Classis Michigan declares URCNA candidate

Arjen Vreugdenil
Arjen Vreugdenhil

When Classis Michigan of the URCNA met on October 11, 2016, the primary item on the agenda was the candidacy examination of Arjen Vreugdenhil. According to Classis Clerk Greg Lubbers, delegates took most of the day to conduct a through exam before determining “without dissent” that Mr. Vreugdenhil had sustained all sections of the examination.

“I questioned Arjen in Bible Knowledge, and he was exceptional,” said Rev. Matthew Nuiver, pastor of Faith URC in West Olive, MI, “and he was just that through the rest of the exam as well.”

Because Vreugdenhil graduated from Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Mike Deckinga (representing the Seminary at Classis as its Vice-President of Advancement) was an interested observer. “Arjen readily provided answers to the many questions that were asked of him, making evident his love for Christ and his desire to serve him as a minister of the Word,” he said. “I was thankful to witness this event and I join, with many others, in prayer that God will make clear His will for Arjen and his family.”

While the Vreugdenhil family awaits God’s will regarding a pastoral call, they remain living in Lansing, IL, where Arjen is teaching at Lansing Christian School.

“This period of waiting is exciting, as we look forward to what the Lord has in store,” he said. “It is also a bit unsatisfactory to just sit tight and wait. I am glad I have work for the next few months; but even though I enjoy teaching, I am looking forward to fulfill my calling in the ministry, for which I have been preparing in the past several years.”

Arjen taught at the middle and high school levels in the Netherlands prior to arriving in the US to marry Jodi in 2001. He taught physics at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI, for nine years before attending Mid-America.

Rev. Tuinstra questions Arjen

During his seminary years, the family grew to include three young sons and the Vreugdenhils’ membership remained at Bethel URC in Jenison, MI (the church that requested his candidacy exam). Pastor Wm. Jason Tuinstra explained that the distance between church and seminary was not that great and didn’t preclude continuing supervision and support.

“Early on in Arjen’s seminary education, the consistory stayed in contact with the professors at Mid-America to give their input about his progress,” he said. Elders visited with Arjen at the Seminary and in his home as well as when he returned to the Grand Rapids area. “He also provided pulpit supply for us on numerous occasions, which has given the consistory a chance to observe his progress. Besides this encouragement and oversight, our council was very faithful to make sure that his physical needs were met.”

At its October meeting, Classis Michigan also conducted routine matters and offered advice on discipline cases. Delegates heard reports from Trinity, Dutton, and Eastmanville URCs, evidencing what Clerk Lubbers called “the on-going work of the Lord” in those churches.

“The reports emphasized the continual building of the Kingdom of God through the faithful preaching of the gospel and the proper administration of the sacraments,” he wrote. “In addition, the healthy organic life of these respective congregations was noted as displayed in the various societies, studies, and activities.”

Bethany URC in Wyoming, MI, hosted the 48th meeting of Classis, with Rev. Casey Freswick serving as chairman and Rev. Mike Schout as vice-chairman. Grace URC was scheduled to convene the next meeting on March 14, 2017.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 11 of the November 30, 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.

Rev. Edward J. Knott’s journey and leadership

Rev. Edward J. Knott
Rev. Edward J. Knott

Members of the United Reformed Churches owe Rev. Edward J. Knott a debt far greater than most realize. He provided biblical servant leadership at crucial points in the federation’s history, but this humble hero would be the first to downplay his role and redirect all glory to God.

Few ministers have accomplished more during their retirement to promote Reformed community and education. Rev. Knott provided direction during years of denominational turmoil. He and others were instrumental in the forming of the Concerned Members of the CRC, the Alliance of Reformed Churches, and eventually the United Reformed Churches of North America. He chaired the meeting organizing the URCNA, presided over its first synod, and chaired its first general classis. He provided counsel and pulpit supply for many churches during the URC’s early days. He served multiple terms on the boards of Mid-America Reformed Seminary and Reformed Fellowship.

Rev. Knott turned 92 on March 5, 2014. An Associate Minister (Emeritus) at Bethany URC in Wyoming, MI, he still lives in his own home and drives a car. But pain in his legs and back led him to give up preaching at the end of September, 2013.

“I told Pastor Freswick I was finished with preaching,” he says. “It was just too difficult for me to stand that long.”

For over nine years, Rev. Knott had led worship services at a local retirement home every other month. The committee that arranges those services agreed that last September, with its five Sundays, would be his final month. He continues to lead a Bible study for women on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. He also currently serves on the Board of Reformed Fellowship.

Asked how he felt about finally relinquishing preaching, he said, “I’m okay with it. But I always enjoyed preaching.”

Preaching instruction, however, was his least favorite subject at the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches. That class was extremely demanding with sermons extensively critiqued. But it became easier when Rev. Herman Hoeksema took an interest in him, and his classmate and close friend—Rev. Hoeksema’s son, Homer.

Edward Knott married Harriet Doezema in 1946, and he was ordained in the Protestant Reformed Churches of America in 1947. The couple lived in various locations during his three years as a home missionary. In 1950, he accepted a call to the Kalamazoo PRC, which he served for nine years. He ministered to the Second PRC in Grand Rapids from 1959-1961.

He entered the most difficult period of his ministerial career when the De Wolf segment of the Protestant Reformed Churches merged with the Christian Reformed Church—a merger he opposed.

“I was dyed-in-the-wool Protestant Reformed,” he says. “But a number of the older ministers felt we had more of a future in the CRC.”

His strong commitment to the PRC and his close relationship with Rev. Herman Hoeksema led to a summer-long struggle, trying to decide if his should leave the PRC behind to join the CRC.

“It was necessary for the PR ministers to go through a colloquium doctum to be received into the CR ministerial ranks,” he says. “The decision to apply for such an examination was difficult for me, as was the exam itself.”

When he finally submitted to a CRC colloquium doctum, he told examiners that he still had differences with the denomination.

“I felt this might be the end of my ministry,” he says.

After a break in the meeting, however, a committee presented three questions in a brief re-examination. When he was able to answer their questions affirmatively, he sustained the exam. Shortly thereafter he accepted a call to Beverly CRC, where he served ten years, from 1961-1971.

He next spent seven years at West Leonard CRC in Grand Rapids before serving five years at Calvin CRC in Rock Valley, IA. During this time, Rev. Knott was diagnosed with melanoma and underwent chemo therapy for six months. The Knotts returned to Michigan in 1983, when he accepted a call to Forest Grove CRC.

He initially retired in January 1988, but continued to serve the Forest Grove congregation as counselor and one Sunday per month pulpit supply. In 1992, he and Harriet became members of the Beverly congregation they’d previously served.

Rev. Knot conducted the morning worship service at Beverly URC on October 21, 2007, as part of a celebration marking his 60 years in ministry. The Lord unexpectedly took Harriett to her heavenly home on July 3, 2011. She had gone with Rev. Knott as he preached at the retirement home that morning, and when they returned she complained of a headache. Only a few hours later, she was gone.

The biggest challenge of Rev. Knott’s ministry was balancing congregational and denominational requirements with personal commitments to wife and family. It was also difficult to find time for personal growth through reading and reflection.

He views his largest reward as “a good conscience that the work accomplished was done to God’s glory and the welfare of the church.” Other rewards of his work included times of peace and harmony within a congregation, when good relationships among the members nourished the ministry. He enjoyed witnessing young people profess their faith, and was touched when members expressed appreciation for the proclamation of the Word. He found personal satisfaction in doing what he was called to do and rejoiced to see evidences of God’s blessing.

Highlights of his ministerial career were the meeting at which Mid-America Reformed Seminary was formed (April 22, 1981), the meeting at which the United Reformed Churches came into being (Lynwood Independent Reformed Church in November, 1995), and the first synod of the URCNA (also at Lynwood in October of 1996).

Rev. Knott believes the URCNA faces some crucial issues, the most pressing a danger of doctrinal drift. He’s concerned about the indifference to and a lack of understanding about the antithesis and the resultant worldliness. He thinks ecumenicity is being overemphasized during this initial stage of the URCNA, when it should focus on growing in its own identity. He also sees remaining elements of individualism and independentism that prohibit unity.

He quotes the White Horse Inn theme in encouraging United Reformed members to “know what you believe, and why you believe it.”

Rev. Knott shares these words of advice for pastors: “Ministry is a full-time occupation; regard it as such.” He adds, “Love God’s people!”

The above is a slightly edited version of an article by Glenda Mathes that appeared on pages 22 & 23 of the March 5, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.

Hillsdale OPC dedicates former depot

exterior-croppedInstead of sheltering passengers waiting for trains, a former railroad depot now harbors people hearing God’s Word.

Rev. Everett Henes, pastor of Hillsdale OPC in Hillsdale, MI, relates how the church utilizes this newly-purchased unique structure, which consists of the original brick building and a newer steel addition.

“I believe the train depot portion of the building was constructed in the early 19th century,” he says. “Twenty years ago, a large metal building (3,500 square feet) was attached to the depot. We purchased the whole structure, giving us a large open space for worship services and additional space for offices and educational classes.”

L-R: Elder John Deliyannides, Dr. Peter Wallace, Dr. Richard M. Gamble, Rev. Everett Henes, and Dr. Darryl G. Hart; Photo taken by Rev. Glenn Jerrell
L-R: Elder John Deliyannides, Dr. Peter Wallace, Dr. Richard M. Gamble, Rev. Everett Henes, and Dr. Darryl G. Hart; Photo taken by Rev. Glenn Jerrell

The Hillsdale OPC dedicated its new facility in a service held on January 24, 2014. Rev. Henes opened and closed the service. Rev. Dr. Peter Wallace preached the sermon. Other participants included ruling elders Dr. John Deliyannides, Dr. Darryl G. Hart, Dr. Richard M. Gamble, and Rev. Glenn Jerrell.

“All those who participated either are part of the session or were part of it in the beginning.” Rev. Henes explains. Hillsdale OPC is a mission work with an overseeing session appointed by its planting church, Grace Reformed OPC in Walkerton, IN, and the Presbytery of Michigan and Ontario. Dr. Wallace functioned as the ministerial adviser for the Hillsdale group until Rev. Henes was ordained in 2008.

The Hillsdale congregation formerly met on the campus of Hillsdale College, which is well-known for its academic excellence and institutional independence. The college was a leader in establishing non-discriminatory policies, but does not accept federal or state tax subsidies for any of its operations.

About 80 Hillsdale students regularly attend services and, in God’s providence, the new location is only three blocks from campus. It is only two blocks from the downtown area and on a main highway that runs through the city, providing high visibility and easy access.

Although worship attendance fluctuates a great deal due to the high number of students, it averages over 100 during the academic year and between 40-50 during the summer.

interiorHillsdale’s new building is not only a blend of original and recent construction that meets the church’s needs, but it is also a site that fits the church’s goals.

“This is a great moment in the life of Hillsdale OPC,” Rev. Henes says. “We have been praying for several years that the Lord would provide the right place for us—someplace where we could continue our ministry to the students of the college, but also solidify our place in the community. By God’s grace, this facility is perfect for both of those goals.”

Reaching the community is important to the Hillsdale congregation because this southern Michigan location contains few Reformed influences.

“Hillsdale is in the middle of a Reformed desert,” Rev. Henes says. “There are no confessional Reformed and Presbyterian churches for 90 minutes in any direction. There is little understanding of what Reformed even means, which is shocking for Michigan.”

Rev. Henes relates that the group started in 2007 through the efforts of 25 praying college students, three professors and their families, and one family in the community.

“Since the start, it has grown a great deal,” he says, “and the prayer is that it will continue to grow.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 8 of the March 5, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.