many residents prefer not to drive in or out of the city. Church leaders feel it is important for members of the congregation to have input and play an active role in the important decisions that must be made.
Dr. Lee views this as a two-step process. The first step is figuring out, “How do we want to live our life together?” And the second step follows. “If we do that, what kind of building do we need?”
He explains that doing ministry in the midst of a city with a highly-transitory population is very different from the situation experienced by many URC congregations. Churches in smaller towns often enjoy a “generational aspect” that provides continuity and foundational resources. By trial and error, Christ Reformed Church has been discovering the “little details” that work within its metropolitan context. Although many city churches have updated worship or made compromises in other areas, Dr. Lee believes the congregation remains committed to the priority of worship that centers on the preached Word. Nevertheless, the church faces what he calls a “covenantal renewal moment.”
“This is a big step in the life of our church,” he says. “We’ve always been somewhat ‘accidental’ in our worship space, and we desire now to make a more intentional and long-term commitment in a particular neighborhood with a particular vision.”
Christ Reformed Church began meeting for worship on November 4, 2007, under the supervision of Zeltenreich URC (New Holland, PA). Classis Eastern U.S. concurred with the request for organization on October 14, 2015, and a celebratory worship service was held on January 21, 2016.
The congregation consists of about 70 total souls, although its composition is constantly changing. One family recently moved out of state, but two young women are being instructed toward membership. In addition to Dr. Lee, the church is served by two deacons and an elder. A former elder, who served for many years, continues as a member of the church.
As Christ Reformed Church faces the challenge of what may well be the loss of its historic and unique location, the congregation requests prayer for unity.
“We’re not so much seeking a particular outcome, as we desire spiritual unity through this process,” Dr. Lee says. “And stay tuned to see how the Lord blesses us during this time. He is the Lord of Provision, and we know he will.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 18-20 of the October 12, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.
Next time you vacation in the Wisconsin Dells, plan to drive less than 20 miles southwest to Reedsburg and worship with the saints at Grace Reformed Church. You’ll find sound preaching and warm fellowship in a congregation that reaches out in unusual ways.
The church began as a mission work of the Presbytery of the Midwest of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and was organized (particularized) as a church in 2007, with the ordination of three elders. Two deacons were installed in July of 2013.
Rev. Christian M. McShaffrey has been involved with the work since he graduated from Mid-America Reformed Seminary in 2003. He was ordained as an evangelist in 2004 and installed as pastor of the church in 2007.
“Though we are organized as a church, my work is not done,” he says. “While at Mid-America, I learned the ‘three-self’ formula of missions: 1) Self-governing, 2) self-supporting, and 3) self-propagating. The first two are done, but the third is yet future.”
The congregation consists of 48 communicant and 14 non-communicant members. They meet for Sunday worship at 11:15 AM in a PCUSA, whose space they rent at 148 North Park St. in Reedsburg. A luncheon at 12:30 PM follows the morning service. Members meet again for singing and prayer at 1:30, with a Bible study beginning at 1:45.
Rev. McShaffrey explains that the group originally met for morning and evening services, but because many members travel as much as an hour, evening attendance was lacking. When the congregation began renting its current facility, the worship schedule had to be adjusted around that church’s 9:30 AM service.
“The current schedule was based on necessity, but I have come to love it,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “Attendance in ‘second service’ has increased, and the bonds of our fellowship have deepened by breaking bread together each Sabbath. During the summer months, some linger about at the church in fellowship until evening.”
A home meeting is held each Wednesday at 6:00 PM for prayer, study, and fellowship. Members also take the initiative to sponsor Friday evening hymn sings, summer sporting events, hikes at a nearby state park, or community service projects.
The church’s website (reedsburgchurch.org) highlights several ministry and outreach efforts. One link leads to the unique Serious Christianity website (seriouschristianity.org), which answers multiple questions about different aspects of the Christian faith. Its purpose is to challenge the many “mere professors” of Christianity out of their complacency into true conversion.
“As a church planter, I spent a lot of time talking to people in the community,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “Almost everyone claimed to be ‘Christian’ and their claim was based on either 1) growing up in a church or 2) decisional regeneration. Antinomianism is rampant today.”
Visitors to the website can click on questions, which are answered with short, biblically-based articles. Other pages include comments from the Puritans and modern theologians. An “outreach” tab provides access to files for printing cards that invite people to explore the website by asking, “Do you take your Christianity seriously?”
A “diaconate” page on the church website introduces a couple of deacons, extensively explains their work and church guidelines, and offers links to other local resources.
We have a fairly active diaconate,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “We meet a lot of people by offering help. Of course, the majority of our work in done within the church. But I get about one phone call per week from strangers asking for help. Somehow, our church got the reputation of being generous, and I know that other pastors direct people to us. Having a public policy posted is helpful when it comes time to say, ‘No.’”
The website also includes links to Bible audio files and a way to request a free copy of a Bible.
“I believe that the Word of God is powerful. Reading it can change lives,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “One of our deacons is a Gideon and his love for distributing Scripture encouraged me to do the same. I get about one call per month. I order and ship directly from Amazon.com (because most people are not interested in meeting). I include my name and phone number in the front cover.”
Grace Reformed also offers Bibles through its radio ministry. It broadcasts sermons and prayer times as well as sponsoring daily Bible reading. When Pastor McShaffrey introduces himself to people, they often ask, “Are you the Christian who gives away free Bibles on the radio?”
The website includes an invitation page in Spanish, although it acknowledges that a specific Spanish-language ministry does not yet exist. The website even includes directions for taking a cab to the church service and having the deacons pay the fare.
Most church members participate in the annual Life Chain, in which pro-life advocates stand together to pray for God to forgive our nation and put an end to abortion. The Reedsburg group stands on Main Street for 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon. Rev. McShaffrey says, “It is a visual statement of solidarity by the local Christian community that abortion kills children, hurts women, and angers God.”
In addition to his ministerial duties, Rev. McShaffrey serves as Clerk of the Presbytery of the Midwest. He appreciates his education at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, saying, “I received sound theological instruction and was also encouraged by the good example of my professors in seeking the peace, purity, and unity of the church.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the October 12, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.
In 2013, Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, CA, welcomed Mihai and Lidia Corcea, a young couple who had traveled from Romania for Mihai to study at Westminster Seminary California. During 2016, Mihai graduated on May 28, sustained his candidacy exam by Classis SWUS on July 19, and was ordained on July 24. The couple returned to Bucharest on July 25, where they began a church plant.
“It has been a tremendous blessing to see how the Lord has answered our prayers for Mihai and Lidia,” Rev. Michael Brown says. “I met Mihai years ago, when he and another member of the core group in Bucharest, Claudiu Stefu, travelled to Milan for its Reformation conference. He told me about the desperate need in Romania for solid churches to be planted. He explained that, besides a few Hungarian-speaking churches, there is no Reformed presence in Romania, nothing to reach the Romanian-speaking population. I was impressed with Mihai’s passion about bringing the gospel to his native country and planting confessional churches. It was obvious that he had given much thought about how to do in Romania what Rev. Ferrari was doing in Italy. We discussed the challenges and obstacles to planting a Reformed church in Bucharest. At the time, it seemed almost impossible, little more than a dream.”
He adds, “But of course, with God all things are possible. Within a couple of years, Mihai and Lidia left their jobs and home in their native country and made the long journey to California.” Mihai began his seminary studies, and the couple attended Christ URC, where they warmly bonded with their church family.
Mihai served a year-long internship at Christ URC, attending consistory and council meetings, teaching catechism classes to youth, and going on home visits with the elders. He also led worship and exhorted at least once per month.
“We were pleased with his maturity, humility, and wisdom,” Rev Brown says. “We had the joy of watching Mihai and Lidia grow in their faith as well as their love for Christ’s church.”
Rev. Brown says Mihai did “an exceptional job” on his candidacy exam, “which is especially remarkable when you consider that he did this in a second language.”
At Mihai’s ordination service on July 24, Rev. Brown preached from Ephesians 4:1-16 and gave the charges to the pastor and congregation. Rev. Corcea pronounced the benediction. He is now a Missionary Pastor, called to make disciples in Romania by planting a church in Bucharest and evangelizing the lost.
“I think the best way I can describe the church that we hope to establish in Bucharest is by the three parts of the Heidelberg Catechism,” Rev. Corcea says. “Our church plant should be a people gathering in a place where they understand their sin and misery, they receive the knowledge of God’s merciful salvation through the gospel, and they start living more and more according to all the commandments of God out of thankfulness for God’s grace.”
The Evangelical Reformed Church in Bucharest (Biserica Evanghelica Reformata din Bucuresti) began meeting in a rented building in downtown Bucharest. It is about three minutes walking distance from a subway station and two blocks from the city’s largest park.
“We chose this location because it is easily accessible to anyone by car or subway,” he says. “We are also very close to the financial district where most young professionals work.”
A few local Reformed Christians, who had became members of Chiesa Riformata Filadelfia (Rev. Ferrari’s work in Milan) four years ago, now attend services at 10 AM and 6 PM. Church members are inviting friends and family to worship, and the group utilizes social media, such as Facebook, and have a website, where they post video recordings of the sermons.
Although Milan is a two-hour flight away, the two church plants encourage each other. The consistory of Christ URC supervises both groups by maintaining regular contact with the pastors, encouraging them, and helping raise funds for support. Each church planter reports via Skype at Christ URC’s month consistory meetings and communicates weekly via email. The hope is for Rev. Brown and an elder to visit Bucharest in conjunction with their annual visit to Milan.
“We believe that an annual visit to our missionaries from a member of our consistory is an important component of effective oversight,” Rev. Brown says, “as it helps us to encourage them on the field and maintain our fellowship with them.”
Although a Reformed presence previously existed in Romania, the last Romanian Reformed church disappeared in the 19th century. Today 97% percent of Bucharest’s two million people are Eastern Orthodox.
While Mihai was growing up, his family left Eastern Orthodoxy to become Baptists. But he experienced a great deal of religious confusion as a young person. The Bible began to make sense for him when he started reading Reformed literature. His stint at Westminster and time at Christ URC have shaped the way he envisions the Reformed church in Bucharest.
“Spending three years in an URC church in California has helped me understand more that church is not an add-on to our ‘relationship with Jesus,’ but the main way through which God has promised to bless us. As I preach every Sunday and I look at the covenant children present in our church plant, I am reminded of God’s grace to them that they have the opportunity to grow up in a church where they are catechized according to the truth of the gospel. I rejoice in the fact that, Lord willing, they will not have to go through the same confusion and pain of not having a healthy church close to them.”
In addition to the work involved with planting a church, the Corceas plan to begin publishing Reformed literature that they have translated over the last three years. He says, “We hope that by this small Reformed publishing house, we will be able to raise awareness of the Reformed church and the Reformed doctrine and practice.”
The Corceas appreciate the financial support they received during Mihai’s seminary years, saying they are “greatly thankful” for the “love and generosity” of individuals and churches.
Rev. Brown explains that the Romanian mission work is funded by URCNA congregations who wish to participate in “this exciting opportunity to make disciples in Romania and establish a confessional and Reformed denomination in that country.” He adds, “We encourage all churches in the URCNA to consider supporting this mission, helping us to shoulder the burden of this worthy labor for Christ and his gospel.”
The above is a slightly edited version of an article by Glenda Mathes that appeared on pages 18 & 19 of the September 21, 2016, issues of Christian Renewal.