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

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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.

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.

URCNA Pastors and Missions Conference

committee-1
Rev. Harry Bout, Mr. Paul Wagenmaker, Rev. Paul Murphy, Rev. Bill Pols, Rev. Richard Bout, Rev. Rich Anjema, and Rev. Bernard Westerveld (ERQ)

The URCNA Pastors and Missions Conference, held on May 15-18, 2017, focused on the theme: Reformed and Relevant—Reaching Our Generation with the Gospel. The facilities at Guelph Bible Conference Centre in Ontario provided a relaxing atmosphere and enjoyable activities for more than 30 pastors, many accompanied by their wives, who attended. Elders, lay persons, and students also benefitted from various presentations. Attendees could register for all or parts of the conference, while lectures on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings were open to anyone at no cost.

“We were glad to see many come out and join us in some great singing and worship and hearing a message from our main speakers, Dr. Eric Watkins and Rev. Paul Murphy. Numerous young people came to those evenings and came away very excited,” said Rev. Richard Bout, URCNA Mission Director and a conference organizer. “This year’s conference was a great time of learning and fellowship. Our speakers and workshop leaders were from the OPC, Can Ref, PCA and the URCNA and did an excellent job in explaining the calling we have been given to be an evangelistic, outward-facing church.”

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Dr. Brian Lee. Dr. Eric Watkins, Rev. Paul Murphy, Rev. Norm VanEeden Petersman

Two other pastors assisted Rev. Bout with planning the conference: Rev. Brian Cochran, Redeemer Reformation Church (URC) in Regina, SK, and Rev. Norman Van Eeden Petersman, who formerly served at Adoration United Reformed Churches in Ontario and is now pastor of Vancouver Associated Presbyterian Church (APC). The Vancouver church is the single Canadian congregation of the APC, a small Scottish federation of about twenty congregations that came into existence in 1989 by seceding from the Free Presbyterian Church.

“Our planning for this conference started in February of 2016,” explains Rev. Van Eeden Petersman, “when we agreed to work together to organize the 2017 conference.”

The conference consisted of two components: a pre-conference from Monday evening through Tuesday afternoon geared toward pastors, and a general missions conference open to lay people as well as ministers from Tuesday evening through Thursday morning.

 

Anjema
Rev. Rich Anjema

The pre-conference sought to generate fellowship and reflection among attending ministers and missionaries and their wives. After Monday’s evening meal, Rev. Paul T. Murphy, Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship (URCNA) spoke on “A Church for God’s Mission: Not a Mission for His Church—Understanding the Great Commission.”

“I was advocating a change in perspective so that instead of missions/evangelism being a line item on the church’s agenda/budget, that it is the raison d’etre of the church second only to worship,” he said. “This calls for a radical rethinking of how we do church and evangelism.”

Using several texts, he showed that God is a missionary God and that covenant is for the sake of the nations. He made several points of application. We should have a “go” rather than a “come” mentality about evangelism. We should view election missiologically, not just soteriologically. We ought not discuss covenant without mission. We shouldn’t distinguish between established churches and mission churches because every church is a mission church. We need to recover the office of believer as described in Q&A 32 of the Heidelberg Catechism to realize that every Christian is a witness. And many of our congregations need to ‘outgrow the ingrown church’ (as per C. John Miller). Rev. Murphy concluded by demonstrating from Luke 15 that God rejoices when we join Him “on mission.”

Reaching Generation Y

On Tuesday morning, Dr. Eric B. Watkins, Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in St. Augustine, FL, spoke about “Preaching to Generation Y: Reaching the Lost Without Losing the Reached.” He examined the challenges of preaching to a generation that has lost direction in many ways and seeks identity in the wrong places. He addressed questions such as: How do we engage a media-driven culture? What language will reach Generation Y without abandoning previous generations? How can we remain faithful to our time-tested creeds and confessions and yet reach a generation that is losing interest in history?

porch 1Rev. Harry Bout, emeritus minister of Immanuel URC in Jordon, ON, addressed a crucial topic in the second lecture of the morning. He urged pastors to “Take Heed to Yourself—Your Public Ministry and Your Private Walk.” Rev. Bout serves in the Niagara Migrant Ministry, is involved with Hispanic outreach in southern Ontario, and for several months each year works in Tepic, Mexico.

Participants could choose from three afternoon breakout sessions, one designed especially for pastors’ wives. Rev. Cochran spoke about “Training our Youth to Stand Strong in a Digital Age.” Rev. Neil Stewart, Grace OPC in Sheffield, ON, spoke on “Avoiding Burnout in the Ministry.” Mrs. Julie Murphy addressed other wives of ministers regarding their roles as “Women in the Trenches.”

About twenty pastors’ wives attended the entire conference, according to Rev. Richard Bout. He said, “We really wanted to build them up in the important role they have in their husbands’ ministries.”

The Tuesday afternoon sessions were followed by a prayer time, free time for fellowship, and the evening meal.

Church Plants

murphy-zekveld
Revs. Murphy and Zekveld

The missions conference began with Tuesday evening’s lecture, as Dr. Watkins spoke on “Reformed and Evangelistic: Cultivating Outward-Facing Church Plants.” He noted that Reformed churches face the challenge of cultivating a culture of evangelism. He explored ways self-consciously Reformed churches and church plants can effectively do evangelism by faithfully, yet creatively, bringing the gospel to those outside the church. A Question & Answer panel discussion followed.

Urban Opportunities

Wednesday’s first session featured Dr. Brian Lee, Christ URC in Washington, DC, discussing “The Challenges and Joys of Urban Church Planting.” He began work as a church planter in DC in 2008, and the church organized at the beginning of 2016. The second morning session was on “Discipleship through Home Bible Studies” with Rev. Connan A.V. Kublik, New City Church (PCA) in Hamilton, ON. He spoke about the power of the gospel to accomplish true transformation as it is heard and believed.

volleyball-1The afternoon breakout sessions offered three choices. Rev. Mitch Persaud, New Horizons Church (URC) in Scarborough, ON, enlightened attendees on “Learning Cross-Cultural Etiquette.” Rev. Tony Zekveld, Hope Centre in Toronto, ON, addressed “Witnessing to Sikhs and Muslims.” Rev. Cochran spoke again about “Training our Youth to Stand Strong in a Digital Age.” Rev. Persaud and Rev. Zekveld repeated their presentations later in the day.

Community Outreach

On Wednesday evening, Rev. Murphy spoke on “Reformed and Missional: The Challenge of Being an Evangelistic, Community-Centered Church.” Using Philippians 2:15 as an illustration of being the light of the world, he encouraged churches to do evangelism “in an organic and covenantal” way. Organic in the sense of seeing and meeting needs with the gospel as we “integrate and ingratiate ourselves into the community.” Covenantal as in taking advantage of family ties to follow up with evangelistic contacts. He challenged churches to “develop a culture of evangelism, which needs to be personal and loving.”

He said, “My application here was whether or not we would really love the unlovely and welcome them into our midst because that it what God did with you and me. I tried to promote the love of God for sinners so that we would be channels of that love to others.”

Another panel discussion and a time of refreshments finished the day’s events.

Sam and Emily Perez family
The Sam & Emily Perez family

On Thursday morning, Rev. Bill DeJong of Blessings Christian Church (CanRC) in Hamilton, spoke on “Reaching Your Community with the Gospel: Practical Ways to Reach Out Locally.”

The conference concluded with Dr. Watkins speaking on “From Geneva to Disney World: Reformed Worship in a Postmodern Context.” In his description of the lecture, he noted, “The consumeristic narcissism or our postmodern context has created a serious challenge” for Reformed churches. It can be difficult to explain why they continue to worship as they do when many evangelicals are exploring other options. His talk suggested that Reformed worship is not only “distinct and beautiful,” but that it also has “a lot more to offer our postmodern friends than either they or we may have imagined.”

This was the second URCNA conference focusing on pastoral ministry and missions, although similar conferences have been held every other year since 2009. Pastors met for that initial conference on ministry at Puritan Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI. A missions conference in 2011 took place in Denver, CO. In 2013, the first combined conference was held at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, IN. Two committees planned that event, when the final pastoral ministry session also functioned as the first session on missions. A 2015 pastors conference took place in Escondido, CA.

Rev. Van Eeden Petersman describes participation in the 2017 conference as “a real joy.” He said, “Having speakers from the URC, OPC, PCA, and Canadian Reformed churches was a good way to have us reflect more broadly on our work and what it means to be, as Paul Murphy made plain, a church that exists for the sake of mission. After every session and during every mealtime, that was a lot of intense and focused discussion of what we are to be doing and how we can do better in our current contexts.”

women-1Rev. Cochran described the messages by the main speakers as “very insightful and convicting,” causing many pastors to “repent of our lack of an outward focus on sharing the gospel with others” and encouraging them to “strive by God’s grace to cultivate a culture of evangelism in our churches.”

But the setting and schedule permitted plenty of less interaction and reflection as well. Attendees took part in basketball, volleyball, ping-pong, and horseshoes. Rev. Cochran described the conference as “a great time of refreshment and fellowship” and noted that “the singing of Psalms and hymns to God was wonderful.”

Pastor Rich Bout reflected, “We live in challenging times for the church, and we have a lot to learn in how to faithfully share our faith in the gospel with those around us. One of the special blessings of this time together was the posture of humility and prayer that the pastors and elders demonstrated as they took in biblical exhortation from a variety of angles.”

Greenville Conference Celebrates Gospel Freedom

crowd-c“Trumpet Call: 500 Years of Gospel Freedom” served as the theme for the spring conference of Grenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS). About 375 people (including people from Nigeria, South Africa, and Canada) attended all or part of the lectures presented at Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, SC, from March 14-16, 2017.

A chapel service on Tuesday morning concluded the Seminary’s annual open house for prospective students and initiated conference activities. Dr. Joseph A. Pipa, Jr., President of GPTS, preached from Romans 3:1-4 on “Whose Fault?”

Lectures began on Tuesday afternoon with Dr. Joel Beeke, President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI, speaking on Sola Scriptura. Using Psalm 19:7ff and 2 Timothy 2:14ff as his texts, he first delineated doctrines that flow from Sola Scriptura. He then defined and clarified the sufficiency of Scripture, before bringing practical applications. He stated, “The heart of Sola Scriptura is that the Bible is sufficient for the faith and practice of the church.”

Dr. Robert Kolb, Professor Emeritus at Concordia Seminary and a widely-recognized expert on Luther, presented a lecture on “Luther’s Providential God.” He noted that while most people think of Luther’s primary emphasis as being on Christ, he also had a robust theology of God’s providence.

Pipa chapel
Dr. Pipa

Following a Question & Answer session, Dr. Pipa drew from Ephesians 2:1-10 to speak on Sola Gratia. His three points were the function of grace, the purpose of grace, and the fruit of grace. He said, “Salvation, from beginning to end, is of Jehovah, the triune God, that He might be glorified in His people.”

Dr. Kolb then enlightened listeners on “Luther’s Preaching on the Parables.” The key to understanding this biblical genre, he said, is to “recognize the Person telling the parable as the main point of it,” and that Christ provides the proper interpretation for each one.

On Wednesday, Pastor Cliff Blair, Redeemer Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Charlotte, NC, preached from John 6:26-71 on Solus Christus. He spoke movingly of Christ as the focus of the entire Scriptures, the holy One of God, who is the center of it all. He urged listeners, “Set your feet on this rock, eat this bread, drink this blood, taste eternal life now, and know that you will have it forever and ever.”

Pastor Carl Robbins, Woodruff Presbyterian Church, used James 2:14ff to address the topic of Sola Fide. He noted that Protestants tend to warn against legalism, but fail to recognize the danger of antinomianism. In a memorable introduction, he compared the two threats to ditches on the sides of a narrow country road.

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L-R:  Drs. Pipa &, Whiting, Pastor Blair, Ryan Speck (moderator), Dr. Morales, Pastor Robbins, and Dr. Kolb

After another panel discussion, Dr. L. Michael Morales, Professor of Biblical Studies at GPTS, spoke on Soli Deo Gloria. Based on Matthew 4:1-11, he encouraged hearers to look to Jesus, who lived completely to the glory of God and glorified the Father through obedience to His Word.

Dr. Michael Whiting, author of Luther in English, led off Thursday’s lectures by exploring “Law as Friend and Foe in Luther’s Theology.” He noted that Luther’s famous paradox about believers being simul justus et peccator (both righteous and sinners) can guide our understanding of his paradoxical language regarding the law.

The last presentation by Dr. James E. McGoldrick, GPTS Professor of Church History, was about “Luther on Life without Dichotomy.” Based on 1 Peter 2:1-12, he spoke about Luther’s doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, which was in stark contrast to the prevailing dichotomy between clergy and laity. He stressed that a life of service is indispensible to the Christian life, saying, “True faith is always active in love.”

The conference concluded with a final Question & Answer session.

The above article by Glenda Mathes was one in the Reformation Conference Series and appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the May 31, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.

URC and CanRC hold concurrent classis meetings

CanRC reportsClassis Central US (URCNA) and Classis Manitoba (CanRC) met in Sioux Falls, SD, on April 3 & 4, 2017, marking the first time the two federations held classis meetings concurrently. Delegates from both classes had the privilege of the floor during joint sessions, but did not vote on items of the other classis. Federational-specific matters were presided over by the appropriate chair.

Plans for the meeting began last fall, when Rev. Todd De Rooy (pastor of Redeemer URC in Orange City, IA, and a member of the URCNA’s Committee for Ecclesiastical Relations and Church Unity) contacted Classis Manitoba personnel to determine interest. Then he contacted Rev. Spencer Aalsburg, whose Christ Reformed consistory was slated to convene and host the April 2017 meeting of Classis Central US.

Rev. De Rooy said, “Classis Manitoba agreed to postpone their scheduled March meeting and hold it in April in Sioux Falls, at Christ Reformed Church’s invitation, to be concurrent with our Classis.”

He explained the rationale behind the idea as “excitement” for the anticipated concurrent URCNA Synod and OPC General Assembly in 2018, the “success” of concurrent meetings between Classis Eastern US and the OPC, and a desire “to find the best way for our elders and ministers to have contact with elders and ministers in the Canadian Reformed Churches.”

The close proximity of URC and CanRC congregations in Canada promotes pulpit exchanges and other events that foster fellowship; however, the small number of CanRC congregations within the US makes such ecumenical efforts less viable.

Ministers and clerks of the two convening consistories, Rev. Aalsburg and Clerk Mark Hoogwerf (Christ Reformed Church-URC) as well as Rev. Steve Vandevelde and Clerk Jon DeWitt (Carmen East-CanRC), did much preliminary work to facilitate the event.

Men from both federations worked together to craft a schedule that allowed similar amounts of time for separate administrative sessions and incorporated joint sessions to discuss items of mutual interest on each agenda.

Classis Manitoba not only had to be willing to postpone its meeting, but delegates also had to be willing to dedicate more time to it.

“We were humbled by the willingness of our Canadian Reformed brothers to take the extra time to travel down to meet concurrently with us in Sioux Falls,” Mark Hoogwerf said. “They could have completed their business in a normal meeting that would allow most of their delegates to return home the same day. However, they were very open to making the sacrifice of spending up to seven hours on the road each way to meet in ecumenical fellowship with us.”

Nine Can RC participants traveled in two vehicles the seven hours from Manitoba. But Classis Central US covers such a large area that some of its delegates drove farther. For instance, those from DeMotte drove twelve hours.

Rev. Todd Joling (Faith URC, Beecher, IL) chaired, while Rev. Talman Wagenmaker served as Clerk for Classis Central US. Rev. Rick Vanderhorst (Grace CanRC, Winnipeg) was President, and Dr. Andrew Pol (Carmen West) functioned as Clerk for Classis Manitoba. Rev. Joe Poppe (Redeemer, Winnipeg) served as Vice-President.

Classis convened on Monday evening with delegates from both federations gathering for devotions. Delegates then met separately to deal with administrative matters and reports. This period was followed by a joint session at which representative from the OPC and PCA extended fraternal greetings and a representative from the CanRC reported on mission work in Brazil.

Tuesday morning began with delegates meeting jointly to hear more fraternal greetings and reports. After updates on URC church planting efforts in Chicago Heights, IL, and Quito, Ecuador, delegates approved continued support for those works. They also heard an update on URC Chaplain Rev. Andrew Spriensma.

groupOvertures

URC delegates then dealt with three overtures. The first, submitted by Grace URC of Waupun, WI, requested several changes to Classis Central’s Rules of Procedure. Most of these were “housekeeping” changes, but one suggested that all examinees be required to submit a sermon manuscript for evaluation. All parts of this overture were adopted.

The second overture, from Immanuel URC in DeMotte, IN, suggested that Synod 2018 revise Article 64 of the Church Order to be in line with Synod 2016’s pastoral advice regarding membership departure. The overture would add language about transferring, releasing, or erasing memberships in situations not included in existing Church Order categories. This overture was approved and will be forwarded to Synod 2018.

The third overture, also from Immanuel in DeMotte, asked Synod to adopt a “Marriage Affirmation & Gospel Testimony,” which affirms biblical teaching and addresses concerns raised at Synod 2016. Classis Central US voted to send this overture on to Synod 2018.

Appeal

Following a lunch break, the concurrent meeting entered Executive Session, and Classis Manitoba reported on recent church visits.

Classis Central US then dealt with an appeal from an individual. The consistory had denied his request to pursue revision of the Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession to bring those documents into agreement with statements about the ‘soul’ not being a “thing, but a characteristic/condition of a living body…and that…time in the Bible…is not literal.”

Delegates recognized seven of the appellant’s eleven grounds as valid, but three as invalid, and one as out of order. The decision to deny the appeal as a whole was adopted without dissent. Scriptural grounds were provided at several points of the response and the consistory was affirmed in its position that the confessions accurately reflect biblical teaching regarding the soul.

Although discussion on this matter lasted past the afternoon break, Classis Manitoba met separately after that time. Classis Central went on to appointments and offered pastoral advice regarding discipline matters.

Delegates met concurrently again for closing matters and prayer. Appreciation was expressed to Christ Reformed Church for hosting the meeting.

“We considered it a great joy to be able to host the spring meetings,” Mr. Hoogwerf said. “By God’s grace, numerous members of our small congregation were willing to joyfully serve. We were very grateful for the opportunity.”

Rev. Vandevelde thought he might find Classis Central US “less homogeneous” than Classis Western Canada, which he said “most of us know as ‘the URC.’” While he anticipated more diversity, his impression had been “that Classis US would not be hostile to some potential further organic unity, but more likely indifferent or hesitant, maybe reluctant.” For this reason, he was “keen” to meet URC brothers “face to face.”

Rev. Poppe described the concurrent meeting as “hugely beneficial.” He said, “There was a mutual recognition that we share a common faith, and that we truly are brothers in the Lord.”

He recommends that other classes consider such meetings and seek opportunities for them. Rev. De Rooy offered these thoughts: “All the delegates saw first-hand that the office bearers and churches of our two federations are doing the work of the Great Commission under the same Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, by the same power of the Holy Spirit. Our churches face the same challenges from the inside and the outside of the church. What we discover is that we differ in how we go about doing that work. There was a spirit of brotherly unity in the assembly of the concurrent Classis, and also in the many fellowship times over the two days.”

The subsequent meeting of Classis Central US was scheduled for September 11, 2017, in Waupun, WI, with Grace URC as the convening consistory. Carman West CanRC was slated to convene the next meeting of Classis Manitoba on June 23 or September 22, 2017.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 8 & 9 of the May 31, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.

 

URCNA Classis Western Canada welcomes two pastors

greetingsClassis Western Canada met in a special session on April 7, 2017, in order to conduct colloquium doctums for two ministers. The consistory of Trinity Reformed Church of Lethbridge, AB, desired to call the two men to serve its congregation.

“This classis meeting was truly a joy to witness,” reported Stated Clerk Rev. James Roosma (Grace Reformed Church, Kelowna). “We thankfully moved quickly through the ordinary mandatory classis business in order to devote the vast majority of our time having a very good doctrinal conversation with the two brothers.”

The two examinees were Rev. John van Eyk, who has been serving the Tain/Fearn Associated Presbyterian Church (APC) in Scotland since September of 2008, and Rev. Thomas Albaugh, who recently retired after serving five years at the Redeemer OPC mission work in Pittsburgh, PA. Since September of 2016, Rev. Albaugh has been ministering to the Trinity congregation in Lethbridge.

Rev. Keith Davis (Bethel URC, Calgary) conducted the first half of the exam, questioning the ministers in the areas of practica, church polity, and ethics. Rev. Bill Pols (Orthodox Reformed Church, Edmonton) presided over the second half, examining the men regarding Reformed Doctrine and Confessional Knowledge.

“It was absolutely clear during the course of the these examinations,” wrote Rev. Roosma, ‘Rev. van Eyk and Rev. Albaugh’s commitment to the Christian faith and the 3 Forms of Unity was unwavering and their desire to serve Christ’s church in Lethbridge was for His glory alone.”

Each man successfully sustained his examination and will now serve Trinity as a Minister of the Word and Sacraments; however, according to Council Chairman, Lloyd Van Eeden Petersma, their roles will be different. Rev. van Eyk will function as the Senior Pastor and Rev. Albaugh will serve part-time as the Pastor of Congregational Life.

“As we are a large congregation with many older members, widows and widowers,” he explains, “Rev. Albaugh will focus much of his time visiting with these members as well as an active group of families and young people. This was something he did a great deal of as he served as an interim pastor and something that was very much appreciated.”

Rev. Albaugh and his wife, Martha, anticipated moving their household goods from Pittsburg to Lethbridge early in May. Rev. Albaugh, who was in the Christian Reformed Church for 12 years, believes the transition back to the continental confessions complements his ministry of the last few years and propels him into future service in the Lord’s kingdom.

“As an OPC minister, I have found the Dutch Reformed tradition to be a wonderful expression of the biblical faith,” he said. “The OPC and the URCNA have a fine working relationship together and a commitment to the preaching of a ‘Christ-centered Gospel’.” He described the move from the OPC’s Presbytery of Ohio to the URCNA’s Classis Western Canada as “smooth” and noted that “the leadership of both denominations has been a great encouragement to me and my family.”

Rev. van Eyk taught in Turkey at the beginning of May and planned to move in mid-June with his wife, Lucy, and six of their seven children. A married son, whose wife is expecting their first child, will remain with his family in Scotland for at least another year to finish his university education.

“I leave dear Christians in the Associated Presbyterian Church in Scotland, but I am excited to be ministering in the URCNA,” Rev. van Eyk said. “I was welcomed so warmly by the brothers at Classis Western Canada and the colloquium doctum demonstrated their commitment to the Word of God and their love for the Confessions. I am especially humbled and thrilled to be serving Trinity and have a real desire to proclaim Christ from his Word so that God might be glorified and enjoyed.”

Both pastors anticipated preaching for their first official Sunday at Trinity on June 25. Rev. Albaugh is a graduate of Westminster Seminary California, and Rev. van Eyk graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Prior to serving in Scotland, Rev. van Eyk pastored the Riverside Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Cambridge, ON.

Classis Chairman Rev. Rich Anjema (Providence Reformed Church, Winnipeg), who now serves Providence Reformed Church in Winnipeg, became acquainted with Rev. van Eyk during the decade Rev. Anjema pastored Hope Reformed Church in Brampton.

“During those years, Rev. van Eyk was pastor of Riverside ARP in Cambridge. I don’t know the exact dates of his time there, but it overlapped my time in Ontario,” he said. “We had some natural connections since members of Hope Reformed and Riverside ARP were involved with what formerly was known as Cornerstone Bible Institute, which is now Redemption Prison Ministries.”

Trinity Reformed Church has been vacant since September of 2015. During that time, a variety of pastors provided pulpit supply. Mr. Van Eeden Petersma said, “In 2016 alone, we had 16 different ministers and four seminarians on our pulpit. We look back and quickly can see how the Lord has blessed us.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the May 31, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.

From a church plant to an organized church in San Antonio

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

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

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

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

Moody-Wagenmaker-c
Revs. Moody and Wagenmaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dangerous book

choosing-good-portion-2
Choosing the Good Portion is available from the OPC online store

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The path to ministry from Michigan to New Zealand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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