Smooth Sailing for RCUS Synod in California


2016-rcus-synod-cNo controversial issues came up during the 270th Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States, when it met from May 16-19, 2016, at Grace Reformed Church in Bakersfield, CA.

“I would have to say that this year’s Synod was unique in that there were no major decisions or position papers to approve,” Clerk David Fagrey said. “Every year I’m increasingly thankful for the camaraderie we share in the gospel and in the Reformed faith.”

In addition to a host of normal business, Synod’s agenda included a few noteworthy matters, including cremation, Two Kingdom theology, and relations with the GKN.


The previous year’s Synod had appointed a committee to study the theological and pastoral implications of cremation. Rev. Jim Sawtelle (Redeemer, Golden Valley, MN) said, “This is an increasingly pastoral challenge with the rise of the widespread acceptance of cremation. So questions being explored by the committee are things like: Is cremation consistent with a biblical practice and view of those who die in the Lord? How should the church advise its members about such a practice? Does the Bible speak to this issue clearly, or is it a matter of indifference?”

That committee asked for and was granted an additional year to complete its study.

Two Kingdom theology

The issue of Two Kingdom theology arose within the context of Western Classis, which had studied the matter and submitted a report to Synod. A synodical committee was appointed to read the material and bring recommendations or comments to next year’s Synod.

“The special committee was not directed to write a new paper, only to study the existing paper from the Western Classis,” explained Rev. Sawtelle, who chairs the committee. “Only one of the original authors of the paper in on the special committee. This was done purposely so that the special committee could read the paper with fresh eyes. The synod is very aware of the fact that a number of denominations and federations in North America are debating and studying this issue as well, and we are interested in how this discussion in the broader Reformed and Presbyterian community plays out.”

Relations with the GKN

For some time, the RCUS has been interacting with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN) regarding matters such as homosexuality, women in office, and the Theological University of Kampen (TUK).

This year’s Synod directed its Interchurch Relations Committee to warn the GKN that if it persists in neglecting “our admonition and continues its present course of de-formation, contrary to scripture and the Three Forms of Unity (TFU) at its next synod, that the RCUS will break its fraternal relationship with the RCN, and consider our fraternal relationship to have ended.” If, however, the next RCN Synod indicates a return to acknowledging the “full authority of Scripture” and the applicability of the TFU to the above-mentioned issues, the RCUS will continue its relationship with the RCN.


The subject of missions may be a normal part of Synod discussion, but the scope of RCUS labors exceeds the efforts of some larger denominations.

The RCUS is actively involved with three foreign federations: the United Reformed Churches of the Congo, the Reformed Fellowship Church of Kenya, and Pearl of the Orient Covenant Reformed Church in the Philippines.

“While the needs for support of pastors, missionaries, theological training for such, and various diaconal support far exceeds our limited resources,” Rev. Sawtelle said, “we remain committed to giving financial and advisory support as much as possible. The Lord is truly building His church in these places.”

The RCUS maintains home mission efforts in several locations: Rehoboth Reformed Church in Cerritos, CA (Rev. Michael Voytek), Grace Reformed Church in Rogers, AR (Rev. Steven Carr), First Reformed Chapel in Dickinson, ND (Rev. Wes Brice, pulpit supply), Christ Reformed Chapel in Casper, WY (Rev. Matt Powell), Valle de Gracia Iglesia in Shafter, CA (Rev. Valentin Alpuche), Calvary Reformed Chapel in Stockton, CA ( Rev. Jonathan Merica), and Omaha Reformed Chapel in Omaha, NE (Rev. Randy Klynsma).

This year’s Home Missions Committee meeting took a different approach than previous meetings. Rather than interviewing missionaries and focusing on writing a report about their work, this year’s February gathering was organized more like a conference. Speakers addressed issues of concern, and missionaries were given time to share progress of their work. This format afforded more opportunities for interaction on issues, prayer, and fellowship.


In summarizing the 2016 RCUS Synod, Rev. Sawtelle said, “One thing that really struck me was just how much the cultural instability of our nation is stressing and challenging our churches with how to minister effectively to our own members, and then also, how to bring the gospel to our fellow citizens in our times.”

He added, “It is heartening to talk to fellow ministers and elders about such things and find wonderful unity of commitment among us to stand on the authority of Scripture, the Reformed confessions, and to proclaim Christ as the only hope for all manner of sinners and the brokenness that sin and rebellion has brought about. There is an increasingly hyper-individualistic spirit at work, even among Christians. Facing this spiritual battle is going to take an equally united spirit of unity in Christ and to His Word among Christ’s people.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the July 6, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.


Pella’s heritage: Broken teacups and blooming tulips


canalDuring the first week of May, 300,000 tulips in beds lining streets and filling parks of Pella, IA, usually bloom. Whatever the condition of blossoms, local people celebrate their Dutch heritage with an extravaganza of colorful parades, folk dancing, interesting exhibits, and delicious food. Copious amounts of food. Visitors can feed their inner child with funnel cakes, cotton candy, and sno-cones. Ethnic foods range from walking tacos to egg rolls. But highlights for those who graze their way through the three days are distinctly Dutch delights like poffertjies (tiny custardy pancakes), stroopwafels (small round waffles with syrup layered between), and vet bollen (deep-fried dough balls filled with raisins and covered with sugar). Pella bologna can be purchased in many forms, including on a stick. And tourists wait in long bakery lines to buy pastries, especially almond-filled Dutch letters, shaped like an S.

Each year, over 100,000 people flock to Pella’s Tulip Festival to eat the food and see the sights. A successful festival depends in large part on thousands of local volunteers who do everything from donning authentic costumes and scrubbing streets to pushing their babies through the parade in antique buggies. Generations of families carry on such activities as treasured traditions.

baby-paradeMany participants descend from Dutch grandparents or great-grandparents who settled in the area. A few trace their lineage to Dominie Scholte, the minister who led about 800 immigrants to America in 1847 to escape famine and religious oppression in the Netherlands. The colonists determined to name their New World settlement Pella, based on the Decapolis city where Christians found sustenance and refuge when fleeing from Jerusalem in the first century.

Most of the Holland Colony camped outside St. Louis, while Scholte and two other men scouted for a suitable site in Iowa. The three selected a spot on the fertile prairie between the Skunk and Des Moines Rivers and purchased 18,000 acres at about $1.25 per acre (land in the area now can sell for $6,000-8,000/acre).

Many of the families initially lived together in a large shed constructed for shelter. Some stayed in sod houses for two winters, until they could afford to build more permanent homes. A few, like the Scholtes, moved into cabins purchased from previous inhabitants.

Scholte’s wife, Mareah, may have been the most reluctant settler. Accustomed to a more genteel life, she found it difficult to adjust to pioneer living. Although an accomplished woman, she is remembered for crying over broken china. Only a few items of her prized blue and white Delft survived the voyage. The remaining pieces paved a path from the family’s original cabin to the two-story house Scholte built to assuage his wife’s longing for her old home.

windmillAlthough the Scholtes are often idealized, they were flawed people. But the biblical record repeatedly shows how God uses broken people for His purpose. We are jars of clay—often cracked—through which the light of Christ shines by His grace (2 Corinthians 4:6–7).

Not every settler agreed with Scholte’s theological convictions. Some refrained from joining his church, believing that it did not follow the church order adopted at Dort. Later immigrants of similar beliefs joined with earlier settlers in establishing the True Dutch Reformed Church in 1866. The first congregation of its denomination west of the Mississippi River, this church became the First Christian Reformed Church, which still exists, and from which Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) and many other local and far-flung Reformed congregations sprang.

Nearly half of Pella’s almost 30 Christian churches remain Reformed in theological perspective. They embrace doctrines of grace often summarized by the TULIP acronym: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance (or better, Preservation) of the saints. When it comes to the Reformed faith, you could say tulips bloom year around in Pella.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 18 & 19 of the June 15, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

God’s faithfulness in the fire


study-3A massive fire destroyed much of the Faith United Reformed Church building in West Olive, MI, on May 13. No one was inside at the time, and Pastor Matthew Nuiver was one of the first to notice smoke as he drove up that morning.

“Initially I thought maybe it was a brush fire,” he said, “but as I got closer I saw the smoke appeared to be coming from the steeple.” He immediately called 911.

The fire moved quickly, engulfing the sanctuary and collapsing its roof within 40 minutes of the initial call. Smoke from the fire could be seen almost ten miles away. More than a dozen fire crews responded to the scene, and tanker trucks from surrounding townships provided water to ladder units. A fire wall between wings helped firefighters keep the inferno from spreading through the entire building, although the part still standing sustained some damage, primarily from smoke and water. The sanctuary section of the structure was completely destroyed.

News crews were quick on the scene, and Pastor Nuiver had the opportunity to testify on television networks about God’s faithfulness in the midst of loss.

“Certainly it’s gutting, and we’re disappointed,” he said, “but these are things that God can provide for us again and replace. We’re thankful no one was hurt. And we know that God is always faithful, so we’re trusting him.”

He also emphasized that the church is more than a building, even though it holds many emotional associations from weddings, baptisms, and funerals. “Those connections are all there, and they’re very important. So we don’t want to minimize that, but at the same time, the church is the people. And we’re thankful for the ways we’re going to be able to rally around each other.”

Several members of the congregation, who gathered to watch the fire, comforted each other and also witnessed to reporters. Marc Jaarsma reflected on the baptisms of his four children within the building. “Those memories can’t burn. Those milestones, and those special occasions,” he said. He expressed his confidence that the congregation would get through this. “Obviously our faith and trust in the Good Lord is going to be primary in that task.”

Elder Arlan Rouwhorst, identified as the church custodian, said, “I know the people in this church, and it’s a bump in the road. God has so faithful to this congregation and will continue to be. I know that beyond a doubt.”

The cause of the fire was being investigated, but media reports indicated that it did not appear suspicious.

Offers for worship facilities and assistance flooded in following the fire. Pastor Nuiver said, “It’s just overwhelming how people have offered use of space and other assistance.”

The congregation met for a special prayer service on Saturday evening, May 14. Sunday services on May 15 were held at South Olive CRC in Holland, MI, the congregation from which many Faith members came about 20 years ago. Faith’s services were held at 11:15 AM and 6:30 PM, following South Olive’s 9:30 AM and 5:00 PM services.

“It was seamless as far as sharing the worship space,” Pastor Nuiver explained, “although the media people outside did make it a little bit of a circus.”

Tad Groenendyk, a member of Faith URC and seminarian at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, had been scheduled to preach on May 15, and the elders asked him to go ahead as scheduled. His morning sermon was “Rejoice in the Lord!” and was based on Philippians 4:4-9. Although there was some discussion regarding the appropriateness of the text, Pastor Nuiver encouraged him to preach on it, saying, “This is the very time we need to hear these words.” The evening sermon was “The Lord Conquers a Heart,” based on Joshua 2.

Pastor Nuiver commented online later that day, “Thankful for the power of the gospel and prayer and the way that He builds His people together to be a place of His dwelling.”

Dealing with the fire’s aftermath and the insurance process seems overwhelming. The section of the building still standing consists of a gymnasium/fellowship hall, kitchen, bathrooms, and several classrooms. The destroyed part contained the sanctuary, some classrooms, bathrooms, nursery, church library, and secretary’s office. It also included Pastor Nuiver’s study with his library of books.

He has received offers to donate replacements, but is still trying to determine what he had and what he needs. The congregation plans to continue sharing worship space with South Olive CRC at least through May, but the Council has yet to decide on a course of action for the longer term.

“There are lots of questions we still have to ask as far as going forward,” Pastor Nuiver said. Some of those include if the existing wing can be restored adequately and if it provides sufficient space for 300 people to worship, classes to meet, and a nursery to be provided.

Pastor Nuiver admits the difficulty of trying to figure out the new normal while dealing with the losses. “This definitely changes the narrative for our church in some ways, but I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing.”

A couple of items pulled from the rubble and shown on television news demonstrate both loss and hope. A charred Bible, its cover burned off and pages singed, originally belonged to Pastor Nuiver’s great-grandfather. An encased shovel, donated by Pauline Dyke and her late husband Harris, was used to break ground for the building nearly 20 years ago.

“He saved it for us. That means we’ve got to do it over,” Pauline told reporters, smiling through her tears. She later added, “We know the Lord is good and He has a purpose for it all.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 14 & 15 of the June 15, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Reaching out in Jersey City


church-group-cWhat do you know about Jersey City? It’s the second most heavily-populated city in New Jersey with an ethnic diversity befitting it as the home of Ellis Island. It’s also the location of a young URCNA church plant, Grace Reformed Church.

When the work began meeting for worship on September 1, 2013, a core group of 24 people met at a local community college. Three baptisms, six professions of faith, and nearly three years later, the group has increased to about 40 persons (including some seeking membership), who now meet in a larger and more convenient space.

sign-c“Since March 2014,” explains Rev. Sam Perez, “we have been meeting in an after-school facility (New City Kids, a Christian non-profit associated with the Christian Reformed Church). This facility can accommodate 150-200 people, and allows us many freedoms that we didn’t have at the community college. For example, we can post a church sign on the front gate, we can have a monthly fellowship potluck, and there’s a place for crying babies and their mothers.”

The mission work remains under the oversight of Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship, located across the Hudson River in New York City. Rev. Perez attends Messiah’s weekly Consistory and monthly Council meetings. Messiah’s Council and Consistory interview people seeking membership with the Jersey City group and assist its leaders with diaconal and shepherding matters.

Over the last three years, Grace Reformed Church has undertaken several outreach initiatives. Members have visited 500 apartments or homes in the immediate vicinity. They caroled in the neighborhood during the Christmas season. The group has hosted five community barbeques. They organized a basketball team of 19 high school boys who did not attend church, an effort they hope to repeat this coming year. The church’s website ( features video and audio files that are doctrinal and evangelistic. And they keep considering new avenues of outreach.

“We are looking to expand our opportunities by partnering with a local Gospel Rescue Mission,” says Rev. Perez, “and by hosting different URC groups who would be interested in short-term mission trips to Jersey City.”

In addition to staying closely aligned with its supervising church, the mission work has fostered fellowship with similar congregations by participating in three joint picnics with other NAPARC churches.

Rev. Perez reports that Grace Church has conducted three membership classes and sponsored a variety of studies. The group has covered J.I. Packer’s 18 Words and Gene Edward Veith’s God at Work. Now members are reaching out within their personal spheres.

“We’ve started regional groups where men lead different groups in their homes in the North Jersey area,” he says. “We are currently reading/studying Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community. The Jersey City regional group meets at a local diner.”

Primary study opportunities occur on Sundays under the proclamation of the Word. After preaching through Mark 11, Rev. Perez is leading a short series on “kingdom/frontline” prayer before beginning the third summer of instruction in the Psalms. “We’re covering Psalms 21-30 this year,” he says. “The 150 sermon-series will take 15 years at this rate.”

Initiating a second service in January of 2015 allowed time to preach on the Heidelberg Catechism, which will conclude in early June. In January of 2016, the group began a monthly prayer service on the first Sunday of each month. Sunday services are held at 10:00 AM and noon in a building at 240 Fairmount Ave., at the intersection with Monticello Ave. in Jersey City.

familyRev. Perez is also finding many areas for personal service. “I’m an ad hoc volunteer at First Choice, a Christian crisis pregnancy network. I teach English once a week at Open Doors, a Christian non-profit that seeks to help immigrant populations in the NJ-NY area. I have been invited to teach once a week, at New City Kids, a class of teenagers the material from Veith’s book on vocation.”

As he reflects on the short history of the Jersey City church plant, Rev. Perez recognizes that although the work is “often tiring, disappointing, and frustrating, our hope is not in horses nor chariots, nor in having ‘things go smoothly,’ nor in our ability to overcome obstacles. Our hope is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. God has been ever faithful, His Word ever true, and His promises ever sweet.”

He adds, “As we never tire of saying at Grace Reformed, the Lord is the One, True, Living God. Who is like the Lord, our God? We know that Christ is the King of all kings, and that He has been given possession of all the nations. So we seek to be faithful to Him, and fruitful because of His mercies blessing His work.”

Want to know more about Jersey City and Grace Reformed Church? Maybe you should consider a short-term mission trip to come alongside the saints there as they seek to do God’s work in reaching the nations with the good news of Jesus Christ.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the June 15, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Faith community rallies around a church after fire damages building


img_1167“Ridiculously surreal.”

That’s how Senior Pastor Stu Kerns described the phone call informing him of a fire at Zion Church (PCA) in Lincoln, NE. This was the second time he’d received such a call. The previous building at a different location had been completely destroyed by fire in 2007.

“I felt like this is a place I’ve been before that I never expected to be again,” he said.

Like that previous fire, the one on April 23, 2016, began in the kitchen. While structural damage was limited this time, smoke and water affected the entire building.

“It’s very emotionally jarring to see the damage,” Pastor Kerns said. “It’s gut-wrenching, but a lot of people suffer in ways that aren’t fixable.”

No one was injured in the fire, which was detected early and somewhat contained. The worship hall suffered the least amount of damage and may be the first space available again for use, but cleanup and repair will be a lengthy process. Books are a concern because all three pastors on staff had offices on site that included their libraries.

The church has a weekly radio show discussing news from a faith-based perspective. That program has increased its visibility in the community and networking opportunities with other churches, and local congregations rallied around Zion in the wake of the fire. Several offered use of worship spaces, including a Rabbi who said, “I know a place available on Sunday.”

img_1111About 200 people gathered for a song and prayer service held the day after the fire. Zion members participated in a joint worship service the following Sunday with two other congregations. The Zion congregation temporarily worships in a chapel made available by a local Catholic diocese. Two services are being held on Sundays, but no educational classes or midweek programs are scheduled at this time. Plans for VBS in June have been suspended.

Having gone through a similar experience only ten years earlier, Pastor Kerns was somewhat prepared for media attention. He stressed that the fire would not affect the church’s mission; that the church is people, not a building. He was able to testify how even this was for “our good and God’s glory.”

What surprised and gratified him, however, was a news reporter who came back to speak to him after talking with church members watching the fire from the sidelines.

“I’m a pastor,” he said, “so I say this all the time, but she told me how the people were saying the same thing: ‘God has a purpose, and we’re trusting Him.’ I’m so thankful they’ve internalized this truth and were able to express it.”

He added, “Our prayer is that we can be a positive testimony in the community for Christ.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 7 of the May 25, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Seminary’s alumni conference focuses on conflict


group-cYou or your pastor may be all too familiar with conflict within the church. According to Rev. Jeff De Boer, Director of Enrollment Management at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, it is the primary reason for pastors leaving the ministry.

“Preparing for and reflecting on conflict is very important for the continued well-being of the church,” he says. That helps explain why the 2016 Mid-America Alumni Conference focused on “Christlike in Conflict: Understanding, Responding, and Growing during Church Struggle.”

Pastors Zekveld, Fagrey, Sorensen

About a dozen alumni from URCNA, PCA, RCUS, and OPC fellowships attended the conference, held at the Seminary from April 5-7, 2016. The conference featured teaching from professors as well as pastors in the field.

“One of the great things about the conference was having men reflect on conflict after experiencing it themselves,” Rev. De Boer says. “A biblical view of conflict can be taught and discussed in seminary. But it is often not until conflict is experienced that a more thorough need for wisdom and understanding becomes apparent.”

Mid-America’s Professor of Church History, Dr. Alan Strange, discussed Lessons in Conflict from Church History. Rev. Harry Zekveld, pastor of Providence URC in Strathroy, ON, spoke about A Pastor’s Perspective on Conflict. Assistant Professor in New Testament Studies, Marcus Mininger, addressed A Biblical Exposition of Conflict from a New Testament Perspective; while Associate Professor of Old Testament Studies, Mark Vander Hart, explained A Biblical View of Conflict from the Old Testament. Rev. Kyle Sorensen, who pastors Salem Ebenezer Reformed Church (RCUS) in Manitowoc, WI, examined Conflict through the Lenses of our Polities.

The schedule wove times for reflection and conversation, fellowship and prayer, around the presentations.

“I found the conference to be tremendously worthwhile,” Rev. Doug Barnes (Covenant URC, Pella, IA) says. “The teaching provided helpful insights, and the fellowship offered true refreshment to the soul.”

Rev. De Boer sees value in the conference on three levels. “First, the content of the conference is important. Second, the conference may be important as part of a pastor’s continuing education. Third, an alumni conference is important for the Seminary to connect with our alumni and our alumni to connect with each other.”

He explains that although ministers do not have continuing education requirements like attorneys or medical doctors or teachers, many churches provide funding for books or conferences in their pastor’s compensation package. “But these funds only present opportunities for continued learning,” he adds. “They do not necessarily emphasize the importance of that learning. One of the prime indicators for a pastor’s long-term well-being is his ability to continue to grow and mature. And I hope, Lord willing, that our conference helped the participants do precisely that.”

Rev. Kyle Sorensen

Organizers heard many positive comments regarding the conference including appreciation for consistency among the presenters and the necessity for discussing the issue.

“To be honest, I was not too excited about the topic, so went more out of a sense of obligation,” says Rev. Jacques Roets (Redeemer URC; Dyer, IN). “But I was pleasantly surprised at how much I was blessed and encouraged by the messages. I especially appreciated the reflections of Rev. Mininger and Rev. Vander Hart, looking at conflict in the New Testament and Old Testament.”

Rev. Doug Barnes says, “I would encourage my fellow pastors to take advantage of such opportunities in the future, both for their own encouragement and for the blessing it will bring to the congregations they serve.”

Professor Mininger

This was the second alumni conference held at Mid-America. An earlier one was held in 2014. The conference was planned and sponsored by the Alumni Association with arrangements handled through the Seminary.

“While I knew most of the men who attended, I was glad to meet new alumni and become reacquainted with others. That sense of camaraderie is critical for us as an institution and as part of healthy churches,” Rev. De Boer says. “Our institution is committed to the well-being of our graduates and the churches they pastor. Hosting this conference is one of the ways we continue to express that commitment.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 13 & 14 of the May4, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Independent Reformed church seeks URCNA affiliation


immanuel-fellowshipAfter more than forty years as an independent congregation, Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, MI, hopes to affiliate with the United Reformed Churches in North America.

At a meeting on March 2, 2016, Immanuel’s congregation voted unanimously in favor of affiliation. The consistory of Covenant URC in Kalamazoo brought an Article 32 recommendation regarding Immanuel Fellowship to Classis Michigan when it met on March 8. Given the impending deadline for the URCNA Synod, delegates voted to put the matter on the agenda. The Classis Michigan vote to receive Immanuel Fellowship Church was unanimous.

But delegates were not quite as united when it came to a colloquium doctum for Immanuel’s pastor, Rev. Bill Boekestein, who had been out of the URCNA for only ten months.

Classis Clerk Rev. Greg Lubbers says, “There was considerable healthy debate upon the procedure in regards to this issue in light of the Church Order articles 32 and 8 along with appendices 5 and 6. However, the delegates of Classis Michigan did determine it was proper for Rev. Boekestein to undergo a colloquium doctum, which he sustained.”

Rev. Boekestein was not caught totally unprepared. “I knew that a colloquium doctum was a possibility,” he says. “The discussion was a joyful time of sharing our mutual fellowship in the Lord and His Word.”

The acceptance of Immanuel Fellowship Church into the URCNA is provisional until ratified by Synod Wyoming in June.

What led a congregation with such a long history of confirmed independence to seek affiliation with a federation?

Rev. Boekestein explains, “At a time (mid 1970s) when many people were troubled by trends in well-known Reformed denominations, Immanuel’s founders courageously chose to leave the comforts of familiarity and begin a Reformed church firmly grounded upon God’s Word and the Reformed Confessions. In more recent years, the congregation did experience some of the difficulties that often confront independent churches, notably a lack of connectedness, which is especially felt in times of trial.”

immanuel-fellowship-congregation“For the past few years, Immanuel Fellowship has been prayerfully considering whether it might be God’s will for the church to connect with a larger family of churches. Through much thought and prayer, this growing sense began to take more concrete shape last year. During that year, the congregation met frequently to discuss the possibility of joining the URC. We asked and interacted with some great (and hard!) questions. We studied the Church Order. We were encouraged by our brothers and sisters at Covenant URC, Kalamazoo. In the end, we became convinced that we could well honor our own history and heritage by joining a family of churches that, with us, treasures the Scriptures and the Reformed Confessions.”

Immanuel’s elders developed an extensive list of reasons, most firmly grounded in Scripture, for the congregation to consider over the course of discussions.

Historical reasons included the pattern of the early Christian churches in submitting to broader assemblies and Synod of Dort’s emphasis on unity and the need for a church order.

Biblical reasons included broad directives such as Christ’s prayer for unity in John 17 and the model of the body, found in Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, and elsewhere. Federation allows believers to bear with one another in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4). It also provides encouragements and support for office-bearers as “fellow soldiers” (Philippians 2:25). Federations enable believers to better fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28 and better cooperate in diaconal work (Romans 15 and Galatians 6). United churches guard against human imperfections and benefit from a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11, 1 Corinthians 13).

Additionally, it can be difficult for an independent church to secure ministers or attract members. And membership in a federation offers an avenue of appeal for aggrieved members.

Rev. Boekestein reports, “We have already been edified by our interactions with the churches and members of Classis Michigan and eagerly await ratification of our membership (Lord willing) at Synod 2016.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 9 & 10 of the April 13, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal. Immanuel Fellowship’s membership in the URCNA was ratified by delegates on the first day of Synod Wyoming 2016.

URC in DeMotte purchases new building


new-bldgAt a congregational meeting on December 14, 2015, Immanuel URC in DeMotte, IN, voted to purchase a building and parsonage.

Immanuel’s Chairman of Consistory, Mark Van Der Molen, relates what led to the proposal. “As a bit of background, Immanuel has been evaluating plans for new construction for a number of years, and that door recently closed on us. At the same time we concluded new construction was not feasible, the Lord presented the opportunity to purchase this property, which more than serves our needs for many years to come.”

The proposal presented at the congregational meeting consisted of three recommendations. The first recommended the purchase of the current First Reformed Church facilities for $353,000 from Immanuel’s New Building Fund. The second recommended the sell of Immanuel’s current property, including a five-acre lot. The third recommended that the balance of the New Building Fund and the proceeds from the sale of the church’s property be designated as a Building Improvement Fund for the future. The vote required a two-thirds majority.

“The favorable vote well exceeded that amount,” Mr. Van Der Molen says. “The consistory unanimously ratified the congregational vote to proceed with the purchase.”

He adds, “I am again humbled to see how through these circumstances God extraordinarily provides for His church, all according to His good pleasure and timing.”

Immanuel’s present building was constructed in 1936. Its maximum seating capacity is 220. Immanuel currently has over 170 members with a number of regular visitors who are considering membership.

interiorThe original section of First Reformed’s facility was built around 1924. The structure has been renovated periodically and seats up to 600 people.

Mr. Van Der Molen says, “The immediate benefits are we will have abundant sanctuary space, a beautiful pipe organ, office space for our three ministers, double the number of classrooms, ample space for church fellowship gatherings, the ability to accommodate larger ecclesiastical or conference events, as well as allow consideration of further outreach ministry programs.” Two of Immanuel’s ministers serve on staff for Divine Hope Reformed Bible Seminary.

First Reformed Church is constructing a 39,000 square-foot facility, which it anticipates occupying by early summer. Immanuel hoped to move into the vacated building during the summer of 2016.

Although the newly-purchased church is on the west side of DeMotte and Immanuel’s current building is on the near east side, the two locations are only about five minutes apart. Immanuel is now at 207 9th St. SE, but will relocate to 9991 West 1200 North. Sunday worship services are held at 9:30 AM and 6:00 PM.

old-bldgRev. Tom Wetselaar says, “Our church has been blessed with a building that has met our needs for a long time. However, we have never thought of is as a permanent home. We now have that with our new building. The space alone allows for more fellowship, classes, meetings and programs to simultaneously occur where before we had to find times to meet and share space. We had the happy problem of interacting in tiny quarters. I have always been impressed with the way in which our congregation made that work. Now we can apply those lessons to our new home.”

He concludes, “The Lord is truly gracious to us and we look forward to the opportunities He provides. We continue to grow and are eager to put down roots in a facility that we intend to utilize to the glory of God.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 14 of the February 3, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Remembering Dr. Richard J. Venema


c-r venema opc ga-2005
Drs. Cornel and Richard Venema

On November 30, 2015, the Lord took home to glory Dr. Richard J. Venema at the age of 93. He served many churches in multiple federations and was well-known within the Reformed community as a forthright defender of God’s truth.

Writing a memorial piece always carries the danger of either idolizing or idealizing a man, but Richard Venema’s frankness was apparent to all who knew him. At the funeral service held in Sheldon, IA, on December 15, his son Dr. Cornelis P. Venema read from a message sent by his brother Rick: “For all my life, I thought of Dad as a good father, even though he was hard to get along with sometimes—” at which point, murmurs of amusement rippled through the gathered family and friends. Everyone, it seemed, understood that about Richard Venema, but also knew him as a passionate man of God.

Noting that his father would not want a eulogy, Dr. Cornel Venema said he’d like to share one thing: “He had not only many years of life, but they were full of work and labor for the Lord.” He added, “He, together with my mother, served a number of churches in a variety of circumstances and places. Dad proved to be a blessing to many.”

Some of the ways he blessed many were evident in a continuing stream of communication to the family. Some people expressed not only sympathy, but also how Richard J. Venema influenced their lives.

richard-nicole venema and gov
Montana’s governor recognizes Dr. Venema’s 50 years of ministry

On the Helena funeral home’s website, Sally Apokedak (who now lives in Georgia but attended the OPC in Wasilla, AK, while Richard Venema served there) wrote about how his booming voice frightened her children, but they always ran to hug him after the service or when he visited.

“Richard Venema was a pastor at heart,” she says. “I was struggling in a certain situation, and I’ll never forget him standing over me and yelling, ‘You forgive, you forgive, you look at Jesus on that cross and you forgive.’ And what could I do but obey? I could easily have gone a whole different direction at that critical moment. He shouted at me because he loved me and he invested much time and energy into my family. Pastor Venema was seventy-nine years old by the time I met him, and serving as pulpit supply, but he wasn’t coasting. He was working while it was yet day. I trust he’s hearing a ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,’ right about now.”

At the Sheldon funeral service, Rev. G.I. Williamson, an ordained OPC minister and associate member of Cornerstone URC in Sanborn, noted that Richard Venema had examined him when he came to New Zealand in 1963, but that he examined Richard in 1994 when Dr. Venema became affiliated with the OPC.

Preaching from John 14, according to Richard Venema’s expressed instructions, Rev. Williamson stressed the resurrection of the body. He noted that being born again, the first resurrection, is good. Departing from the body to be with the Lord is better. But the bodily resurrection on the day of the Lord is best. He said, “When Christ returns, Richard J. Venema will be seen again.”

At an earlier service held December 4 at Emmanuel Chapel in Helena, MT, Pastor Jonah Barnes also preached on John 14. He prefaced his message by saying, “When I visited Richard in the hospital…he made sure that I would not spend my time…speaking highly of him. He told me, ‘Keep it short,’ and…I am not here to direct you to Richard, but to the King who has conquered death and lives to die no more.”

He said, “Christ lived the perfect life. Richard did not, neither can you, or I. But Christ has come as the way, the truth, and the life….’” The text of his entire message can be found at:

RJVRichard James Venema was born on April 15, 1922, near Hospers, IA. He and Carrie Van Surksum were married in 1944. He initially resisted the call to ministry, successfully raising turkeys with his father and farming for some years. But in 1947, he followed the Spirit’s leading to pursue college and seminary training in Grand Rapids. He was one of the Calvin students who became known as the “sacred seven” for taking a stand against liberal teaching.

Nevertheless, he faithfully served the CRCNA for most of his ministerial career. He graduated from Calvin College in 1951, from Calvin Seminary in 1954, and was ordained that same year in Bethel Christian Reformed Church of Sioux Center, IA.

Under the direction of the CRC Board of World Missions, he was on loan to the fledgling Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ) from 1958-1963. Upon returning to the States, he served the Harderwyk CRC in Holland, MI, from 1964-1966. The CRC’s Board of Home Missions then called him to the Friendship House, a ministry for Native American Indians in the San Francisco Bay area (1966-1970).

He served a series of First CRCs during ensuing years: Pella, IA (1970-1975), South Holland, IL (1975-1980), and Chino, CA (1980-1989). In 1981, he received his Doctor of Ministry degree from Northern Baptist Seminary in Lombard, IL.

While serving First Chino, Dr. Venema decided to retire. In 1989, he and Carrie moved to northwest Iowa to be near her failing parents. Only two weeks after their move into their newly-built dream home, Carrie was diagnosed with cancer.

Treatments granted a reprieve. The couple traveled extensively interspersed with Richard’s stints as interim pastor at Calvary CRC in Orange City, First CRC in Sheldon, Calvin CRC in Rock Valley, Ireton CRC, Doon CRC, Sanborn CRC, and the CRC in Salem, OR. He served some of these congregations more than once and also ministered to the newly-established independent Reformed church in Salem for several months.

As Carrie’s health declined, she and Richard discussed his ecclesiastical future. He was convinced that retirement did not free him from his Form of Subscription pledge to uphold the truth. He was examined and received as a minister in the OPC in 1994. A couple of months later, Carrie passed away.

He made a commitment to serve a newly-organized OPC in Anchorage, AK, beginning in May of 1995, but first returned to New Zealand to serve the North Shore Reformed Church for two months. In 1996, he married Mary Hogan in Anchorage. She passed away only ten months later, while the couple traveled in Europe.

In subsequent years, Dr. Venema preached in Anchorage and Wasilla as well as many locations in the contiguous US: Pella, Sioux Center, Salem, Walnut Creek (CA), Boise (ID), and three months at Covenant OPC in Orland Park (IL).

He married Nijole Liubaviciute in 1999. For several months, he flew to Alaska to preach for two Sundays before returning to their home in Tinley Park. The couple then moved to Alaska, but he soon was called to serve as Stated Supply in Helena, MT. For several months he flew there once a month to preach for two subsequent Sundays. In 2003, he and Nijole moved to Helena, where he served until that church was discontinued in 2009. They moved to Chino, CA, and affiliated with the congregation he had previously pastored. After being received by the URCNA in 2010, he finally and fully retired from active ministry.

In 2013, Richard and Nijole moved back to Helena and attended Emmanuel Chapel, a congregation associated with the CREC (Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches). He passed away on November 30, 2015, after a brief illness.

He is survived by his wife, Nijole; his children Gerard A. (Patricia) Venema of Grand Rapids, MI, Richard C. (Virginia) Venema of Augusta, GA, Cornelis P. (Nancy) Venema of Dyer, IN, Laura (Peter) Janoschek of Aalen, Germany; son-in-law Ed De Young (late Karen) of Lethbridge, AB; step-daughter Ieva; 14 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren; sisters Theresa (Peters) and Melvina (Marlowe Pranger) Vander Linde; sisters-in-law Audrey (late Henry) Venema and Norma (late Alvin) Venema.

weddingI’ve seen some great pictures of Dr. Richard J. Venema, from the one of Montana’s governor recognizing him for 50 years of ministry to the leonine profile on his online obituary. But my favorite remains the one of escaped kittens playing around his feet while he performed the outdoor marriage ceremony for my husband and me.

Because I, too, am one of those people whose lives were changed by his gruff and passionate love for me and the Lord.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 16-17 of the January 13, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

URC Pastors taking up new church families

Three pastors, all graduates of Mid-America Reformed Seminary, are bidding farewell to their initial congregations and taking up the ministerial mantle in second charges. Rev. Nick Alons (2006) has moved from the United Reformed Church of Prince Edward Island (PEI) to Lynwood URC in Lansing, IL. Rev. Steve Swets (2007) is moving from Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) in Abbotsford, BC, to Rehoboth URC in Hamilton, ON. And Rev. Matthew Nuiver (2004) will move from the URC of Wellsburg, IA, to Faith URC in West Olive, MI.

Alons family-cNick and Allison Alons have four children, two boys and two girls, between the ages of one and eight. They received an offer on their home only three days after putting it on the market. The sale was finalized on December 1, and they immediately began heading to Chicagoland. His installation service at Lynwood URC was scheduled for December 13.

“Although PEI is a rural context and Lynwood more of a suburban context, both congregations strike me as being warm and inviting,” he says. “One major difference is that PEI is an island. The closest URC is some 13 hours away in Vermont. In Lynwood, there is a sister church about ten minutes away.”

He adds, “As far as differences between the congregations go, God’s people are God’s people, wherever they are gathered, so there are aspects of the ministry that stay the same no matter where you are serving. God’s people need to be loved and they need to hear the gospel.”

His last sermon at PEI was on 1 Corinthians 2:2, preaching Christ crucified. “In all my sermons and teaching on PEI, this was my aim, and that will be the same at Lynwood as well. I hope to preach the centrality of Christ in all things.”

Swets familySteve and Rachel Swets also have two sons and two daughters, theirs ranging from one to seven. The family plans to move between Christmas and New Years, with installation scheduled for January 15.

Wile Rehoboth’s congregation is quite a bit larger, both are located in an urban area but include rural members. Rev. Swets relates that both are well established with godly leadership.

“Rehoboth is in a unique position because it is located less than a mile away from Redeemer University and this affords an opportunity to reach out and show hospitality to college students,” Rev. Swets says. “Rehoboth also has hired a full-time director of outreach (Erik Hoeksema). I am excited to work alongside this non-ordained brother.”

In addition to those outreach efforts, he hopes to connect with the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, two of whose students attend Rehoboth. He also anticipates building relationships with the many NAPARC congregations in the area.

“Above all, I seek to remain faithful to the Lord’s call to shepherd the flock,” he says. “I am reminded that I stand in the need of grace, but this is exactly what the Lord provides. Also, with a wife and four young children, I seek to be balanced in my callings to God’s glory.”

Nuiver family-c
Photo coutesy of JB Johnson Photography

Rev. Matthew and Lisa Nuiver have four daughters from four to eleven, and a set of twins (boy and girl) who will soon be a year. The family hopes to move during the last part of January, in time for their school-age children to begin the third quarter.

Not only will Timothy Christian School in Wellsburg lose the Nuiver students, but it also will lose Rev. Nuiver as its seventh and eighth grade Bible instructor.

“We are sad to leave, and yet excited for the new opportunities and possibilities that the Lord will bring us to in West Olive,” Rev. Nuiver says.

Although the two congregations have many differences, the Nuivers have spent more time considering their similarities. Both churches are full of people who love the Lord, seeking to be faithful and evangelistic.

“The ‘W’ will always be a part of who we are,” he says. “My hope is that the Lord will use my family and me powerfully in a new context by His grace, mercy, and love. That the saints in West Olive will not only embrace us, but that we can share in the work of the church with joy and thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us. My goal is that Jesus Christ is praised!”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 8 & 9 of the January 13, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.