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

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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.

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.