An American Pastor in Italy: From Santee to Milan for the Brown family

Brown-Ferrari-cWe want the gospel to be proclaimed to all nations, we pray for our missionaries, and we write out generous checks for mission endeavors. But how many of us would be willing to give up our comfortable homes and familiar communities to live and work in a foreign country among people who speak a different language?

The decision to serve as missionaries for Reformation Italy, beginning in June of 2018, was extremely difficult for Pastor Mike Brown and his wife, Janie. God’s will became increasingly clear through many circumstances and people over the last two years, but what finalized their conviction were unanticipated questions posed this past summer by their 11-year-old son, Iain.

In Pastor Brown’s letter to the Christ URC congregation he currently serves in Santee, CA, he related his conversation with Iain while they visited Italy’s far south.

‘Dad, who will be the pastor for the people here in Cannole?’ I carefully replied, ‘Well, we hope that God will send Vincenzo [a student at WSC] after he graduates seminary. But we need to pray about that.’ ‘Who will be the pastor in Perugia?’ ‘Well…We don’t know yet. We need to pray.’ ‘Don’t the people want Pastor Ferrari there?’ ‘Well, yes, the people are very happy with Pastor Ferrari, but…we need to pray.’ ‘If Pastor Ferrari goes to Perugia, who will be the pastor for the people in Milan?’ ‘Son, we just need to pray that God will supply a pastor, so that all the churches here can grow, OK?’ ‘Dad, I think we should pray and ask God to send you here. You could help them.’ I smiled and said something like, ‘Well, we’ll see.’ I went into the bathroom, closed the door, got down on my knees to pray, and cried.

That may have been a turning point for Pastor Brown, but Rev. Andrea Ferrari had hoped his friend would join him in the work of Reformation Italy ever since Rev. Brown had assisted him during the summer of 2015. When the Browns returned for the summer months of 2017, Rev. Brown filled the pulpit in Milan, while Rev. Ferrari pastored a small group in Perugia. This period of ministry convinced both men that Rev. Ferrari was a good fit for the work in Perugia and Rev. Brown could serve well in Milan.

Having both arrived at the same conviction, they worked up a proposal suggesting this division of labor as Reformation Italy goes forward toward its goal of establishing a Reformed federation in Italy. The Christ URC consistory discussed the proposal and then sought counsel at the September meeting of Classis Southwest US.

“The delegates were very supportive of the proposal,” Rev. Brown said. “They have been familiar with CURC’s mission to Italy since 2009.”

The elders at Christ URC also sought the advice of the URCNA Missions Committee. Missions Coordinator Rev. Richard Bout and Rev. Paul Murphy traveled to Italy and recommended the plan to Christ URC’s consistory. The Milan and Perugia groups each voted unanimously in favor of the proposed pastors serving them.

Christ URC’s elders additionally conversed at length with the elders in Milan, a new elder in Perugia, and Pastor Ivan Forte in Turin. Revs. Ferarri and Brown had worked with Pastor Forte during the summer, helping prepare him for a ministerial examination.

Because Rev. Brown has traveled to Italy several times since 2009 and has studied Italian intensely in recent years, he is proficient enough to preach without a translator.

Christ URC’s council voted unanimously for the proposal at its October meeting. Churches within Classis Southwest US have expressed support, and the plan is scheduled for implementation in June of 2018.

Rev. Ferrari explained that Rev. Brown can immediately and effectively serve people who already know him within the established and organized church in Milan, a multicultural city similar to San Diego. “When Rev. Brown arrives, he will be able to concentrate at once and without any distraction on his pastoral responsibilities and refining his knowledge of the language/culture.” He added, “On the other hand, I have been visiting Perugia regularly in the last three years, knowing the people and the place so that it is much easier for me to labor there as a church planting pastor.”

Perugia is a university city and has a population of about 175,000 people, with a culture is very different from Milan, according to Ferrari.

“Because of the load of work and need for wisdom from more people,” Rev. Ferrari said, “we think that more than one consistory in the US should be involved in the work in Italy and also that the Missions Committee itself should determine a plan to be more present on the field to assist and encourage Rev. Brown and myself, helping us to form a class of mature elders and deacons in the churches.” Ordaining office-bearers in Turin and Perugia will permit the churches to begin holding Classis meetings, the first step toward organizing Chiese Riformate in Italia (CRI, Reformed Churches in Italy).

The Browns plan to sell their house and apply for a religious visa through the Italian consulate. Iain is preparing for the move by going to a private tutor and doing daily homework in Italian. The family hopes to commit to the mission for at least five years. Rev. Brown anticipates raising financial support from URCNA churches and private donors.

“Janie and I are confident that just as the Lord supplied our family’s needs while I was in seminary, he will provide for our family again,” he said.

Pastor Brown graduated from Westminster Seminary California in 2004, but began teaching a Bible study in Santee a year earlier under the oversight of the Escondido URC consistory. The congregation became an organized church in September of 2006 and Rev. Brown was installed in January of 2007. He and Janie love their church and have rejoiced to see God’s amazing work in it.

“He has established CURC as a congregation that has remained hungry for the gospel and willing to love one another,” Pastor Brown said. “He has marked this church with peace rather than controversy, and service rather than selfishness. On top of that, God has used CURC to produce several pastors and missionaries that are now serving the church in different parts of the world. He has done far more abundantly than we ever thought or imagined.”

The church has been involved with mission work in Italy since early in its organization, when they began supporting a ministry that published Reformed literature. Christ URC member, Simonetta Carr, translated projects for the editor, Rev. Andrea Ferrari, who pastored a Reformed Baptist church.

As Rev. Ferrari became more familiar with the Reformed faith, he and his congregation sought affiliation with more confessionally Reformed churches. Rev. Ferrari sustained a colloquium doctum in Classis Southwest US, and Christ URC ordained him as a missionary pastor to establish a Reformed federation of churches in Italy. He subsequently has preached primarily in Milan’s Chiesa Evangelica Filadelfia, but Reformed believers from other areas have been in contact with him after discovering the Milan church’s website.

The group in Perugia, about four hours south of Milan, has prayed for a pastor for years. For the last two years, they have gathered in front of a computer to worship with the church in Milan via Skype. About every eight weeks, Rev. Ferrari administers the Lord’s Supper and provides pastoral care. The congregation loves Rev. Ferrari and his wife, Christina, and looks forward to their arrival in June.

Another group in Turin, about 80 miles west of Milan, is led by Rev. Forte. Pastor Ferrari travels to Turin monthly to instruct church members in the Three Forms of Unity and the URCNA Church Order.

Rev. Ferrari explained that there is contact with a handful of Reformed believers in a part of the Italian “heel” with few Protestant and evangelical churches. The hope is for God to raise up Reformed pastors to minister to these groups and eventually form a federation.

Two Italian brothers are attending seminaries in the US. Vincenzo Coluccia, a member of the Turin church, left a position as an engineer and is in his second year at Westminster Seminary California. Ottavio Palombaro, from Perugia, is a student at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids and attends Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI.

As the URCNA Missions Committee sought counsel on establishing a Reformed federation in Italy, they were consistently advised to seek an experienced minister to come alongside Rev. Ferrari. Rev. Brown has 14 years of pastoral experience. He chaired the URCNA study committee on missions, helped write mission policies for the URCNA, and served as Chairman of the URCNA Missions Committee, on which he still serves.

Rev. Brown originally resisted the idea of becoming a full-time missionary and was reluctant to leave his home and church. “Janie and I were willing to go wherever God called us, but we quietly hoped that he would send someone else.”

He thought his 2017 trip to Italy might be his last. “This arrangement did not seem sustainable for CURC or for me personally. We agreed to go to Milan for three months because we believed it was necessary for the starving group in Perugia.” But then God used Iain’s words to convince him otherwise.

For more information on the work in Italy, see Reformation Italy’s updated website at www.reformationitaly.org.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 8 & 9 of the January 19, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal

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New exhorter for Reformation Italy

Mark Patterson answering questions put to him by Rev. Andrea Ferrari
Mark Patterson answering questions put to him by Rev. Andrea Ferrari

On May 16, 2013, Chiesa Riformata Filadelfia church leaders examined Mark Patterson for his license to exhort. Having successfully sustained his exam, Patterson exhorted on May 19.

Rev. Andrea Ferrari relates that Mark and Sonia Patterson and their 12-year-old son, Daniel, began attending Chiesa Riformata Filadelfia in Milan about a year and half ago. Both Mark and Sonia graduated in 1998 from the Evangelical Theological College of Wales at Bryntirion in Bridgend, South Wales. Mark subsequently pastored a Calvinistic, Baptist church in Cambridgeshire, England, for about six years. The family moved to Italy in 2005, but Mark was discouraged by his experience with Italian evangelicalism.

“I understand that Mark began to gather information about our church in 2010/2011 and I received a letter from him in January 2012,” says Rev. Ferrari. “Our first conversations focused on the spiritual condition of Italy as well as covenantal theology and Reformed ecclesiology. We had a few meetings and then I met his family. I told Mark and Sonia that in order to be part of our church family they had to embrace our confessional documents and follow the procedure explained in our Church Order.”

Rev. Ferrari adds that Mark was raised in the Presbyterian church in Northern Ireland, where “he had as his mentor the late William Still of Aberdeen, who was used of God to encourage a number of pastors both in the UK and US.”

This background helped Mark assimilate the finer points of covenantal theology, but he also sought counsel from Reformed leaders. “As we were in the process of considering Reformed ecclesiology, Mark wrote to some prominent ministers in the UK he knew to ask for advice: Sinclair Ferguson, Edward Donnelly, Ian Hamilton and others.”

The Pattersons became members of the Milan church and fit well in the life of the congregation. The consistory began discussing ways to utilize Mark’s gifts and experience for the benefit of the church.

“In October 2012, Rev. Michael Brown visited us for Reformation Day and we asked for his advice,” says Rev. Ferrari. “We decided together that the best way to go was the licensure exam following the directives of the Church Order.”

The hope is that Patterson will exhort two times per month beginning in September, once in Italian and once in English. Rev. Ferrari explains that the English exhortation will be for the sake of English speaking visitors as well as providing an “international flavor” to the church in the multiethnic city of Milan.

“We do not know what the future has in store for Mark and for us,” he adds, “but thus far we are much encouraged by the fact that the Pattersons decided to join our church because of its faithfulness to the Reformation.”

The Milan church continues to grow, having welcomed four new members via public professions of faith on Sunday, June 9, 2013.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 13 of the July 10, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.

A Romanian seminarian in need

Lidia and Mihai CorceaRev. Andrea Ferrari and his church in Milan, Italy, are working with believers in Bucharest, Romania, who long to establish a Reformed church. One young Romanian couple, Mihai and Lidia Corcea, plan to move to the United States this summer so that Mihai may study at Westminster Seminary California (WSC).

Mihai has been accepted to WSC and it is hoped that grants and donations will cover his tuition costs. In order to secure a student visa from the US government, however, he must show that he will have $32,000 of annual support for living expenses. One church has already committed to more than a third of that annual expense, but the remainder still needs to be raised.

“Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, CA, will provide Mihai with $12,000 a year during his studies as an M.Div. student,” reports Rev. Michael Brown. “This, however, is not sufficient to cover the cost of living for Mihai and his wife. They will need more than this to survive during his three years of study.”

Rev. Brown relates that he had the privilege of spending a few days last October with Mihai in Milan. “Mihai is an exceptionally bright young man deeply devoted to the Reformed faith. He leads a core group of young Romanian Reformed believers in a weekly Bible study. He is also a gifted translator, who has translated a sizable amount of Reformed material from English into the Romanian language.”

Mihai was raised in a family that left Eastern Orthodoxy to become Baptists. During his teen years and early adulthood, he was confused about church history and Christian doctrine. He began reading Calvinistic books and started to understand Reformed doctrines regarding salvation and the church.

“Six years ago I visited a Reformed congregation in the Netherlands and spent one week with a Dutch Reformed family,” he writes. “I found their theology, piety and practice to be quite different from my Arminian/Fundamentalist background. Throughout the years that followed, the memory of the Dutch Reformed I have met remained a reference point with regard to how I envisioned that a church should be.”

Although the Reformation spread in the sixteenth century to Eastern Europe, including Transylvania, which is now part of Romania, Reformed Romanians were gradually rejected by many communities that had been assimilated by Hungarians during political and ethnic conflicts.

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Rev. Andrea Ferrari, Mihai Corcea and Claudiu Stefu, both Reformed believers from Romania, and Rev. Michael Brown

According to Mihai, the last Romanian Reformed church disappeared during the 19th century. Today 97% of Bucharest’s two million people identify themselves as Eastern Orthodox. After translating and publishing Reformed articles online, Mihai came into contact with other Reformed believers and their core group was formed. Mihai was encouraged to attend seminary after these believers became members of Rev. Ferrari’s Milan congregation, Chiesa Riformata Filadelfia, in July of 2012.

“We wish to establish a confessional Reformed church in Bucharest that can be a sound Protestant alternative to the Eastern Orthodox or Evangelical communities,” writes Mihai. “Our greatest dream is that our children will not have to go through the same confusion we experienced regarding the Christian faith. We believe that having our children catechized and raised in a Reformed congregation is the greatest gift we can give them. We pray that God will use His Word and His Church to the blessing of future generations of Romanian people.”

Rev. Ferrari requests Christian Renewal readers to pray for Romania, Italy, and all of Europe. He writes, “It is important for readers to understand that Europe is a mission field!”

Churches or individuals wishing to contribute to Mihai’s support should contact Rev. Michael Brown at michaelbrown@christurc.org or Christ United Reformed Church’s treasurer, deacon Bob Gordon, at bobgordon@christurc.org.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 11 of the April 10, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.

Milan church: Renovation and reformation

The meeting place of Chiesa Evangelica Riformata Filadelfia (CERF) in Milan, Italy, is undergoing a major renovation. For some time, the congregation has been meeting in a 630 square-foot former computer store. The building, surrounded by apartments and factories, is located on the northern outskirts of Milan. Many people from southern Italy moved to the area during the 60s and 70s, seeking employment.

The church’s renovation consists primarily of constructing walls to separate the building’s open space into a worship sanctuary, a fellowship area, and two classrooms. The project’s initial funding was $22,000 (US funds); Christ URC in Santee, CA, contributed about half of that while other URCNA congregations gave the other half (through donations to Christ URC for the support of the Milan church). Although the renovation is off to a good start, another $30,000 is needed to finish the project.

Construction on the area that will be the front of the sanctuary.

“Christ URC is committed to supporting Rev. Andrea Ferrari (of Milan) and the long-term work of establishing the very first Reformed denomination in Italy that confesses the Three Forms of Unity,” says Rev. Michael Brown, pastor of Christ URC, Santee, CA. “We thank God for the churches in the URCNA who are supporting this vital mission and helping us shoulder the burden of making disciples in that barren country. This is still much more work to be done, both in the building and, more importantly, in planting more churches. We pray that more churches in our federation might come alongside us and help.”

“If other funds will be raised for this purpose,” says Rev. Ferrari, “it will be a great blessing and we’ll be able to speed up the completion of the work.”

Rev. Ferrari says, “Not having an Italian federation of churches, we consider ourselves part of the URCNA, even if because of geographical and historical reasons we are distant from many of our sister churches. We sense a strong relationship with the URCNA and we try to pray constantly for the churches and for their ministries. For instance, this year our Consistory decided to collect twice every year an offering for URCNA missions (in June we sent the offering to support the Spanish ministry of Rev. Ruben Sernas). We also try to invite URCNA pastors so that we can develop a relationship with our sister churches and establish a model for a future federation in Italy.”

Dan Ventura surveys the worship place where he will exhort.

Dan Ventura, a student from Westminster Seminary in California (WSC), spent a six-week internship in Milan this summer. He exhorted 12 times, which freed some of Rev. Ferrari’s time for more study and sermon preparation.

“Dan also went with me in Romania for four days, where we are continuing to help a small group of believers to plant a Reformed church in Bucharest,” relates Rev. Ferrari. “We are seeing if it will be possible to have one young man to go to WSC and become ordained by a consistory in the URCNA.”

Rev. Ferrari often has traveled to the United States and Rev. Brown will make his fourth visit to Italy this October.

“For me personally, Andrea Ferrari is much more than a missionary our church supports, or even a colleague and Reformed minister. Over the past six years, he has become one of my closest friends,” says Rev. Brown. “When I visit the mission field, I am not only blessed with spending time in mutual encouragement with a faithful and trusted friend, but I am able to renew fellowship with one of the warmest and most loving congregations I have ever had the privilege of knowing. As anyone who has spent time with that church will tell you, the people of CERF are some of the most God-fearing and self-sacrificing Christians you will ever meet. And although I am only a quarter Italian by blood, they always make me feel as if I am 100% one of their own. For our unity runs deeper than the blood of nations, it is bonded in the blood of Christ.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 11 of the August 22, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.