Construction begins on Redeemer URC building

group-shovel
Building Committee members

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

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

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

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

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

venema
Dr. Cornel Venema

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

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

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

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

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

Jacques speaking-close
Rev. Jacques Roets

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

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

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

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Calvary Chapel in Oregon transitions to the Reformed faith

family-0ceanA former Calvary Chapel church has called a Reformed minister and hopes to move toward affiliation with the URCNA.

Cornerstone Community Church will install Dr. Quentin Falkena (currently of First URC in Chino, CA) as its Teaching Pastor at the Sunday morning service on September 16, 2018. Rev. Danny Hyde (Oceanside URC, CA), who has been instrumental in bringing Dr. Falkena and Cornerstone together, will preach at the installation service. Cornerstone’s current pastors Stan Way (Senior Teaching Pastor) and Mark Delladio (Christian Education and Music Pastor) will also participate in the service, using the installation form from the new URCNA Forms and Prayers book.

Cornerstone also has a Children and Youth Ministry pastor, Mike Mayben. Both Pastors Mayben and Way plan to retire in the near future, although they will remain in the congregation and help as needed.

“I’m now 72, it’s time for a younger man and a new voice in the pulpit,” Pastor Way says. “I’ll retire from the church at the end of this year, but the Lord willing not from ministry. I hope to remain active in the life of the church in any way Quentin would like me to. Also, I hope to be more involved in our local Bible college (Pacific Bible College) and write more.”

Dr. Falkena’s primary responsibilities will focus on preaching the Word and administering the sacraments, but he’ll also be teaching, visiting, counseling, and performing other pastoral duties. He and his family planned to move to Medford at the end of August.

“After ten years, two doctorate degrees (Amanda’s and mine), and three kids, we have a lot to weed through,” he says. “To begin, we’ll be renting a home about 15 minutes south of the church. Our home is on the grounds of what used to be a retreat center situated next to a vineyard, which is adjacent to a beautiful garden that serves as a wedding venue. It’s picturesque!”

After the move, Dr. Falkena will return to Chino for a few days, to function for his final time as Clerk for Classis Southwest US and to conduct a wedding ceremony. He’ll be back in Medford before the installation on September 16 and begin preaching on September 23.

Cornerstone Community Church is currently independent, but hopes to be provisionally accepted into the URCNA by Classis PNW within 18 months with ratification at Synod 2020.

Pastor Way explains that when he arrived at the church in 1997, he and the elders “shared the same convictions regarding the Doctrines of Grace,” which “were new to us but very compelling.” For the next four or five years, they studied the Reformed faith: reading and discussing Reformed confessions, attending conferences (hosted by Ligonier, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Westminster Seminary California), and listening to Reformed and Presbyterian ministers online.

“We also invited Reformed teachers to be guest lecturers at our Spring and Fall lecture series,” he says. “Dr. Derek Thomas, Dr. Michael Horton, Dr. Carl Trueman, Dr. John Fesko and many others came and ministered to us. Having men like these with us for a weekend allowed us to have very helpful private conversations and receive wise counsel.”

In 2009, Cornerstone’s elders decided to subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity as their confessional standards. For the next two years, two of the church’s pastors taught through the confessions on Wednesday and Sunday evenings.

“Becoming Reformed has touched and reshaped every area of the church’s life: liturgy, pastor-led worship, the administration of the sacraments (we’re now paedobaptists!), and the establishment of church membership in 2014,” says Pastor Way. “It’s been a challenging, yet rewarding, transition. The Lord has been extremely gracious to us. The church is spiritually stronger than ever before. Now it’s time for us to affiliate with a like-minded denomination (or federation of churches). The URC seems to be a ‘good fit’ for us, and we believe Quentin will be able to help us move successfully in this direction.”

On the recommendation of Dr. Trueman, Rev. Danny Hyde was invited to speak at the church in 2016. Rev. Hyde explains, “Since it’s a former Calvary Chapel that has become Reformed over the years, these are my ‘peeps!’” He maintained regular contact with Cornerstone’s leaders about what it means to be Reformed as well as the church’s plan for Pastor Way’s retirement and a new minister.

“In January of 2018, the staff was down at Westminster Seminary for its annual conference, and we met to discuss further,” Rev. Hyde says. “They asked me to vet a list of men, but instead I gave my recommendation of Quentin. They wanted a seminary-trained man, and Quentin has recently finished his DMin from Reformation Bible College. They wanted a man with a young family, and Quentin and Amanda are that. And they wanted a man who could lead them into the future and especially into affiliation with a Reformed ecclesiastical body. Quentin had other inquiries, but I persisted he and CCC continue down a mutual path, and the Lord brought them all together.”

While the Cornerstone congregation is excited about this new chapter in the church’s life, First URC in Chino will miss the Falkenas. And it is a bittersweet farewell for the Quentin and Amanda, who have been part of the First Chino fellowship since Quentin accepted that call as his first.

“Amanda and I arrived ten years ago, just a couple months after we were married,” Dr. Falkena says. “We’ve grown as a family, having three children in the last seven years, but we’ve also become a part of the church family. I’ve had the privilege of working with Rev. Scheuers for many years and with Rev. Nymeyer for just over a year. It’s been a great joy being part of Classis SWUS. These things are hard to leave behind.”

He adds, “However, the opportunity in Medford is a remarkable one, with a unique story. It’s not every day that a church, which began as arminian and dispensationalist, comes to the point of desiring to join a Reformed federation. It is a privilege to take up that task. I’m looking forward to settling into a more routine position in which I can focus more on preaching regularly. As a family, we’re looking forward to what southern Oregon has to offer in terms of its beauty and outdoor pursuits.”

For more information about Cornerstone Community Church, check out its website: cccm.org.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the September 14, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.

New Senior Pastor installed at First Chino

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Rev. A. Cammenga, Rev. R. Scheuers, Rev. B. Nymeyer, Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, Dr. Q. Falkena

Rev. Bradd L. Nymeyer was installed as the new Senior Pastor at First United Reformed Church in Chino, CA, on May 14, 2017. Following the 23-year ministry of Rev. Ronald Scheuers to the congregation, Rev. Nymeyer has some huge ministerial shoes to fill. But his 22 years of experience in pastoral ministry will help.

A 1992 graduate of Westminster Seminary California, Rev. Nymeyer attended Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids for one year before he was ordained in 1994 at the Phoenix Christian Reformed Church. In 1996, he was called to pastor the newly-formed Phoenix Independent Reformed Church, which affiliated with the URCNA within a year. He served that congregation for 12 years prior to accepting a call as the first pastor of the Sioux Center URC. After more than eight years in northwest Iowa, Rev. Nymeyer accepted the call to First Chino.

“I have loved each congregation that I have served, and each has been used by God to prepare me for continued service,” Rev. Nymeyer said. “I am excited about this next chapter in my life as well as in the life of the First URC of Chino. Mary and I are very thankful to God for the privilege of serving His people here in southern California.”

Four other ministers participated in Rev. Nymeyer’s installation service on May 14. Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, President of Westminster Seminary California, led Rev. Nymeyer’s prayer group and taught him Church History during his seminary career. He has remained a long-time friend of the family, taking part in every installation service of Rev. Nymeyer. Rev. Andrew A. Cammenga, Minister Emeritus of Lynden URC in Washington, is Rev. Nymeyer’s father-in-law. Rev. Scheuers, Minister Emeritus of First URC in Chino since January, has been Rev. Nymeyer’s mentor for over 20 years. And Dr. Quention B. Falkena, Youth Pastor of First URC is a longtime friend of Rev. Nymeyer.

As Dr. Falkena read the instruction section of the installation form, Rev. Nymeyer looked at the three ministers sitting in front: Rev. Cammenga, Dr. Godfrey, and Rev. Scheuers. “It was very humbling to have them take part in the service, considering that they represent over 100 years of wisdom and service in Christ’s church,” Rev. Nymeyer said.

Rev. Cammenga read the vows of the minister, Rev. Scheuers read the vows of the congregation, and Dr. Godfrey gave the charges to the minister and congregation. Dr. Godfrey led the service, preaching on “God’s Word, Our Life” from portions of Deuteronomy 32 & 33. Rev. Nymeyer pronounced the benediction.

At the evening worship service on May 14, Rev. Nymeyer began a series on Joshua, preaching from Joshua 1:1-9 on “Be Strong and Courageous.” He noted that the book “records God’s faithfulness to His people” and the “continuation of what He has been doing for them.” It also “points us forward to the greater Joshua” (which means “God saves”), who is Jesus Christ.

The Nymeyers have been married for 32 years and have three daughters and one son.

It would be difficult for anyone to follow the long ministry of a man who was not only a popular pastor, but also a competent churchman: Rev. Scheuers served a total of 39 years in full-time ministry, providing servant leadership within both congregations and federations. But Rev. Nymeyer has served twice as chairman of Synod and functioned as Stated Clerk for the URCNA from 2010 until 2016, when his service ended due to the limit of three consecutive terms. He viewed the performance of these “opportunities” as “a huge honor and a privilege to serve God and the churches.”

Rev. Nymeyer admitted he found it “daunting” to consider taking up the position of Rev. Scheuers. When he spoke to Rev. Scheuers about it, he found him “as typical…very encouraging to me. My prayer is that I might obtain a double portion of his spirit, to serve God and His church with the same devotion to truth and love that Rev. Scheuers has demonstrated so faithfully in the past. I am honored to have him remaining in the congregation, and will continue to rely upon his knowledge and wisdom as I have in the past.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 13 & 22 of the June 14, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.

URC and CanRC hold concurrent classis meetings

CanRC reportsClassis Central US (URCNA) and Classis Manitoba (CanRC) met in Sioux Falls, SD, on April 3 & 4, 2017, marking the first time the two federations held classis meetings concurrently. Delegates from both classes had the privilege of the floor during joint sessions, but did not vote on items of the other classis. Federational-specific matters were presided over by the appropriate chair.

Plans for the meeting began last fall, when Rev. Todd De Rooy (pastor of Redeemer URC in Orange City, IA, and a member of the URCNA’s Committee for Ecclesiastical Relations and Church Unity) contacted Classis Manitoba personnel to determine interest. Then he contacted Rev. Spencer Aalsburg, whose Christ Reformed consistory was slated to convene and host the April 2017 meeting of Classis Central US.

Rev. De Rooy said, “Classis Manitoba agreed to postpone their scheduled March meeting and hold it in April in Sioux Falls, at Christ Reformed Church’s invitation, to be concurrent with our Classis.”

He explained the rationale behind the idea as “excitement” for the anticipated concurrent URCNA Synod and OPC General Assembly in 2018, the “success” of concurrent meetings between Classis Eastern US and the OPC, and a desire “to find the best way for our elders and ministers to have contact with elders and ministers in the Canadian Reformed Churches.”

The close proximity of URC and CanRC congregations in Canada promotes pulpit exchanges and other events that foster fellowship; however, the small number of CanRC congregations within the US makes such ecumenical efforts less viable.

Ministers and clerks of the two convening consistories, Rev. Aalsburg and Clerk Mark Hoogwerf (Christ Reformed Church-URC) as well as Rev. Steve Vandevelde and Clerk Jon DeWitt (Carmen East-CanRC), did much preliminary work to facilitate the event.

Men from both federations worked together to craft a schedule that allowed similar amounts of time for separate administrative sessions and incorporated joint sessions to discuss items of mutual interest on each agenda.

Classis Manitoba not only had to be willing to postpone its meeting, but delegates also had to be willing to dedicate more time to it.

“We were humbled by the willingness of our Canadian Reformed brothers to take the extra time to travel down to meet concurrently with us in Sioux Falls,” Mark Hoogwerf said. “They could have completed their business in a normal meeting that would allow most of their delegates to return home the same day. However, they were very open to making the sacrifice of spending up to seven hours on the road each way to meet in ecumenical fellowship with us.”

Nine Can RC participants traveled in two vehicles the seven hours from Manitoba. But Classis Central US covers such a large area that some of its delegates drove farther. For instance, those from DeMotte drove twelve hours.

Rev. Todd Joling (Faith URC, Beecher, IL) chaired, while Rev. Talman Wagenmaker served as Clerk for Classis Central US. Rev. Rick Vanderhorst (Grace CanRC, Winnipeg) was President, and Dr. Andrew Pol (Carmen West) functioned as Clerk for Classis Manitoba. Rev. Joe Poppe (Redeemer, Winnipeg) served as Vice-President.

Classis convened on Monday evening with delegates from both federations gathering for devotions. Delegates then met separately to deal with administrative matters and reports. This period was followed by a joint session at which representative from the OPC and PCA extended fraternal greetings and a representative from the CanRC reported on mission work in Brazil.

Tuesday morning began with delegates meeting jointly to hear more fraternal greetings and reports. After updates on URC church planting efforts in Chicago Heights, IL, and Quito, Ecuador, delegates approved continued support for those works. They also heard an update on URC Chaplain Rev. Andrew Spriensma.

groupOvertures

URC delegates then dealt with three overtures. The first, submitted by Grace URC of Waupun, WI, requested several changes to Classis Central’s Rules of Procedure. Most of these were “housekeeping” changes, but one suggested that all examinees be required to submit a sermon manuscript for evaluation. All parts of this overture were adopted.

The second overture, from Immanuel URC in DeMotte, IN, suggested that Synod 2018 revise Article 64 of the Church Order to be in line with Synod 2016’s pastoral advice regarding membership departure. The overture would add language about transferring, releasing, or erasing memberships in situations not included in existing Church Order categories. This overture was approved and will be forwarded to Synod 2018.

The third overture, also from Immanuel in DeMotte, asked Synod to adopt a “Marriage Affirmation & Gospel Testimony,” which affirms biblical teaching and addresses concerns raised at Synod 2016. Classis Central US voted to send this overture on to Synod 2018.

Appeal

Following a lunch break, the concurrent meeting entered Executive Session, and Classis Manitoba reported on recent church visits.

Classis Central US then dealt with an appeal from an individual. The consistory had denied his request to pursue revision of the Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession to bring those documents into agreement with statements about the ‘soul’ not being a “thing, but a characteristic/condition of a living body…and that…time in the Bible…is not literal.”

Delegates recognized seven of the appellant’s eleven grounds as valid, but three as invalid, and one as out of order. The decision to deny the appeal as a whole was adopted without dissent. Scriptural grounds were provided at several points of the response and the consistory was affirmed in its position that the confessions accurately reflect biblical teaching regarding the soul.

Although discussion on this matter lasted past the afternoon break, Classis Manitoba met separately after that time. Classis Central went on to appointments and offered pastoral advice regarding discipline matters.

Delegates met concurrently again for closing matters and prayer. Appreciation was expressed to Christ Reformed Church for hosting the meeting.

“We considered it a great joy to be able to host the spring meetings,” Mr. Hoogwerf said. “By God’s grace, numerous members of our small congregation were willing to joyfully serve. We were very grateful for the opportunity.”

Rev. Vandevelde thought he might find Classis Central US “less homogeneous” than Classis Western Canada, which he said “most of us know as ‘the URC.’” While he anticipated more diversity, his impression had been “that Classis US would not be hostile to some potential further organic unity, but more likely indifferent or hesitant, maybe reluctant.” For this reason, he was “keen” to meet URC brothers “face to face.”

Rev. Poppe described the concurrent meeting as “hugely beneficial.” He said, “There was a mutual recognition that we share a common faith, and that we truly are brothers in the Lord.”

He recommends that other classes consider such meetings and seek opportunities for them. Rev. De Rooy offered these thoughts: “All the delegates saw first-hand that the office bearers and churches of our two federations are doing the work of the Great Commission under the same Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, by the same power of the Holy Spirit. Our churches face the same challenges from the inside and the outside of the church. What we discover is that we differ in how we go about doing that work. There was a spirit of brotherly unity in the assembly of the concurrent Classis, and also in the many fellowship times over the two days.”

The subsequent meeting of Classis Central US was scheduled for September 11, 2017, in Waupun, WI, with Grace URC as the convening consistory. Carman West CanRC was slated to convene the next meeting of Classis Manitoba on June 23 or September 22, 2017.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 8 & 9 of the May 31, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.

 

URC seeks right house for worship in DC

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee
Dr. Brian Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Church plant takes root in Romania

 

benediction-croppedIn 2013, Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, CA, welcomed Mihai and Lidia Corcea, a young couple who had traveled from Romania for Mihai to study at Westminster Seminary California. During 2016, Mihai graduated on May 28, sustained his candidacy exam by Classis SWUS on July 19, and was ordained on July 24. The couple returned to Bucharest on July 25, where they began a church plant.

“It has been a tremendous blessing to see how the Lord has answered our prayers for Mihai and Lidia,” Rev. Michael Brown says. “I met Mihai years ago, when he and another member of the core group in Bucharest, Claudiu Stefu, travelled to Milan for its Reformation conference. He told me about the desperate need in Romania for solid churches to be planted. He explained that, besides a few Hungarian-speaking churches, there is no Reformed presence in Romania, nothing to reach the Romanian-speaking population. I was impressed with Mihai’s passion about bringing the gospel to his native country and planting confessional churches. It was obvious that he had given much thought about how to do in Romania what Rev. Ferrari was doing in Italy. We discussed the challenges and obstacles to planting a Reformed church in Bucharest. At the time, it seemed almost impossible, little more than a dream.”

ordination-2
L-R: Elder Dan Palmer, Elder Dr. Ryan Glomsrud, Rev. Mihai Corcea and his wife Lidia, Rev. Michael Brown, Elder Dan Plotner, and Elder Jonathan Taylor

He adds, “But of course, with God all things are possible. Within a couple of years, Mihai and Lidia left their jobs and home in their native country and made the long journey to California.” Mihai began his seminary studies, and the couple attended Christ URC, where they warmly bonded with their church family.

Mihai served a year-long internship at Christ URC, attending consistory and council meetings, teaching catechism classes to youth, and going on home visits with the elders. He also led worship and exhorted at least once per month.

“We were pleased with his maturity, humility, and wisdom,” Rev Brown says. “We had the joy of watching Mihai and Lidia grow in their faith as well as their love for Christ’s church.”
ordination-3-cRev. Brown says Mihai did “an exceptional job” on his candidacy exam, “which is especially remarkable when you consider that he did this in a second language.”

At Mihai’s ordination service on July 24, Rev. Brown preached from Ephesians 4:1-16 and gave the charges to the pastor and congregation. Rev. Corcea pronounced the benediction. He is now a Missionary Pastor, called to make disciples in Romania by planting a church in Bucharest and evangelizing the lost.

“I think the best way I can describe the church that we hope to establish in Bucharest is by the three parts of the Heidelberg Catechism,” Rev. Corcea says. “Our church plant should be a people gathering in a place where they understand their sin and misery, they receive the knowledge of God’s merciful salvation through the gospel, and they start living more and more according to all the commandments of God out of thankfulness for God’s grace.”

exterior-cThe Evangelical Reformed Church in Bucharest (Biserica Evanghelica Reformata din Bucuresti) began meeting in a rented building in downtown Bucharest. It is about three minutes walking distance from a subway station and two blocks from the city’s largest park.

“We chose this location because it is easily accessible to anyone by car or subway,” he says. “We are also very close to the financial district where most young professionals work.”

A few local Reformed Christians, who had became members of Chiesa Riformata Filadelfia (Rev. Ferrari’s work in Milan) four years ago, now attend services at 10 AM and 6 PM. Church members are inviting friends and family to worship, and the group utilizes social media, such as Facebook, and have a website, where they post video recordings of the sermons.

Although Milan is a two-hour flight away, the two church plants encourage each other. The consistory of Christ URC supervises both groups by maintaining regular contact with the pastors, encouraging them, and helping raise funds for support. Each church planter reports via Skype at Christ URC’s month consistory meetings and communicates weekly via email. The hope is for Rev. Brown and an elder to visit Bucharest in conjunction with their annual visit to Milan.

“We believe that an annual visit to our missionaries from a member of our consistory is an important component of effective oversight,” Rev. Brown says, “as it helps us to encourage them on the field and maintain our fellowship with them.”

interior-1-cAlthough a Reformed presence previously existed in Romania, the last Romanian Reformed church disappeared in the 19th century. Today 97% percent of Bucharest’s two million people are Eastern Orthodox.

While Mihai was growing up, his family left Eastern Orthodoxy to become Baptists. But he experienced a great deal of religious confusion as a young person. The Bible began to make sense for him when he started reading Reformed literature. His stint at Westminster and time at Christ URC have shaped the way he envisions the Reformed church in Bucharest.

“Spending three years in an URC church in California has helped me understand more that church is not an add-on to our ‘relationship with Jesus,’ but the main way through which God has promised to bless us. As I preach every Sunday and I look at the covenant children present in our church plant, I am reminded of God’s grace to them that they have the opportunity to grow up in a church where they are catechized according to the truth of the gospel. I rejoice in the fact that, Lord willing, they will not have to go through the same confusion and pain of not having a healthy church close to them.”

In addition to the work involved with planting a church, the Corceas plan to begin publishing Reformed literature that they have translated over the last three years. He says, “We hope that by this small Reformed publishing house, we will be able to raise awareness of the Reformed church and the Reformed doctrine and practice.”

The Corceas appreciate the financial support they received during Mihai’s seminary years, saying they are “greatly thankful” for the “love and generosity” of individuals and churches.

Rev. Brown explains that the Romanian mission work is funded by URCNA congregations who wish to participate in “this exciting opportunity to make disciples in Romania and establish a confessional and Reformed denomination in that country.” He adds, “We encourage all churches in the URCNA to consider supporting this mission, helping us to shoulder the burden of this worthy labor for Christ and his gospel.”

The above is a slightly edited version of an article by Glenda Mathes that appeared on pages 18 & 19 of the September 21, 2016, issues of Christian Renewal.

Sioux Falls church plant organizes

 

lucero-aalsburg-donovan-barnes
Pastors Lucero, Aalsburg, Donovan and Barnes

In a joint worship service held with Hills URC on May 8, 2016, the Sioux Falls United Reformed church plant formally organized as Christ Reformed Church (URCNA). Rev. Spencer Aalsburg led the service, installing two elders and two deacons as Christ Reformed’s first council. Attendees participated in a fellowship meal after the service and enjoyed a slide show and display of memorabilia. Since its inception, the church plant in Sioux Falls, SD, has been under the supervision of the URC in Hills, MN.

Once the church was organized, the council of Christ Reformed Church extended a call to Rev. Aalsburg. He has served the group since 2007, when he was ordained as Hills’ Associate Pastor to plant the Sioux Falls church. Rev. Aalsburg was installed as Minister of the Word and Sacraments at Christ Reformed Church during a special service held on Friday, May 13.

fellowship
Fellowship meal

Rev. Dan Donovan, minister of Cornerstone URC in Sanborn, IA, offered a meditation on 1 Timothy 4:6-16. Rev. Doug Barnes, who serves Covenant Reformed Church in Pella, IA, and is a former pastor of Hills URC, presented a charge to the minister from Ephesians 4:1-16. Rev. Jody Lucero, pastor of Providence Reformed Church in Des Moines, IA, gave the charge to the congregation, based on Ephesians 6:10-20.

The installation service took place at Heritage Reformed Church, 3800 E. 15th St., on the east side of Sioux Falls. Christ Reformed rents the Protestant Reformed Church’s facility and meets there for Sunday worship at 11:15 AM and 6:15 PM.

According to Rev. Aalsburg, 60 to 70 people usually attend services. Membership is comprised of 11 families and a few singles for about 55 souls. “This includes 29 baptized members, and we’re expecting five more babies this year!” he says. “Thankfully, five more families and a couple singles have expressed interest in joining and are at various stages in the process.”

leaders
Church leaders

The church has seen significant growth in numbers and spiritual maturity since it began meeting in 2005. Although some of that growth has been internal, the group also makes an effort to welcome visitors and reach out to the community.

“We seek to create a variety of venues to begin and deepen relationships with the newcomers that the Lord brings,” Rev. Aalsburg explains. “Over all, by God’s grace, we’ve been told we’re a warm church and easy to visit—for which we’re very thankful.”

Events during the week include book studies that often draw people who are not members. Many non-members also are attracted to monthly events like picnics with sand volleyball or movie and pizza nights.

Rev. Aalsburg says, “These events are not only a great time of deepening fellowship among members, but also a disarming place to invite friends for an evening of community.”

The church hosts several annual events: a worship conference, a Reformation Day festival, a men’s day out trap shoot, and a Christmas sing. A Reformed Mission Services team has conducted a vacation Bible study during the last two summers. “These have been a great opportunity to build inner community and also receive guests,” he relates. “Most of the guests are not neighborhood visitors, but those friends who had been personally invited.”

Each year, the church hosts a booth at the county fair, distributing literature and engaging the public. They’ve recently begun serving free meals prepared by a local program.

cake“We have found it helpful to set aside times to process these events—how they went, and how we can be faithful to the Lord in word and deed,” Rev. Aalsburg says. “In the past, we’ve also had book studies on personal evangelism, which were well-received; however, this is an area we cannot study too much.”

Although Sioux Falls is located near the Dutch Reformed enclave of Northwest Iowa, Christ Reformed Church represents a wide ethnic composition. “The congregation comes from a diversity of backgrounds,” he says. “And over the years, we marvel at our God bringing together a people with different histories and experiences to worship Him and share life together.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 11 & 12 of the July 6, 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 (jerseycitygrace.org) 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.

Aloha to Grace Church of Kauai

SONY DSCMany URCNA members grieved to hear about the closing of the Grace Church of Kauai, in Hawaii, on Easter Sunday in 2016. The consistory of Grace United Reformed Church in Torrance, CA, had supervised the church plant for more than eight years.

Rev. Derrick Vander Meulen explains that his family moved to Kauai and he took up the church planter role in June of 2009, after the work had already existed for about a year and a half.

“When we came, only one family had their membership with our overseeing church,” he says. “Soon after our arrival, three other families committed to the work and transferred their memberships. In addition to these, we had a few families and individuals who worshipped with us but were unwilling to become members.”

The group slowly grew to include ten member families with several children and additional regular visitors. By 2013, fifty or more people regularly attended services. Then three of the core families, each with three children, moved off the island due to work and economics.

“They all hated to leave Grace Church of Kauai, and we shed many tears over their departure,” Rev. Vander Meulen says.

vdr-meulensWorship attendance remained strong at about 35 people, and members prayed for God to bless their efforts with more growth. But two additional families left the island for job-related reasons in 2015, including the group’s elder.

“So over the past three years we’ve seen declining numbers, we lost our elder and had minimal prospects for replacing him, and with the diminished numbers came diminished financial giving,” he says. “In December of 2015, the council of Grace URC decided to shut down the ministry.”

This sad news led to a rapid decline in attendance. Many people chose to no longer attend, and one family with four children decided they would move to the mainland early in May.

“There are still four families and a few individuals who are left,” Rev. Vander Meulen says. “Where will they go for worship? I don’t know. There is no other church that is Reformed or even remotely similar. As long as my family is on the island, we will meet at one of our homes for Sunday worship, where I will preach. But when we leave, those left will struggle to find a church home.”

The Vander Meulens are in the process of preparing their home for sale and packing for their move at the end of May. He is available for call and has agreed to serve Coram Deo Reformation Church in Littleton, CO, as interim pastor for six months.

pulpitHe says, “When the decision was made in December to close the church plant, I requested that we continue for a few months, and the council agreed. We decided that Easter Sunday fit the timeline and would be an appropriate closing date. Although the occasion was sad, the reminder that Jesus lives as head of the church is a great comfort. He is the one who opens doors and closes doors. None of this was a surprise to Him. And will not the judge of all the earth do right?”

Easter, indeed, brings resurrection to mind. Seeds that lie dormant for years may again spring to life.

While many grieve to bid Aloha to Grace Church in Kauai, that Hawaiian greeting is used for meeting as well as departing. Who knows what God has in mind for the saints in Kauai?

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the May 25, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.