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New Pastor for Pella OPC church plant

Schiebout familyPastor Zech Schiebout was installed as the minister of Hope Reformed Presbyterian Church, an OPC church plant in Pella, IA, on October 26, 2017. Although illness and losses initially brought the family back to the town where Zech grew up, God provided this new avenue of ministry.

Rev. Mark Vander Hart, Associate Professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, IN, led part of the service. He preached from 2 Corinthians 4:7 on “God Shows His Treasure in Jars of Clay.” He spoke about the glory of this treasure, the humility of the container, and the excessive power of God.

He explained an ancient practice of hiding valuables in clay jars and described the gospel as the “gem” and precious treasure that Christians have. He told Pastor Schiebout, “It is the glory of this message that has been given to you to announce.” He encouraged the congregation not to view their new pastor as either “Superman” or “a miracle worker,” but to encourage him in his task. He concluded by emphasizing how the power of Christianity lies not in God’s people or ministers, but in Christ as the head of the church.

Rev. Edward Jensen, pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, whose session oversees the Pella church plant, officiated the installation vows.

Rev. Chris Moulton, a seminary classmate of Zech’s and pastor of the Reformation Presbyterian Church in Sheboygan, WI, gave the charge to the new pastor and to the congregation. He read from Ecclesiastes 1 for both charges, focusing on different verses and aspects. In his charge to Zech, he emphasized the importance of verse 3’s question regarding the profit of a man’s labor. “I pray that you will have many years of fruitful labor,” he said, “but before you know it, Zechariah, it will all be over.” He stressed how the only thing that will remain will be the gospel of Jesus Christ. He charged the new pastor, “Preach the gospel.” Rev. Moulton concluded with the last part of 1 Corinthians 15, urging his brother to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work. Then his labor will not be in vain.

In his charge to the congregation, Rev. Moulton noted life’s cyclical patterns and repetitive nature, but how Christians can rejoice in God’s providence through all that. Even with a “new-to-you pastor,” church members can expect a certain level of consistency and repetition because “the same crimson thread of Jesus Christ runs through page after page of Scripture.” He encouraged the people to be as patient and loving to the pastor and his family as they would like him to be with them. Finally, he urged them to be “faithful plodders” along the road to glory on which God has placed them.

Pastor Schiebout is a 2009 graduate of Mid-America Reformed Seminary and previously served the Gospel of Grace Church (ARP) in Springfield, MO. His position at Hope is not yet full-time. He works about 40 percent of each week for Hope Church and about 60 percent for Eagle Electric (a family business).

Zech and Rachelle Schiebout met in Pella and never anticipated living there again, but they’re enthusiastic about the ministry. “My wife and I love the people of Hope Church and are excited to serve them. I never would have guessed we’d be living in Pella, IA, again, and I would have passed out if someone had told me a few years ago that I would be pastoring a church in a ‘churchey/Christianized’ place like Pella, so our being here is nothing but God turning my plans upside down.”

He realizes that despite Pella’s plethora of churches, many within the community need to hear the gospel. “We want all the hurting, broken, suffering, abused, cynical, abandoned, anxious, lonely and hopeless people (sinners like us) with whom we come into contact to find the same healing and hope in the good news of Jesus that we have found.”

Hope began in 2005, under the church planting efforts of Rev. Chuck Muether, who now serves as Director of Advancement for Heidelberg Theological Seminary. The church has seen changes in membership and meeting location since its early years. John Fikkert, an ordained Teacher in the OPC who attends (and sometimes preaches) at Hope and serves on the overseeing session, believes organization is on the horizon.

In its goal toward becoming self-governing, the church has elder candidates but not elders. Not being fully self-sustaining, it cannot pay its new pastor a full-time salary. But the hope is to meet both goals in the near future. “I actually think we are close on both counts,” he said. “Prayerfully, and by God’s grace, I think things could pull together in the next year or two.”

The congregation meets in the Memorial Building on Pella’s square. Sunday school for children and adults is at 9:15, followed by morning worship at 10:15. Evening worship begins at 5:30. Pastor Schiebout teaches a leadership group for men. And the group hopes to develop strategies to serve and reach the lost. For more information, visit the church’s website.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 11 & 12 of the January 19, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.

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Amazing Amazon rankings

Amazon’s Best Sellers rankings shot up overnight for the collaborative memoir Exoneree front cover-1by Uriah Courtney with Glenda Faye Mathes.

Uriah and I began communicating almost four years ago, and the book was published in December by the Cascade imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Here’s how the March 30, 2018, rankings compared with the previous day:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank:

Math has never been my strong point, but even I can see that’s an exponential increase in one day. Praise God! May Exoneree reach everyone who needs to hear its message and touch many hearts!

WSC: New President, student housing

Joel Kim and Godfrey-c
Drs. Kim and Godfrey

When W. Robert Godfrey spoke to a group of Christian students at UCLA almost 25 years ago, he had no idea that college senior Joel Kim would one day take his place as President of Westminster Seminary California.

Rev. Joel Kim began serving as WSC’s fourth president on August 1, 2017, following Dr. Godfrey’s retirement. Rev. Kim received his M.Div. degree at WSC in 1997 and later obtained a Th.M. from Calvin Theological Seminary. He is a teaching elder in the PCA and has 16 years of ordained ministry experience in Presbyterian and Reformed congregations. He and his family attend New Life PCA in Escondido, CA. He chairs the Candidates and Credentials Committee of the Korean Southwest Presbytery of the PCA and has been involved with Southeast Asia Partnership. He has served WSC as Assistant Professor of New Testament since 2005.

Rev. Kim explained how his initial meeting with Dr. Godfrey set him on his WSC trajectory and formed a long-lasting relationship. “Bob Godfrey is one of the reasons I ended up at WSC. As a child of a CRC minister, I seriously considered attending another seminary.” But spending time with Dr. Godfrey during his visit to UCLA, “convinced me that I needed to stay nearby and attend WSC. During my years in seminary, he was my prayer group leader where we prayed for our denomination and our churches. Even now, he remains a trusted mentor and a dear friend from whom I learn daily.”

Dr. Godfrey said, “I am very pleased with the choice of my successor. Joel Kim is an excellent Christian, scholar, and minister, who is committed to the inerrancy of the Bible and the Reformed confessions. He will faithfully continue and advance our work here at the Seminary.”

Now that Rev. Kim has functioned as the Seminary’s president for a few months, he realizes more than ever that he has stepped into some very large shoes.

“I’ve come to appreciate my predecessors even more. They have served with so much wisdom, grace, and faithfulness,” he said, noting how each man brought “something unique” to the position of President. “Bob Strimple was a wonderful academic administrator, setting up the structure and curriculum of the institution. Bob Den Dulk was tireless in fundraising and building relationships for WSC. Bob Godfrey is such a fine speaker and teacher and promoted the school to a wide audience. Our institution is where it is because of God’s grace in providing faithful and trustworthy leaders.”

In his presidency, Kim hopes to carry on the faithfulness of previous leaders. “Like my brothers before, I want to be faithful. Faithful in teaching and upholding the unchanging and inerrant Word of God, engaging and articulating the confessional Reformed faith, and educating and modeling a life of pastor-scholar for our students. We hope to produce graduates who love the Word, serve the church, and exalt Christ in their lives and ministries.”

He additionally hopes to expand the Seminary’s worldwide outreach. “Our school is in a unique location,” he said. “We are about forty miles from the border to our south, with Mexico and Latin America as our neighbors. Head west and we face the Pacific Rim, where churches are growing and flourishing. As we continue to support and partner with local churches, we hope to engage and build up the global church, not only to bless but also to be blessed by them.”

The WSC constituency is familiar with Rev. Kim and appreciates his gifts. Donna Mastalio, a member of Christ URC in Santee, CA, has often heard him speak or preach and interacted personally with him. While she and her husband, Kim, have enjoyed a long friendship with the Godfreys, they are excited about Rev. Kim’s appointment.

“He’s a wonderful man,” she said. “The more we know of him, the more we are impressed with him as a person and as a leader.”

prospective students with new housingAs Rev. Kim assumes the presidency mantle, WSC is in the middle of a visionary building project that consists of constructing 64 student apartments on the school’s campus. Commenting in the Fall 2017 WSC Update, Rev. Kim noted the hope is to provide affordable housing, especially for students from other states or countries. “We have students here from all over the country and the world. In many ways, the world is coming to us, and we are sending them out into the world.” He also expressed the hope that “this residential village will bless the students by enhancing the community of learning. This community of learning is important for seminarians who learn as much outside the classroom as inside. But just as important is this community for the spouses and children of seminarians who often do not benefit from seminary life. Our sincere hope and prayer is that this residential village will be a place of growth, both spiritually and communally.”

Dr. Godfrey’s 24 years of service were celebrated at a special event on May 24, 2017. Dr. Godfrey anticipates continued involvement with the school through assisting the new president during this transition period and teaching some classes. He said, “I will miss my contacts with students, but not the daily administrative responsibilities.”

In his retirement, Dr. Godfrey hopes to remain active in Escondido URC by teaching adult Sunday School and preaching occasionally. “I do hope to continue preaching and speaking in conferences from time to time, but probably not as much as I had been doing,” he said. He also intends to remain on the Board of Ligonier Ministries and keep serving that organization as a teaching fellow. He anticipates retirement will provide more uninterrupted time to focus on writing.

“I am working on a book on the Synod and Canons of Dort, which I hope will be completed in March, 2018, as part of the 400th anniversary of the Synod,” he said. “I have several other writing projects, including a book on a biblical defense of historic Reformed worship.”

Asked how he might advise future seminarians and young pastors, Dr. Godfrey said, “I would advise young men considering the ministry to get the best education they can to prepare them for a lifetime of studying the Bible. I’d encourage young ministers to remain confident that what the people of God need is not creativity or cleverness, but the Word of God. Preach it and teach it! Do not let it go stale in your hearts or ministries.”

He believes Reformed churches need to cultivate a “real knowledge” of the Reformed confessions and heritage. “So many alien voices inside and outside our churches would lead us away from the great inheritance that is ours of faithful, biblical Reformed teachers,” he said. “We need to get the Bible, Christ, the church, justification, and holiness right for ourselves and for generations to come. Our confessions will help us recognize the truth as we have it in the Bible.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the January 19, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.

NAPARC: Missions “Thriving” and Organic Unity Discussed

 

2017 NAPARC1The annual NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council) met from November 14-16, 2017, at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI.

This was the 43rd meeting of the Council, which now consists of 13 member federations. As usual, denominational reports followed by questions and prayers for those organizations took a great deal of time. According to Rev. Ralph A Pontier, NAPARC’s newly-elected Secretary, “One theme was repeated in several reports, that the work of missions is thriving among the churches.”

A more unique feature of this year’s NAPARC meeting involved a lengthy discussion regarding organic unity. Four matters related to the subject had been forwarded from the previous year, and delegates had been encouraged to be prepared to discuss them this year. Discussion began Wednesday afternoon and continued Thursday morning on four topics:

  1. How important is organic union among dissimilar NAPARC denominations?  For example, do the denominations which focus on a specific ethnic/linguistic group in North America really need to merge with other NAPARC denominations?
  2. What denominational distinctives presently exist as obstacles to organic union?  (Examples: exclusive psalmody, delegated or non-delegated assemblies or synods, strict subscription or good faith subscription, unique denominational histories, etc.)
  3. What denominational distinctives should be considered as valid obstacles to organic union under biblical scrutiny?
  4. Discuss the possibility of a structure that allows for both distinctives and organic union.

Rev. Steve Swets, pastor of Rehoboth URC in Ancaster, ON, viewed this as the meeting’s most significant discussion. “It was good to hear the brothers speak openly about the joys and difficulty of unity,” he said. “Some churches asked the FRCNA why they are slow in uniting with the HRC. Some asked the URCNA the same questions about the CanRC. It was an honest dialogue.”

In the official press release, Rev. Pontier reported: “The discussion revealed different ideas about the importance and feasibility of organic (organizational) union, but also a common commitment to giving visible expression to that unity which is already ours in Christ.”

As discussion continued, a motion was made to appoint an ad-hoc committee “to explore concrete ways in which we could begin to bundle our resources for greater visible expressions of our unity in Christ.” The committee would include a representative from each member church. Because the number of official delegates per federation at this meeting ranged from one to four, the body adopted a procedural motion to allow one vote per delegation. The main motion, however, was defeated.

“One thought that was expressed in discussion was that we would be asking a committee to do what we all were supposed to be doing together,” Rev. Pontier said. “I think the majority thought that a committee was not necessary and would not be able to do any better than what we could all do together.”

Other business

Another item on the docket dealt with religious liberty in light of the US Supreme Court’s action legalizing same-sex marriage. Delegates approved the Interim Committee recommendation that this matter would be best handled within the member churches.

A World Mission’s Consultation has been held for more than three decades. The 2018 event is scheduled for September 18-19 in Willow Grove, PA. Mr. Mark Bube will chair the event and Rev. Douglas Clawson will serve as secretary.

Steve ParkNAPARC called for three additional consultations. The OPC will host one on relief and diaconal ministry, convened by Mr. David Nakhla, part-time administrator for the OPC’s Committee on Diaconal Ministries. The ARP will host an event on theological training, convened by Dr. Kyle E. Sims. And the ERQ will host a conference on youth ministries, to be convened by Rev. Ben Westerveld.

Dues for NAPARC remain at $1,000 per member church. The website committee requested and received a $200 budget.

In addition to the election of Secretary Pontier, delegates elected Rev. Dr. S. Steve Park (KAPC) as Chairman and Rev. David Kim (KPCA) as Vice-Chairman. Dr. Maynard Koerner (RCUS) agreed to serve another year as Treasurer. An official resolution of thanks was adopted to express gratitude to Rev. Ron Potter (RCUS) for his 15 years of faithful service as Secretary.

Interspersed with NAPARC’s regular business were evening worship services and opportunities for ecclesiastical meetings among member representatives.

Next meeting

The KAPC is slated to host the next meeting of the Council in the Philadelphia area on November 13-15, 2018. According to the minutes, the docket will include these topics:

  1. As North American culture is becoming increasingly pluralistic and secular how might we develop a vibrant Reformed witness, although we are a small, minority group?
  2. Retaining the integrity of Reformed Confessionalism and Ecclesiology in a secular world.
  3. The Reformed Church and norms for gender, sexuality, marriage, and the family.

NAPARC Member churches

  1. ARPC – Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
  2. CanRC – Canadian Reformed Churches
  3. ERQ – Église réformée du Québec
  4. FRCNA – Free Reformed Churches of North America
  5. HRC – Heritage Reformed Congregations
  6. KAPC – Korean American Presbyterian Church
  7. KPCA – Korean Presbyterian Church in America (Kosin)
  8. OPC – Orthodox Presbyterian Church
  9. PCA – Presbyterian Church in America
  10. PresRC – Presbyterian Reformed Church
  11. RCUS – Reformed Church in the United States
  12. RPCNA – Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
  13. URCNA – United Reformed Churches in North America

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the January 18, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.43rd (2017) Meeting of NAPARC

An American Pastor in Italy: From Santee to Milan for the Brown family

Brown-Ferrari-cWe want the gospel to be proclaimed to all nations, we pray for our missionaries, and we write out generous checks for mission endeavors. But how many of us would be willing to give up our comfortable homes and familiar communities to live and work in a foreign country among people who speak a different language?

The decision to serve as missionaries for Reformation Italy, beginning in June of 2018, was extremely difficult for Pastor Mike Brown and his wife, Janie. God’s will became increasingly clear through many circumstances and people over the last two years, but what finalized their conviction were unanticipated questions posed this past summer by their 11-year-old son, Iain.

In Pastor Brown’s letter to the Christ URC congregation he currently serves in Santee, CA, he related his conversation with Iain while they visited Italy’s far south.

‘Dad, who will be the pastor for the people here in Cannole?’ I carefully replied, ‘Well, we hope that God will send Vincenzo [a student at WSC] after he graduates seminary. But we need to pray about that.’ ‘Who will be the pastor in Perugia?’ ‘Well…We don’t know yet. We need to pray.’ ‘Don’t the people want Pastor Ferrari there?’ ‘Well, yes, the people are very happy with Pastor Ferrari, but…we need to pray.’ ‘If Pastor Ferrari goes to Perugia, who will be the pastor for the people in Milan?’ ‘Son, we just need to pray that God will supply a pastor, so that all the churches here can grow, OK?’ ‘Dad, I think we should pray and ask God to send you here. You could help them.’ I smiled and said something like, ‘Well, we’ll see.’ I went into the bathroom, closed the door, got down on my knees to pray, and cried.

That may have been a turning point for Pastor Brown, but Rev. Andrea Ferrari had hoped his friend would join him in the work of Reformation Italy ever since Rev. Brown had assisted him during the summer of 2015. When the Browns returned for the summer months of 2017, Rev. Brown filled the pulpit in Milan, while Rev. Ferrari pastored a small group in Perugia. This period of ministry convinced both men that Rev. Ferrari was a good fit for the work in Perugia and Rev. Brown could serve well in Milan.

Having both arrived at the same conviction, they worked up a proposal suggesting this division of labor as Reformation Italy goes forward toward its goal of establishing a Reformed federation in Italy. The Christ URC consistory discussed the proposal and then sought counsel at the September meeting of Classis Southwest US.

“The delegates were very supportive of the proposal,” Rev. Brown said. “They have been familiar with CURC’s mission to Italy since 2009.”

The elders at Christ URC also sought the advice of the URCNA Missions Committee. Missions Coordinator Rev. Richard Bout and Rev. Paul Murphy traveled to Italy and recommended the plan to Christ URC’s consistory. The Milan and Perugia groups each voted unanimously in favor of the proposed pastors serving them.

Christ URC’s elders additionally conversed at length with the elders in Milan, a new elder in Perugia, and Pastor Ivan Forte in Turin. Revs. Ferarri and Brown had worked with Pastor Forte during the summer, helping prepare him for a ministerial examination.

Because Rev. Brown has traveled to Italy several times since 2009 and has studied Italian intensely in recent years, he is proficient enough to preach without a translator.

Christ URC’s council voted unanimously for the proposal at its October meeting. Churches within Classis Southwest US have expressed support, and the plan is scheduled for implementation in June of 2018.

Rev. Ferrari explained that Rev. Brown can immediately and effectively serve people who already know him within the established and organized church in Milan, a multicultural city similar to San Diego. “When Rev. Brown arrives, he will be able to concentrate at once and without any distraction on his pastoral responsibilities and refining his knowledge of the language/culture.” He added, “On the other hand, I have been visiting Perugia regularly in the last three years, knowing the people and the place so that it is much easier for me to labor there as a church planting pastor.”

Perugia is a university city and has a population of about 175,000 people, with a culture is very different from Milan, according to Ferrari.

“Because of the load of work and need for wisdom from more people,” Rev. Ferrari said, “we think that more than one consistory in the US should be involved in the work in Italy and also that the Missions Committee itself should determine a plan to be more present on the field to assist and encourage Rev. Brown and myself, helping us to form a class of mature elders and deacons in the churches.” Ordaining office-bearers in Turin and Perugia will permit the churches to begin holding Classis meetings, the first step toward organizing Chiese Riformate in Italia (CRI, Reformed Churches in Italy).

The Browns plan to sell their house and apply for a religious visa through the Italian consulate. Iain is preparing for the move by going to a private tutor and doing daily homework in Italian. The family hopes to commit to the mission for at least five years. Rev. Brown anticipates raising financial support from URCNA churches and private donors.

“Janie and I are confident that just as the Lord supplied our family’s needs while I was in seminary, he will provide for our family again,” he said.

Pastor Brown graduated from Westminster Seminary California in 2004, but began teaching a Bible study in Santee a year earlier under the oversight of the Escondido URC consistory. The congregation became an organized church in September of 2006 and Rev. Brown was installed in January of 2007. He and Janie love their church and have rejoiced to see God’s amazing work in it.

“He has established CURC as a congregation that has remained hungry for the gospel and willing to love one another,” Pastor Brown said. “He has marked this church with peace rather than controversy, and service rather than selfishness. On top of that, God has used CURC to produce several pastors and missionaries that are now serving the church in different parts of the world. He has done far more abundantly than we ever thought or imagined.”

The church has been involved with mission work in Italy since early in its organization, when they began supporting a ministry that published Reformed literature. Christ URC member, Simonetta Carr, translated projects for the editor, Rev. Andrea Ferrari, who pastored a Reformed Baptist church.

As Rev. Ferrari became more familiar with the Reformed faith, he and his congregation sought affiliation with more confessionally Reformed churches. Rev. Ferrari sustained a colloquium doctum in Classis Southwest US, and Christ URC ordained him as a missionary pastor to establish a Reformed federation of churches in Italy. He subsequently has preached primarily in Milan’s Chiesa Evangelica Filadelfia, but Reformed believers from other areas have been in contact with him after discovering the Milan church’s website.

The group in Perugia, about four hours south of Milan, has prayed for a pastor for years. For the last two years, they have gathered in front of a computer to worship with the church in Milan via Skype. About every eight weeks, Rev. Ferrari administers the Lord’s Supper and provides pastoral care. The congregation loves Rev. Ferrari and his wife, Christina, and looks forward to their arrival in June.

Another group in Turin, about 80 miles west of Milan, is led by Rev. Forte. Pastor Ferrari travels to Turin monthly to instruct church members in the Three Forms of Unity and the URCNA Church Order.

Rev. Ferrari explained that there is contact with a handful of Reformed believers in a part of the Italian “heel” with few Protestant and evangelical churches. The hope is for God to raise up Reformed pastors to minister to these groups and eventually form a federation.

Two Italian brothers are attending seminaries in the US. Vincenzo Coluccia, a member of the Turin church, left a position as an engineer and is in his second year at Westminster Seminary California. Ottavio Palombaro, from Perugia, is a student at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids and attends Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI.

As the URCNA Missions Committee sought counsel on establishing a Reformed federation in Italy, they were consistently advised to seek an experienced minister to come alongside Rev. Ferrari. Rev. Brown has 14 years of pastoral experience. He chaired the URCNA study committee on missions, helped write mission policies for the URCNA, and served as Chairman of the URCNA Missions Committee, on which he still serves.

Rev. Brown originally resisted the idea of becoming a full-time missionary and was reluctant to leave his home and church. “Janie and I were willing to go wherever God called us, but we quietly hoped that he would send someone else.”

He thought his 2017 trip to Italy might be his last. “This arrangement did not seem sustainable for CURC or for me personally. We agreed to go to Milan for three months because we believed it was necessary for the starving group in Perugia.” But then God used Iain’s words to convince him otherwise.

For more information on the work in Italy, see Reformation Italy’s updated website at www.reformationitaly.org.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 8 & 9 of the January 19, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal

HOPE in 2018

DSCN6035One of the best things about Facebook is reconnecting with old friends, and I recently had an interesting exchange with a few far-flung friends from my school days.

We talked about the word God is leading us to choose for 2018. We may all view this word a little differently, but essentially it captures an attitude or quality we want to try to develop or focus on more during the coming year.

I’ve done this for the last couple of years, and I’ve been amazed at how much God reveals to me about that word during the course of the year. During 2016, God impressed upon me over and over the abundance of JOY in him and his word. Because I was alert for joy, I discovered it more in Scripture, in books I read, in other people, in creation, in myself, and especially in God. I’m convinced we can’t begin to comprehend the incredible fullness of God’s joy.

As I prayed and considered a word for 2017, I began thinking about PEACE. Frankly, I didn’t really want that word and was a little concerned about it. Why would I need peace? What might happen during 2017? Choosing the word generated a gnawing anxiety. Even my vivid imagination never created a scenario in which I would lose my sister, my mother, and my father within the year. But that’s what happened.

My sister’s health deteriorated quickly and she was placed in hospice care. We siblings kept vigil at her bedside for five days, and she went home to Jesus on January 12. Less than a month later, while we were still reeling from that loss, we learned that my mom’s cancer had returned with a vengeance. Her only option was hospice care. After eight extremely difficult weeks, the Lord took her home on April 10. The grief of losing our mother less than three months after our sister weighed heavily on us, but Dad’s loneliness, after 68 years with his beautiful bride, nearly crushed him.

His struggle with memory difficulties had made him heavily dependent upon her, and we doubted he could remain in his independent living apartment. Surprisingly, he lived there successfully (although not without a few concerning issues) for six months.

He had survived polio as a baby, but it may have affected his balance later in life. Falls or near falls brought him to the emergency room too often in too short a period during October. He spent ten days in nursing care, while we worked with his doctor and others to determine the proper placement for him.

In God’s providence, we were able to move him into an assisted living apartment in the same building. It even had a window overlooking the parking lot—his most crucial requirement! He adjusted amazingly well.

On Christmas Day, my husband and I planned to pick him up and bring him to our house for lunch. When we arrived, he was experiencing a great deal of pain. I called 911. We spent the rest of the day in the ER and hospital. That evening we learned that his abdominal aortic aneurysm, which we’d known for some years could kill him instantly, was enlarged and bleeding into his abdominal cavity. He could survive for a few weeks or it could be a matter of hours. He initially was doing so well, we thought we might have him with us for a month or more.

Two days later, he entered the Comfort House. He was alert, able to talk and sit in the chair. During his first night there, his condition worsened and he became unresponsive. On the last day of the year, a Sunday morning, he went home to be with his Lord.

In God’s gracious providence, I’d lived over six decades without a significant loss. In his bitter providence, he took three members of my original family home to heaven within one year. I definitely needed PEACE in 2017.

For several weeks, I’ve felt compelled to focus on HOPE during 2018. In the recent Facebook conversation, one of my school friends encouraged me to go with HOPE. She expressed her hopes for me “to start sleeping better” and for a year “with less grief and many healing memories….of great book sales and many inspired words written down” as well as “spontaneous laughter” and so on. May it be so. That is my HOPE.

Exoneree available!

book in handMy collaborative memoir with Uriah Courtney about his wrongful conviction, incarceration, and subsequent exoneration is now available. Such a thrill to finally hold the physical copy of the book in my hand this week!

What if America’s judicial system, designed to protect the innocent, convicts the wrong man and sends him to prison? Uriah Courtney was incarcerated over eight years–for a crime he did not commit. But God set him free–spiritually and physically–to a new life inside his heart and outside razor wire.

Exoneree relates how badly the judicial system can go wrong, but how intensely a dedicated few seek justice. It depicts God’s protection amid the horrors of incarceration. And while it shows dark depravity, it shines with divine transformation.

A sensitive man who loved the outdoors and his family, Uriah viewed life imprisonment as a death sentence. Yet God worked through this trauma to bring him new life. Uriah’s transparent narrative transcends most jailhouse conversion accounts, as he confesses how becoming a Christian helped him cope in some ways but didn’t solve every problem.

Uriah-GlendaEven after his release and exoneration through God’s providence and the efforts of the California Innocence Project, Uriah faced unexpected challenges. In his warm and personable voice, Uriah describes how focusing on Christ helps him to continue overcoming the bitterness and anger often associated with trauma.

And that’s a story everyone needs to read.

Exoneree can be purchased directly from the publisher, Wipf and Stock, on their website. Amazon offers paperback and Kindle versions.

 

 

 

Now emeritus, Pontiers return to Iowa from Alberta

group-cRev. Ralph Pontier began his ministry in sunny Florida, moved to northwest Iowa, and then much farther north and west to Alberta. After his emeritation, he and Lois moved back to Iowa, but this time to Pella, in the southcentral part of the state.

A 1976 graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Rev. Pontier was ordained in the Cape Coral CRC in 1977. In 1986, he accepted a call to First CRC in Orange City, IA. That congregation became the Redeemer Alliance Reformed Church in 1994 and joined the URCNA in 1995. Rev. Pontier then served Emmanuel Reformed Church of Neerlandia from 2008 until May of 2017. Interestingly, his formal ministry has been bookmarked by pastorates of nine years before and after a 23-year stint in Orange City.

May 7 was Rev. Pontier’s final Sunday as Emmanuel’s regular pastor. At the noon service, he preached from Jude 20-21 on “Keep Yourself in the Love of God,” with the theme: Effective service and personal assurance require seeking God. His four points were: 1) The love of God in which we are to keep ourselves is a sovereign love in which we are kept; 2) Keep yourself in the love of God by building yourself up in the faith; 3) Keep yourself in the love of God by praying in the Spirit; and 4) Keep yourself in the love of God by waiting for the mercy of our Lord in eternal life.

At the 2:00 PM service, Rev. Pontier spoke about “What the Father Seeks,” based on John 4:19-24. His three points were: 1) He seeks worshippers. Worship is the most important thing we do as Christians; 2) He seeks true worshippers. Worship must be to the true God and in the manner he prescribes; and 3) He seeks true worshippers who worship in spirit and in truth. No longer do we worship at an earthly sanctuary. Rather by the Spirit, our worship is directed to the heavenly Zion, the true Temple.

seated-cEmmanuel held a farewell program for the Pontiers on Friday, May 12. According to Yvonne Harink, different church groups gave special presentations. The Men’s Society sang, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” the Young People’s Society organized a “How Well Do You Know the Minister” game, the Young Adults presented a humorous skit, the church choir performed some hymns, and various members shared stories and memories. The Women’s Society thanked Lois for nine years of active participation and presented her with a plaque of Isaiah 40:31.

“A power point presentation highlighted some of the memories of the last nine years, such as weddings, baptisms, professions of faith, church picnics, canoe trips, and Gleaners,” Yvonne wrote. “The congregation also compiled a photo album with a page from each family.” Children sang “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music, and the congregation sang, “God Be with You Til We Meet Again.” She added, “After the program, everyone was invited to stay for food and fellowship, thankful for the blessings provided by a heavenly Father, and confident that He will provide also for the future.”

Rev. Pontier said, “I was deeply moved by the expressions of appreciation from the congregation while yet keeping the evening light-hearted. I was also grateful for the many greetings sent from URC and Canadian Reformed Churches, with two men traveling from as far as Lethbridge (seven-hour drive) to be there, and two local CanR congregations giving gifts to help express their gratitude for my ministry among them. Between the two Neerlandia CanR congregations, I preached a total of 53 sermons, and in the Barrhead CanR congregation I preached 33 times.”

More than a year ago, Rev. Pontier requested that his council grant him emeritus status effective May 8, 2017. In accordance with the Church Order, Classis Western Canada offered concurring advice. Rev. Pontier explained that he prefers the term ‘emeritus status’ to ‘retirement’ since he hopes “to remain active in ministry in various ways yet to be discovered.”

Following his official change in ministry status, he preached in URC and CanR churches in Edmonton on May 14 and returned to Emmanuel’s pulpit as a guest minister on May 21 for one service, during which two of his catechumens publicly professed their faith.

The Pontiers hoped to arrive at their new home near Pella, IA, on May 26. Part of the attraction to the area, no doubt, was the presence of two daughters. Grace is married to Rev. Doug Barnes, minister of Covenant Reformed Church. Sarah and Dan DeVries (Prairie City) and their family also belong to the congregation. Other siblings include David and Andrea Pontier in Oak Forest, IL, Jonathan and Tonya Pontier in Orange City, IA, and Rachel Pontier, who is transitioning from Houston, TX, to Macon, GA. Rev. Pontier and Lois have 15 grandchildren and anticipate another later this year.

wall hanging-cRev. Pontier does not view emeritation as inactivity. Even before the move, he was scheduled to preach in northwest Iowa for three Sundays in June. Synod Wyoming 2016 had elected him as alternate and Rev. Talman Wagenmaker as Stated Clerk. But upon the unanimous advice of the Grace Waupun council, Rev. Wagenmaker declined to take up the appointment, and Rev. Pontier will now serve as the federation’s Clerk. He has also been appointed as Secretary pro tem for NAPARC, subsequent to the resignation of Rev. Ron Potter for health reasons.

URCNA Church Order permits emeritation due to age or disability, but declares that a minister of the Word “is bound to the service of the churches for life” (Article 9).

“Ministers in good health ought not to be too quick to seek emeritation, especially if there is a shortage on ministers,” Rev. Pontier said. “But neither should older men try and stay on too long since age inevitably reduces stamina and vigor even where no obvious disability is present. The ministry is demanding and stressful, requiring vitality and strength. But each person and each situation is different, and it is good that there is no one rule binding on all.”

He said, “Retirement, as a time of self-indulgence, is a worldly concept that has no place in the lives of God’s people. But retirement as an opportunity for different avenues of service appropriate to age and changing circumstances is a gift not to be squandered.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the June 14, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.

Trinity Psalter Hymnal

Click on this link for how to pre-order multiple copies of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal, the joint songbook project of the URCNA and the OPC. You can save shipping by picking it up at the concurrent meetings of the OPC General Assembly and the URCNA Synod scheduled for June of 2018 at Wheaton College.

New Senior Pastor installed at First Chino

Installation-c
Rev. A. Cammenga, Rev. R. Scheuers, Rev. B. Nymeyer, Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, Dr. Q. Falkena

Rev. Bradd L. Nymeyer was installed as the new Senior Pastor at First United Reformed Church in Chino, CA, on May 14, 2017. Following the 23-year ministry of Rev. Ronald Scheuers to the congregation, Rev. Nymeyer has some huge ministerial shoes to fill. But his 22 years of experience in pastoral ministry will help.

A 1992 graduate of Westminster Seminary California, Rev. Nymeyer attended Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids for one year before he was ordained in 1994 at the Phoenix Christian Reformed Church. In 1996, he was called to pastor the newly-formed Phoenix Independent Reformed Church, which affiliated with the URCNA within a year. He served that congregation for 12 years prior to accepting a call as the first pastor of the Sioux Center URC. After more than eight years in northwest Iowa, Rev. Nymeyer accepted the call to First Chino.

“I have loved each congregation that I have served, and each has been used by God to prepare me for continued service,” Rev. Nymeyer said. “I am excited about this next chapter in my life as well as in the life of the First URC of Chino. Mary and I are very thankful to God for the privilege of serving His people here in southern California.”

Four other ministers participated in Rev. Nymeyer’s installation service on May 14. Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, President of Westminster Seminary California, led Rev. Nymeyer’s prayer group and taught him Church History during his seminary career. He has remained a long-time friend of the family, taking part in every installation service of Rev. Nymeyer. Rev. Andrew A. Cammenga, Minister Emeritus of Lynden URC in Washington, is Rev. Nymeyer’s father-in-law. Rev. Scheuers, Minister Emeritus of First URC in Chino since January, has been Rev. Nymeyer’s mentor for over 20 years. And Dr. Quention B. Falkena, Youth Pastor of First URC is a longtime friend of Rev. Nymeyer.

As Dr. Falkena read the instruction section of the installation form, Rev. Nymeyer looked at the three ministers sitting in front: Rev. Cammenga, Dr. Godfrey, and Rev. Scheuers. “It was very humbling to have them take part in the service, considering that they represent over 100 years of wisdom and service in Christ’s church,” Rev. Nymeyer said.

Rev. Cammenga read the vows of the minister, Rev. Scheuers read the vows of the congregation, and Dr. Godfrey gave the charges to the minister and congregation. Dr. Godfrey led the service, preaching on “God’s Word, Our Life” from portions of Deuteronomy 32 & 33. Rev. Nymeyer pronounced the benediction.

At the evening worship service on May 14, Rev. Nymeyer began a series on Joshua, preaching from Joshua 1:1-9 on “Be Strong and Courageous.” He noted that the book “records God’s faithfulness to His people” and the “continuation of what He has been doing for them.” It also “points us forward to the greater Joshua” (which means “God saves”), who is Jesus Christ.

The Nymeyers have been married for 32 years and have three daughters and one son.

It would be difficult for anyone to follow the long ministry of a man who was not only a popular pastor, but also a competent churchman: Rev. Scheuers served a total of 39 years in full-time ministry, providing servant leadership within both congregations and federations. But Rev. Nymeyer has served twice as chairman of Synod and functioned as Stated Clerk for the URCNA from 2010 until 2016, when his service ended due to the limit of three consecutive terms. He viewed the performance of these “opportunities” as “a huge honor and a privilege to serve God and the churches.”

Rev. Nymeyer admitted he found it “daunting” to consider taking up the position of Rev. Scheuers. When he spoke to Rev. Scheuers about it, he found him “as typical…very encouraging to me. My prayer is that I might obtain a double portion of his spirit, to serve God and His church with the same devotion to truth and love that Rev. Scheuers has demonstrated so faithfully in the past. I am honored to have him remaining in the congregation, and will continue to rely upon his knowledge and wisdom as I have in the past.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 13 & 22 of the June 14, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.