Construction begins on Redeemer URC building

group-shovel
Building Committee members

Thirteen years after Redeemer United Reformed Church began meeting in Dyer, IN, the congregation broke ground for the construction of its own building.

The ground-breaking ceremony was held on April 21, 2018, on the church’s property located in the “Gates of St. John,” a subdivision of that city in northwest Indiana. The property is accessed from US 231, between US 41 and I-65, and is near Crown Point Christian School.

Redeemer’s minister, Rev. Jacques Roets, and its three associate pastors (all professors at Mid-America Reformed Seminary) participated in the ceremony.

Since the groundbreaking, the foundation has been laid, and framing has started for classrooms and the fellowship section. The building will also include a nursery, kitchen, council room, secretary’s office, pastor’s office, and a sanctuary that will seat more than the current membership of 75 families.

Rev. Roets explains that when the church realized it would have to scale back on its original plans, due to financial considerations, it decided to make concessions in the educational area rather than give up sanctuary space. “We have struggled with how to do this,” he says, “but from the beginning we were committed to building a sanctuary since worship is so important to God’s people.”

venema
Dr. Cornel Venema

Current needs will be met by allowing classes to meet in the council room and church office. The hope is for worship services to begin in the new building by Easter of 2019.

Many reasons lay behind the long wait for a building. The church had purchased land on what was know locally as the “shoe corner” more than a decade ago. But shortly after Rev. Roets arrived in 2007, a recession hit that put everything on hold. As the congregation kept growing (it has doubled in size since 2007), it became apparent that the lot was too small for a building that would adequately meet the church’s needs. The larger property in St. John was purchased in 2010, and the smaller parcel was sold in 2016.

“Also, the cost of construction made us very wary of over-committing ourselves, and so we waited until we had saved more money and were able to afford a better building,” Rev. Roets says. “A factor that reduced the urgency to build was that we were comfortable worshipping in the Dyer Presbyterian Church (PCUSA).”

About three years ago, church leaders realized the building was getting too cramped for the growing congregation. They had hoped to start building last year, but first needed to revise the design in order to reduce expenses.

The congregation has received significant donations of an organ and a grand piano.

Jacques speaking-close
Rev. Jacques Roets

Redeemer’s vision statement identifies the church as a community “striving to be Christ-centered, grace-filled and people-loving.” Rev. Roets believes the church’s own building will be a visible tool in loving people, which is defined as: Love towards one another. (Carrying each other’s burdens. Encouraging each other. Seeking each other’s good.) Love towards the stranger in our midst. (Welcoming them in the name of Christ. Showing genuine interest in them.) Love towards those who are lost. (Working deliberately to display God’s love to them. Seizing every opportunity to testify to God’s love in Christ.)

“We are looking forward to being able to have a more visible presence in the community,” Rev. Roets says, “to have a place around which to center our life together and be a place where people can come to hear the gospel, grow in faith and be excited to bring others to hear the gospel.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared with the headline “Long awaited building for Dyer congregation under construction” on pages 11 & 12 of the September 14, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.

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Concurrent meetings of URCNA Classis and OPC Presbytery prefigure major assemblies

groupFrom March 15-17, 2018, the URCNA’s Classis Central US and the OPC’s Presbytery of the Midwest held meetings at Community Reformed Church (URCNA) in Schererville, IN, that prefigured the federations’ concurrent major assemblies in a few months.

Classis Central convened at 4:00 PM on Thursday, March 15, and concluded at 6:00 PM on Friday. The Presbytery of the Midwest convened at 8:30 AM on Friday and concluded its business about noon on Saturday. Before and during the overlapping times, delegates and commissioners enjoyed communal worship and meals as well as shared instruction and information.

On Thursday evening, men from both groups attended an educational presentation (open to the public) by Tim Geiger, President of Harvest USA and a Teaching Elder in the PCA.

2 Anderson instrumentalistsFriday morning began with joint opening devotions. Rev. John Vermeer, recently installed at Doon URC in Iowa, spoke from Ephesians 2:11-22. He noted that twisted views of the church inhibit fellowship, but true unity can be found in focusing on Christ. Members of the Community URC congregation provided accompaniment for singing from a Trinity Psalter Hymnal sampler. Rev. James Oord played the piano. Andy Anderson played bass, his son James played cello, and another son Isaiah played violin.

The afternoon began with joint devotions led by Rev. Shane Lems, former pastor and church planter of the URC in Sunnyside, WA, who is now minister of Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Hammond, WI. From Luke 22:31-34, he spoke about Christ’s intercessory prayer that the faith of believers would not fail.

Dr. Alan Strange reported that printing of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal was scheduled to begin on March 19. Over 30,000 copies had been ordered, about 18,000 by URC churches.

Classis Central US: Colloquium Doctum and emeritation

Classis Central welcomed a minister from another federation and granted concurring advice regarding a minister who is being emeritated.

Jon and Kelli Bushnell
Kelli and Jon Bushnell

The most time-consuming matter on the agenda of Classis Central was a Colloquium Doctum conducted with Rev. Jon Bushnell, minister of First CRC in Prinsburg, MN. Sioux Center URC requested the CD and expressed its intent to proceed with steps for extending a call to him, should he sustain his exam. He did.

“It was extensive, exhausting and extremely encouraging,” Rev. Bushnell observed. “We covered everything from pastoral burn-out to the incomprehensibility of God.”

A humorous moment occurred when Rev. Spencer Aalsburg asked Rev. Bushnell if he would cast a presidential vote for an inexperienced Christian or an experienced non-Christian with good policies.

“It’s hard to say without knowing more,” Rev. Bushnell responded diplomatically. “Is he a Christian in name only? Are you running for president? Because I’d vote for you.”

Rev. Bushnell’s home church is Trinity URC in Visalia, CA. He is a 2011 graduate of Westminster Seminary California and served an internship at Prinsburg prior to accepting the church’s call. His wife, Kelli, is from DeMotte, IN, where she belonged to Immanuel URC. The couple has three young children.

The request for concurring advice in the matter of emeritation came from Immanuel URC in DeMotte, IN, with respect to Rev. Tom Wetselaar, who has served the church since it formed in 1995. Rev. Wetselaar has been a faithful pastor for 30 years and has been in Classis Central the longest of any minister. His struggle with chronic back pain, combined with an unusually heavy burden of full-time pastoral ministry, led to a leave of absence in August and the eventual emeritation. Rev. Wetselaar continues to preach and counsel as opportunity arises and hopes for new avenues of ministry in Christ’s kingdom.

Rev. Jody Lucero chaired the meeting, Rev. John Vermeer served as Vice Chairman, and Rev. Ralph Pontier is Clerk of Classis. Oak Glen URC in Lansing, IL, is scheduled to convene the next meeting of Classis on September 10, 2018.

Presbytery of the Midwest: Exams and expansion

The Presbytery of the Midwest examined several men at various levels and discussed a proposal to expand its geographic bounds.

OPC examsCommissioners approved taking three men under Presbytery care: Ben Bessett from Neenah, WI; Elijah DeJong from Sheboygan, WI; and Carl Gobelman from Joliet, IL. Peter Bringe from Wentzville, MO, preached on Friday morning, and Nathan Strom from St. Paul, MN, preached in the afternoon. Commissioners voted to grant them license to preach in the churches. Andrew Fortenberry, from Hanover Park, IL, was approved for ordination, and Jared van Noord, from Green Bay, WI, was accepted from another denomination.

Commissioners approved sending to the General Assembly a communication regarding Presbytery boundaries in the Great Plains States. The neighboring Presbytery of the Central US contains only four churches and will petition GA to dissolve it and disperse its territories. One of the churches, Faith OPC in Lincoln, NE, wishes to affiliate with the Presbytery of the Midwest. It is anticipated that the Presbytery of the Southwest will receive the other three, which are located in Kansas and Oklahoma. Because some parts of nearby states are closer to Chicago (where the PMW is centered) than to Denver (where the Presbytery of the Dakotas is centered), the communication expresses the willingness of the Presbytery of the Midwest to add specific counties of Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota to its geographical area.

Ben Snodgrass served as Moderator for the Presbytery’s meeting, and Camden Bucey was Vice Moderator. Christian McShaffrey is Stated Clerk, and Bruce Stahl is the Assistant Clerk. Brian De Jong serves as Archivist. The wide range of responsibilities struck Rev. McShaffrey.

“As those who acknowledge their own sin and weakness, we spend ample time in the Word and in prayer,” he said. “As those who have been forgiven, we sing much praise to our Savior. As those who guard the truth, we scrutinize candidates for ministry. As those who serve the church, we offer advice and shepherding as needed. As those who hold the keys, we adjudicate administrative and judicial matters. As those who love God, we seek to do all this in a decent, orderly, and Christ-honoring manner.”

Planning the meetings required cooperation between representatives in each federation. Rev. James Oord expressed gratitude for the dedication and efficiency of the Presbytery’s Ecumenicity Committee. “The whole event was a blessing to both bodies,” he said. He noted that despite full agendas, delegates and commissioners made the most of fellowship opportunities.

The above is an edited version of the article that appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the April 13, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.

Costa Rica Ministry Center opens

Update12_17b.cdrSeventeen years after construction began, Costa Rica Ministry Center is finally being fully utilized. The facility houses three ministries: the CECRE (Centro Educativo Cristiano Reformado) Christian High School, the CLIR (Confraternidad Latinoamericana de Iglesias Reformadas) printing operation, and the Pacto de Gracia congregation. The church has held worship services in a finished room on the second level of the building for several years, but the high school and print shop moved in during February of 2018. An open house to celebrate this significant milestone was scheduled for April 6.

The 115 high school students and instructors enjoyed their first day of classes in the new building on February 12. The larger space in a clean and quiet location includes a cafeteria area. While the students in six grades nearly fill the available space, there is room for about 40 more pupils.

It took a full day to move the printing operation from the garage of missionaries Bill and Aletha Green three miles and up a hill to the new building. Workers used a forklift to load presses and other equipment onto two trucks that made the trip three times. The CLIR print shop occupies the Ministry Center’s ground floor and shares an office with the high school. Air-conditioning keeps the shop and storage area free from humidity. More convenient installations will increase printing volume.

Many Christian Renewal readers have participated in work groups at the site since 2001. As many as four or five crews arrived annually from about 2005-2012. Construction then stalled for nearly five years, due to financial recessions and sharp increases in the cost of building materials. But almost two years ago, a contractor offered a quote of $330,000 to finish the project.

“The contractor was great,” Rev Green says. “We got an extra 25 percent built for the quoted amount. Four sheds, cafeteria, poured parking, and a lot of other nice things. God is good!”

Bill and Aletha Green have been working with missions in Costa Rica for over three decades. Aletha continues to be active with the Christian school, after having served many years as principal and on the board. She helped organize senior class trips to Grand Rapids, MI, in 2016 and Chino, CA, in 2017. Her current service includes baking sweet treats for a worldview class the couple conducts in their home.

“Our 33 years of experience in Costa Rica has enabled us to identify cultural impediments, and the worldview class is addressing this,” Rev. Green says. “Some things are universal: individualism, selfishness. Some things are specific to Costa Rica—people have a difficult time working together as a team. Our primary goal is to ensure that following generations will sustain and push the Costa Rican Reformed ministries forward.”

The three ministries seem to be moving forward. The school’s student body is steadily growing. The Pacto de Gracia Reformed Church has enjoyed growth during the past year and a steady stream of visitors. Many parents from within the school community are becoming interested in the church due to its biblical distinctiveness.

God is providing men to assume more leadership in CLIR as well. Lester Martinez serves as administrator and Daniel Lobo is a translator and editor. The two men are elders licensed to exhort.

“They both combine their love for God’s kingdom and the church with their passion for CLIR’s ministry—in publications, conferences, and church support,” Rev. Green says. “Both are willing to serve the CLIR ministry for the long haul. Praise the Lord for these two men, their tremendous gifts, and their commitment to the Lord and His church.”

Ministries and individuals making advances in Kingdom work often feel the presence of spiritual warfare, and those involved with the Costa Rican ministry are no exception. They request prayer for that and other matters.

“We feel the attacks of the evil one, even as so many good things are happening,” Rev. Green says. “Please pray that God will protect and use us.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the April 13, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal

Rebuilding Faith

SanctuaryOn February 11, 2018, Faith United Reformed Church in West Olive, MI, enjoyed its first worship services in a new sanctuary, part of a recently-completed project to replace a significant portion of the building destroyed by fire on May 13, 2016.

“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it,” Rev. Matthew Nuiver welcomed the assembly. He said that outside seeing his wife on their wedding day and their children when they were born, he didn’t know if he’d ever “seen anything more beautiful” in all his life than the congregation gathered for worship in the new space.

The call to worship came from 1 Peter 2:4-10, about God’s people as living stones and a holy priesthood. “That’s what we celebrate this day,” he said. “That God is making us a people together in Him and building us up to be a church to praise His holy name.”

The sermon, “Remember,” came from Lamentations 3:16-26 and was structured around the theme, “The Lord’s people remember their struggles rightly, so that they will find all of their blessings in Him.” Rev. Nuiver pointed out that we do that in humbleness, faithfulness, and hopefulness.

Rev. Nuiver referred at times to the fire and tied in the message with the upcoming celebration of the Lord’s Supper. He noted that struggles, even those far worse than the fire, help us humble ourselves before God and remember His faithfulness, which we tend to forget.

He admitted it was hard on May 13, 2016, to wait for what “we now know” would be February 11, 2018. But he stressed that in all our trials, “We fix our eyes on him. Not on this place, not on our circumstances. This is nice. But we long for the Lord. We long for heaven” and full fellowship with the Lord. “That’s what we’re looking for,” he said. “This building was worth the wait, but how much more is Christ! How much more is the eternal life we long for! Blessed are those who wait on him.”

NarthexThe evening scripture reading included The Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-15, and the sermon was based on Lord’s Day 15 from the Heidelberg Catechism, which deals with Christ’s suffering and death. Rev. Nuiver expounded on the question: “Why Are We Free?” under the following theme and points: The believer is free because of the completed work of Jesus Christ in His Suffering, Sentencing, and Shouldering. Stressing the great love of God, Rev. Nuiver urged hearers to exercise their blessing by being blessings to others.

A praise and prayer service was held on February 10, to allow members to experience the new space prior to their first Sunday of worship in it. Members met for corporate prayer, singing, and sharing reflections before splitting up into small groups that met in new rooms to pray, as Rev. Nuiver said, “for the Lord’s blessing and presence to be in and about this building.” He added, “Just to see all the wide eyes and smiles as people walked in and to hear what everyone loved and noticed was a joy.”

The gym and several classrooms were spared from the fire, which allowed the congregation to worship on site during the rebuilding process. A rented educational trailer provided additional classroom space. The local Christian school allowed the Faith congregation to host potlucks in its gym, while South Olive CRC and other churches opened their facilities for funerals.

Footings and most of the original concrete pad could be reused. The cornerstone from the old building was salvaged and installed on one side of the entry doors, across from a new cornerstone.

Many people who drive up to the church have remarked about its similar appearance to the old structure. The exterior is nearly the same, but the front of the building is closer to the road and the back extends farther into the parking lot. The worship space is similar, except the pews are slightly angled.

Rev. Nuiver said, “The most dramatic changes are seen in the warm color palette, which plays throughout the entire space, in the large narthex, and in the ways we were able to plan for classroom spaces and study and office spaces, making our building incredibly functional and beautiful in the now, and we pray in the future as well.”

The trial by fire provided the blessing of expanded fellowship and visibility within the community. It’s also been an opportunity for the congregation to witness God’s faithfulness and recommit to witness faithfully for the Lord.

“When we see a new and beautiful building, a resonant worship space, a restored study, and so many other blessings, we marvel at having been given something that allows us to serve and worship and reach out in ways that we couldn’t before,” Rev. Nuiver said. “We loved our old space, the sacrifices that were made to provide it, the memories that were made in it, and so many of the things that were lost that you cannot receive back by way of a purchase. But we are so thankful for the ways that many within and outside of our body prayed for us and provided for us and cared for us, so that what we now have is an even fuller reflection of the Lord’s great mercy, love, and faithfulness. And we pray that it will be used as a testimony to the same to the glory of His name!”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 5 & 6 of the March 23, 2018, issue of Christian RenewalGreat faithfulness

Jubilee Tour explores Reformation sites

02-Venema preaching-cDr. Cornel Venema and his wife, Nancy, never expected they would lead a tour group in Europe to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. But in God’s providence, they were in Germany on the actual date marking the event.

Tony Aguilar, representing Levia Tour in New York City, contacted Dr. Venema and asked if he’d be willing to host a tour that included stops to significant sites in Reformation history.

“The itinerary was already in place, although I asked them to make a few changes after I agreed to work with them,” Dr. Venema explained. A concern that Wittenberg would be too busy on October 31 led to scheduling that visit a day earlier; a good move since many dignitaries were in Wittenberg for a celebration on the 31st and the tour group wouldn’t have had access to the Castle Church and other important sites for security reasons.

The group of 50 participants visited sites in Germany, France and Switzerland on the Reformation Jubilee Tour, which took place October 28-November 9, 2017.

01-Lutheran chuchThe tour began with a worship service in a famous Lutheran church in Berlin. Dr. Venema preached from Romans 3:19-4:5 about Christ as the just and the justifier. Rev. Mark Minegar (Allegan, MI) led the group in prayer. Nancy Venema played the organ.

On October 30, the group took a bus to Wittenberg, where they visited the monastery that eventually became Luther’s home. Another site was Phillip Melanchthon’s house, and participants also viewed the Castle Church door, where Luther had nailed his 95 theses 500 years earlier.

This was one of the most memorial days for Rev. Ed Marcusse of Immanuel’s Reformed Church (URC) in Salem, OR, and his wife, Denise. The couple enjoyed this once-in-a-lifetime trip as a gift from Rev. Marcusse’s current and former churches in celebration of his 25 years in pastoral ministry.

“Standing in front of the door of the Castle Church where Luther posted the 95 these was moving,” said Rev. Marcusse, “but even more interesting was touring the ‘Luther House Museum’, which the German government organized in commemoration of the 500-year anniversary.” He explained that when Luther married, Prince Frederick the Wise gave the then-empty monastery (where Luther had lived and taught) to him as a wedding gift. “This may seem like quite a large gift for one couple (the building is HUGE), but by the time he marries, Luther’s fame has spread all over Europe and on any given night he has between 30 to 300 visitors staying with him in order to soak up more of his teachings. His new wife, Katarina, feeds and houses them all. The daily life of the Reformer was well-chronicled in this museum.”

It was on the second floor of the former monastery that Luther frequently met with students after dinner for theological discussions. Notes taken during these “table talks” were published after Luther’s death.

06-Wartburg Castle-cTo celebrate on October 31, tour members began the day with worship. They then traveled to Erfurt, the city where Luther attended university, became a monk, and was ordained a priest. Part of the day included a trip to Wartburg Castle near Eisnach. When Luther left Worms after being declared a heretic, Prince Frederick arranged for Luther to be “kidnapped” and hid for ten months at Wartburg Castle. During this time of seclusion, Luther translated the New Testament from the Greek into German, a step that propelled the Protestant Reformation forward. People now could read these Scriptures for themselves.

On November 3, the tour bus stopped in Worms, Germany, and participants visited the Cathedral where the Diet condemned Martin Luther of heresy. The visits to Wartburg Castle near Eisenach and to the Cathedral in Worms, where Luther took his stand in 1521 in the presence of the young emperor and an assembly of the ecclesiastical and civil authorities, were highlights for Dr. Venema.

07-Worms Cathedral-c“Both of these places were pivotal in Luther’s reformation career, and you could not but be impressed by the courage that he was given by God’s grace to take his stand for the gospel and the authority of the Scriptures in the face of likely martyrdom,” he said. “North Americans, with our strict appeal to the separation of church and state and our history of religious freedom, have almost no sense of what Luther was facing and of the tremendous implications of his reforming work for the church and the Christian life in the world.”

The tour continued into France and arrived at Strasbourg, where participants visited the famous Cathedral as well as the homes of John Calvin and Martin Bucer. On the journey to Switzerland, the bus crossed a section of Germany and stopped at Constance. Group members viewed the building that housed the Council of Constance from 1414-1418.

Although the Council’s primary purpose was to deal with the schism caused by three men claiming to be the Pope, the Council made a sad and significant decision related to the Reformation. It condemned the Czech priest Jan Hus as a heretic and sentenced him to be burned at the stake.

10-Strasbourg Cathedral interiorThe execution of Hus took place 102 years before Luther posted his theses. It’s interesting to know that Hus is reported to have said, “You are about to burn a goose [Husa in Czech means “goose”], but in 100 years a swan will arise that you will not be able to kill.”

A Lutheran church now stands at the place where Hus was executed, and tour members had a worship service there on the second Sunday of the trip. Rev. Marcusse preached from 2 Timothy 3:15 on Sola Scripture.

“It was personally moving for me to do this,” he said. “As I preached, the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ mentioned in Hebrews was running through my mind.”

The tour went on to Zurich, Switzerland, where Ulrich Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger lived and worked. In Lucerne, tour members viewed a famous lion sculpture and the highly-photographed Chapel Bridge with its octogan-shaped Water Tower. The group then traveled through the Alps, enjoying breath-taking vistas of some of its highest peaks.

The final day of the Reformation Jubilee Tour was spent in Geneva. Rev. Marcusse was impressed by seeing “Calvin’s church and especially standing in Calvin’s auditorium, across the street from his church, where every weekday at noon he would teach, working his way through Bible books verse by verse. These talks were written down by faithful scribes and turned into transcripts, which we hold in our hands today as his commentaries.”

14-Elger mountain AlpsReflecting on the trip, Dr. Venema found it “sobering” that “many of these events and sites are long forgotten in a Western European society that is post-Christian and often ignorant (even hostile) toward its own history.”

He also sees a need for North Americans to develop a more balanced perspective. “I believe Christians, especially Reformed Christians, in North America face two challenges when considering the sixteenth century Reformation. The first challenge is not to ‘idolize’ a particular moment in history, to romanticize it, and to think that we need only to return to the past rather than continue to seek to be faithful to the Word of God and the gospel of salvation by grace alone. The second challenge is to recognize the importance of history in the unfolding of God’s purposes through time, to become better students of our own history so as to understand and appreciate more our reformation heritage and its continuing significance for the church’s life and ministry today.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 11 & 12 of the February 9, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.

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

From a church plant to an organized church in San Antonio

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

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

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

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

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Revs. Moody and Wagenmaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dangerous book

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Choosing the Good Portion is available from the OPC online store

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

URC seeks right house for worship in DC

 

bldg 2For the last five years, Christ Reformed Church (URCNA) has met for worship in the historic Grace Reformed Church building, located on 15th Street in downtown Washington, DC. Like other Gothic Revival style churches, the building features lofty spires and luminous stained-glass windows. But the architecture stands alone in its sculptural tributes to key places and persons of the Reformation.

About to enter the front of the building, you’d see an arch over the double doors that bears the name “Grace Reformed Church” and depicts Christ’s ascension. You might pause in surprise when you noticed the arch is flanked by shields for the cities of Zurich and Geneva. Lift your eyes higher, above the soaring stained-glass window to the very top of the building’s facade, and you’d see a carved figure holding the coat of arms for Elector Frederick III of the Palatinate, who commissioned the writing of the Heidelberg Catechism.

A Sunday School building echoes the Gothic Revival style as well as the theological emphasis. Dr. Brian Lee, Christ Reformed Church’s minister, calls the building’s outside wall on the south, “Washington DC’s version of the Reformation Wall.” Sculpted elements list Zwingli and Calvin, Bullinger and Beza, Ursinus and Olevianus.

How did the structures come to be embellished with such distinctly Reformed touches? The history page on the church’s website provides the answer. In order to appropriately represent the church’s philosophy, architect Paul J. Pelz studied the history of the Reformed church and became inspired by it. Sculptor James F. Earley incorporated the unique names and symbols, contributing to a final appearance that Pelz believed made Grace Reformed “more artistic than any church in this city.”

pewsThe Reformed Church Messenger, the denomination newsletter, agreed with that assessment while affirming the clarity of the building’s Reformed witness. An article about the church’s dedication in 1903 reported, “In erecting this building the Reformed Church has done an appropriate thing in a beautiful way…. Within and without it is as beautiful and artistic as it is substantial and complete…. It stands as a monument first of all to the power and grace of the kingdom of Jesus Christ but it represents at the same time the history and genius of the Reformed Church….. The style of architecture; the shields of Geneva, Zurich and the Palatinate; the emblems cut into stone arches over the entrances to the church and the memorials in the windows and the chancel, combine to make one harmonious story easily understood by anyone who knows the Reformed church.”

A structure with such Reformed elements seems the perfect place for the newly-organized URC congregation to meet, except for the fact that the building is for sale and Christ Reformed Church needs to find a new meeting location once it sells.

The building belongs to Grace Reformed Church, formerly a Reformed Church in the United States congregation, but now part of the United Church of Christ. The dwindling congregation, composed primarily of elderly parishioners, has realized for some time that it could not continue to maintain the building. In the summer of 2016, the church informed Christ Reformed that current rental arrangements would conclude soon.

FrederickAlthough the owners appear willing for the building to remain a place of worship and encouraged Christ Reformed to put together a proposal, that possibility does not seem likely. Church buildings in the DC area bring a premium sale price because real estate developers are keen to convert them into high-end condominiums or other lucrative secular uses. Because Grace Reformed Church, with its Sunday School building and parish house, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, its value could be even higher than average. While Dr. Lee hates to speculate, recent sales lead him to estimate the building could be sold for around $5 million. He foresees the proceeds being placed into a trust that would eventually benefit UCC charities.

While the loss of this unique location poses extreme challenges to the fledgling congregation, leaders and lay members are embracing the opportunity to assess and solidify the church’s vision and mission.

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Dr. Brian Lee

“This is a blessing,” Dr. Lee says, “especially for a newly-organized church like ours, a precious opportunity to ask anew where the Lord would have us plant our pilgrim flag and how he would have us serve him in this time and place.”

About a dozen volunteers, representing a broad range of the congregation’s demographic, are meeting for prayer and discernment. Part of their task is to determine questions and issues to bring before the entire congregation. Do they want to continue meeting downtown as the only Reformed witness in the city? Or do they want to move out to the suburbs, where most of them live? Do they want to continue focusing exclusively on Sunday worship and fellowship or find a facility that will permit the implementation of mid-week programs? Parking in DC is a problem, and many residents prefer not to drive in or out of the city. Church leaders feel it is important for members of the congregation to have input and play an active role in the important decisions that must be made.

Dr. Lee views this as a two-step process. The first step is figuring out, “How do we want to live our life together?” And the second step follows. “If we do that, what kind of building do we need?”

He explains that doing ministry in the midst of a city with a highly-transitory population is very different from the situation experienced by many URC congregations. Churches in smaller towns often enjoy a “generational aspect” that provides continuity and foundational resources. By trial and error, Christ Reformed Church has been discovering the “little details” that work within its metropolitan context. Although many city churches have updated worship or made compromises in other areas, Dr. Lee believes the congregation remains committed to the priority of worship that centers on the preached Word. Nevertheless, the church faces what he calls a “covenantal renewal moment.”

“This is a big step in the life of our church,” he says. “We’ve always been somewhat ‘accidental’ in our worship space, and we desire now to make a more intentional and long-term commitment in a particular neighborhood with a particular vision.”

Christ Reformed Church began meeting for worship on November 4, 2007, under the supervision of Zeltenreich URC (New Holland, PA). Classis Eastern U.S. concurred with the request for organization on October 14, 2015, and a celebratory worship service was held on January 21, 2016.

The congregation consists of about 70 total souls, although its composition is constantly changing. One family recently moved out of state, but two young women are being instructed toward membership. In addition to Dr. Lee, the church is served by two deacons and an elder. A former elder, who served for many years, continues as a member of the church.

As Christ Reformed Church faces the challenge of what may well be the loss of its historic and unique location, the congregation requests prayer for unity.

“We’re not so much seeking a particular outcome, as we desire spiritual unity through this process,” Dr. Lee says. “And stay tuned to see how the Lord blesses us during this time. He is the Lord of Provision, and we know he will.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 18-20 of the October 12, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

OPC church plant in Wisconsin: unique outreach efforts

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The McShaffrey family

Next time you vacation in the Wisconsin Dells, plan to drive less than 20 miles southwest to Reedsburg and worship with the saints at Grace Reformed Church. You’ll find sound preaching and warm fellowship in a congregation that reaches out in unusual ways.

The church began as a mission work of the Presbytery of the Midwest of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and was organized (particularized) as a church in 2007, with the ordination of three elders. Two deacons were installed in July of 2013.

Rev. Christian M. McShaffrey has been involved with the work since he graduated from Mid-America Reformed Seminary in 2003. He was ordained as an evangelist in 2004 and installed as pastor of the church in 2007.

“Though we are organized as a church, my work is not done,” he says. “While at Mid-America, I learned the ‘three-self’ formula of missions: 1) Self-governing, 2) self-supporting, and 3) self-propagating. The first two are done, but the third is yet future.”

The congregation consists of 48 communicant and 14 non-communicant members. They meet for Sunday worship at 11:15 AM in a PCUSA, whose space they rent at 148 North Park St. in Reedsburg. A luncheon at 12:30 PM follows the morning service. Members meet again for singing and prayer at 1:30, with a Bible study beginning at 1:45.

Rev. McShaffrey explains that the group originally met for morning and evening services, but because many members travel as much as an hour, evening attendance was lacking. When the congregation began renting its current facility, the worship schedule had to be adjusted around that church’s 9:30 AM service.

“The current schedule was based on necessity, but I have come to love it,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “Attendance in ‘second service’ has increased, and the bonds of our fellowship have deepened by breaking bread together each Sabbath. During the summer months, some linger about at the church in fellowship until evening.”

A home meeting is held each Wednesday at 6:00 PM for prayer, study, and fellowship. Members also take the initiative to sponsor Friday evening hymn sings, summer sporting events, hikes at a nearby state park, or community service projects.

The church’s website (reedsburgchurch.org) highlights several ministry and outreach efforts. One link leads to the unique Serious Christianity website (seriouschristianity.org), which answers multiple questions about different aspects of the Christian faith. Its purpose is to challenge the many “mere professors” of Christianity out of their complacency into true conversion.

“As a church planter, I spent a lot of time talking to people in the community,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “Almost everyone claimed to be ‘Christian’ and their claim was based on either 1) growing up in a church or 2) decisional regeneration. Antinomianism is rampant today.”

Visitors to the website can click on questions, which are answered with short, biblically-based articles. Other pages include comments from the Puritans and modern theologians. An “outreach” tab provides access to files for printing cards that invite people to explore the website by asking, “Do you take your Christianity seriously?”

A “diaconate” page on the church website introduces a couple of deacons, extensively explains their work and church guidelines, and offers links to other local resources.

We have a fairly active diaconate,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “We meet a lot of people by offering help. Of course, the majority of our work in done within the church. But I get about one phone call per week from strangers asking for help. Somehow, our church got the reputation of being generous, and I know that other pastors direct people to us. Having a public policy posted is helpful when it comes time to say, ‘No.’”

The website also includes links to Bible audio files and a way to request a free copy of a Bible.

“I believe that the Word of God is powerful. Reading it can change lives,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “One of our deacons is a Gideon and his love for distributing Scripture encouraged me to do the same. I get about one call per month. I order and ship directly from Amazon.com (because most people are not interested in meeting). I include my name and phone number in the front cover.”

Grace Reformed also offers Bibles through its radio ministry. It broadcasts sermons and prayer times as well as sponsoring daily Bible reading. When Pastor McShaffrey introduces himself to people, they often ask, “Are you the Christian who gives away free Bibles on the radio?”

The website includes an invitation page in Spanish, although it acknowledges that a specific Spanish-language ministry does not yet exist. The website even includes directions for taking a cab to the church service and having the deacons pay the fare.

Most church members participate in the annual Life Chain, in which pro-life advocates stand together to pray for God to forgive our nation and put an end to abortion. The Reedsburg group stands on Main Street for 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon. Rev. McShaffrey says, “It is a visual statement of solidarity by the local Christian community that abortion kills children, hurts women, and angers God.”

In addition to his ministerial duties, Rev. McShaffrey serves as Clerk of the Presbytery of the Midwest. He appreciates his education at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, saying, “I received sound theological instruction and was also encouraged by the good example of my professors in seeking the peace, purity, and unity of the church.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the October 12, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.