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.

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Concurrent meetings of URCNA Classis and OPC Presbytery prefigure major assemblies

groupFrom March 15-17, 2018, the URCNA’s Classis Central US and the OPC’s Presbytery of the Midwest held meetings at Community Reformed Church (URCNA) in Schererville, IN, that prefigured the federations’ concurrent major assemblies in a few months.

Classis Central convened at 4:00 PM on Thursday, March 15, and concluded at 6:00 PM on Friday. The Presbytery of the Midwest convened at 8:30 AM on Friday and concluded its business about noon on Saturday. Before and during the overlapping times, delegates and commissioners enjoyed communal worship and meals as well as shared instruction and information.

On Thursday evening, men from both groups attended an educational presentation (open to the public) by Tim Geiger, President of Harvest USA and a Teaching Elder in the PCA.

2 Anderson instrumentalistsFriday morning began with joint opening devotions. Rev. John Vermeer, recently installed at Doon URC in Iowa, spoke from Ephesians 2:11-22. He noted that twisted views of the church inhibit fellowship, but true unity can be found in focusing on Christ. Members of the Community URC congregation provided accompaniment for singing from a Trinity Psalter Hymnal sampler. Rev. James Oord played the piano. Andy Anderson played bass, his son James played cello, and another son Isaiah played violin.

The afternoon began with joint devotions led by Rev. Shane Lems, former pastor and church planter of the URC in Sunnyside, WA, who is now minister of Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Hammond, WI. From Luke 22:31-34, he spoke about Christ’s intercessory prayer that the faith of believers would not fail.

Dr. Alan Strange reported that printing of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal was scheduled to begin on March 19. Over 30,000 copies had been ordered, about 18,000 by URC churches.

Classis Central US: Colloquium Doctum and emeritation

Classis Central welcomed a minister from another federation and granted concurring advice regarding a minister who is being emeritated.

Jon and Kelli Bushnell
Kelli and Jon Bushnell

The most time-consuming matter on the agenda of Classis Central was a Colloquium Doctum conducted with Rev. Jon Bushnell, minister of First CRC in Prinsburg, MN. Sioux Center URC requested the CD and expressed its intent to proceed with steps for extending a call to him, should he sustain his exam. He did.

“It was extensive, exhausting and extremely encouraging,” Rev. Bushnell observed. “We covered everything from pastoral burn-out to the incomprehensibility of God.”

A humorous moment occurred when Rev. Spencer Aalsburg asked Rev. Bushnell if he would cast a presidential vote for an inexperienced Christian or an experienced non-Christian with good policies.

“It’s hard to say without knowing more,” Rev. Bushnell responded diplomatically. “Is he a Christian in name only? Are you running for president? Because I’d vote for you.”

Rev. Bushnell’s home church is Trinity URC in Visalia, CA. He is a 2011 graduate of Westminster Seminary California and served an internship at Prinsburg prior to accepting the church’s call. His wife, Kelli, is from DeMotte, IN, where she belonged to Immanuel URC. The couple has three young children.

The request for concurring advice in the matter of emeritation came from Immanuel URC in DeMotte, IN, with respect to Rev. Tom Wetselaar, who has served the church since it formed in 1995. Rev. Wetselaar has been a faithful pastor for 30 years and has been in Classis Central the longest of any minister. His struggle with chronic back pain, combined with an unusually heavy burden of full-time pastoral ministry, led to a leave of absence in August and the eventual emeritation. Rev. Wetselaar continues to preach and counsel as opportunity arises and hopes for new avenues of ministry in Christ’s kingdom.

Rev. Jody Lucero chaired the meeting, Rev. John Vermeer served as Vice Chairman, and Rev. Ralph Pontier is Clerk of Classis. Oak Glen URC in Lansing, IL, is scheduled to convene the next meeting of Classis on September 10, 2018.

Presbytery of the Midwest: Exams and expansion

The Presbytery of the Midwest examined several men at various levels and discussed a proposal to expand its geographic bounds.

OPC examsCommissioners approved taking three men under Presbytery care: Ben Bessett from Neenah, WI; Elijah DeJong from Sheboygan, WI; and Carl Gobelman from Joliet, IL. Peter Bringe from Wentzville, MO, preached on Friday morning, and Nathan Strom from St. Paul, MN, preached in the afternoon. Commissioners voted to grant them license to preach in the churches. Andrew Fortenberry, from Hanover Park, IL, was approved for ordination, and Jared van Noord, from Green Bay, WI, was accepted from another denomination.

Commissioners approved sending to the General Assembly a communication regarding Presbytery boundaries in the Great Plains States. The neighboring Presbytery of the Central US contains only four churches and will petition GA to dissolve it and disperse its territories. One of the churches, Faith OPC in Lincoln, NE, wishes to affiliate with the Presbytery of the Midwest. It is anticipated that the Presbytery of the Southwest will receive the other three, which are located in Kansas and Oklahoma. Because some parts of nearby states are closer to Chicago (where the PMW is centered) than to Denver (where the Presbytery of the Dakotas is centered), the communication expresses the willingness of the Presbytery of the Midwest to add specific counties of Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota to its geographical area.

Ben Snodgrass served as Moderator for the Presbytery’s meeting, and Camden Bucey was Vice Moderator. Christian McShaffrey is Stated Clerk, and Bruce Stahl is the Assistant Clerk. Brian De Jong serves as Archivist. The wide range of responsibilities struck Rev. McShaffrey.

“As those who acknowledge their own sin and weakness, we spend ample time in the Word and in prayer,” he said. “As those who have been forgiven, we sing much praise to our Savior. As those who guard the truth, we scrutinize candidates for ministry. As those who serve the church, we offer advice and shepherding as needed. As those who hold the keys, we adjudicate administrative and judicial matters. As those who love God, we seek to do all this in a decent, orderly, and Christ-honoring manner.”

Planning the meetings required cooperation between representatives in each federation. Rev. James Oord expressed gratitude for the dedication and efficiency of the Presbytery’s Ecumenicity Committee. “The whole event was a blessing to both bodies,” he said. He noted that despite full agendas, delegates and commissioners made the most of fellowship opportunities.

The above is an edited version of the article that appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the April 13, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.

Hope for Brampton

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Rev. John Bouwers

Hope Reformed Church (URC) in Brampton, ON, installed Rev. John A. Bouwers on December 1, 2017. Rev. Harry Bout, minister emeritus of Immanual URC in Jordan, exhorted from 2 Timothy 4:1-8, on “Preach the Word!” Rev. Joel Dykstra, Wellandport URC, gave the charge to the pastor, and Rev. Matthew Van Dyken, Eternal Life Mission in Tepic, Mexico, gave the charge to the congregation.

Immanuel is Rev. Bouwers’ former charge, the church in which he was ordained following his 1992 graduation from Mid-America Reformed Seminary and the only congregation he served prior to arriving at Hope. The Hope consistory oversees the work of Rev. Van Dyken in Tepic, Mexico. Rev. Bout is a former pastor of Hope, who began the mission work in Tepic and continues to serve there for a few months each year. Rev. Dykstra is Rev. Bouwers’ brother-in-law: Julie Bouwers and Janice Dykstra are sisters.

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Rev. Joel Dykstra

In his charge to Rev. Bouwers, Rev. Dykstra spoke of the need for godly leaders to “push against the vain philosophies of our age with clear and compelling words.” Speaking of Brampton, he said, “This place, it seems to me, is the frontlines of the battle all our churches need to be engaged in.” He noted Rev. Bouwers’ efforts toward church unity and his faithful service among the churches during his years in the Niagara Peninsula.

“The Lord has blessed your time in the land of Goshen, surrounded by God’s people on every side,” he said. “But we’re not in Goshen anymore. This is the frontier. And this is where we need to be as churches. We need to be standing against the spirit of this age and shining the light of the gospel in this dark world.”

In addition to the three pastors participating in the service, twelve pastors and elders brought greetings from other churches. One was Hope’s most recent former pastor, Rev. Rich Anjema, who left in 2010 to serve Providence URC in Winnipeg, MB. Pastor John Van Eyk, from Trinity URC in Lethbridge, AB, also attended.

The Scripture text organizers put on the cover of the installation program, superimposed over a picture of Brampton, was from Acts 18:10, “…for I have many people in this city.” Unknown to them, Acts 18:10 was the text Rev. Bouwers had already chosen for his inaugural sermon on December 3. And, in God’s amazing providence, it was the text Rev. Bouwers found for his personal devotions the following morning (December 4) from Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, updated by Alistair Begg.

John and Julie Bouwers leave behind more than the Immanuel church family, which has known him as its only minister for 25 years. They also leave behind six children and seven grandchildren, all of whom live in southern Ontario, most in the Jordan area. Brampton is located on the western side of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). But the Bouwers look to the future with Hope.

eatingThe above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 10 of the February 9, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.

Now emeritus, Pontiers return to Iowa from Alberta

group-cRev. Ralph Pontier began his ministry in sunny Florida, moved to northwest Iowa, and then much farther north and west to Alberta. After his emeritation, he and Lois moved back to Iowa, but this time to Pella, in the southcentral part of the state.

A 1976 graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Rev. Pontier was ordained in the Cape Coral CRC in 1977. In 1986, he accepted a call to First CRC in Orange City, IA. That congregation became the Redeemer Alliance Reformed Church in 1994 and joined the URCNA in 1995. Rev. Pontier then served Emmanuel Reformed Church of Neerlandia from 2008 until May of 2017. Interestingly, his formal ministry has been bookmarked by pastorates of nine years before and after a 23-year stint in Orange City.

May 7 was Rev. Pontier’s final Sunday as Emmanuel’s regular pastor. At the noon service, he preached from Jude 20-21 on “Keep Yourself in the Love of God,” with the theme: Effective service and personal assurance require seeking God. His four points were: 1) The love of God in which we are to keep ourselves is a sovereign love in which we are kept; 2) Keep yourself in the love of God by building yourself up in the faith; 3) Keep yourself in the love of God by praying in the Spirit; and 4) Keep yourself in the love of God by waiting for the mercy of our Lord in eternal life.

At the 2:00 PM service, Rev. Pontier spoke about “What the Father Seeks,” based on John 4:19-24. His three points were: 1) He seeks worshippers. Worship is the most important thing we do as Christians; 2) He seeks true worshippers. Worship must be to the true God and in the manner he prescribes; and 3) He seeks true worshippers who worship in spirit and in truth. No longer do we worship at an earthly sanctuary. Rather by the Spirit, our worship is directed to the heavenly Zion, the true Temple.

seated-cEmmanuel held a farewell program for the Pontiers on Friday, May 12. According to Yvonne Harink, different church groups gave special presentations. The Men’s Society sang, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” the Young People’s Society organized a “How Well Do You Know the Minister” game, the Young Adults presented a humorous skit, the church choir performed some hymns, and various members shared stories and memories. The Women’s Society thanked Lois for nine years of active participation and presented her with a plaque of Isaiah 40:31.

“A power point presentation highlighted some of the memories of the last nine years, such as weddings, baptisms, professions of faith, church picnics, canoe trips, and Gleaners,” Yvonne wrote. “The congregation also compiled a photo album with a page from each family.” Children sang “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music, and the congregation sang, “God Be with You Til We Meet Again.” She added, “After the program, everyone was invited to stay for food and fellowship, thankful for the blessings provided by a heavenly Father, and confident that He will provide also for the future.”

Rev. Pontier said, “I was deeply moved by the expressions of appreciation from the congregation while yet keeping the evening light-hearted. I was also grateful for the many greetings sent from URC and Canadian Reformed Churches, with two men traveling from as far as Lethbridge (seven-hour drive) to be there, and two local CanR congregations giving gifts to help express their gratitude for my ministry among them. Between the two Neerlandia CanR congregations, I preached a total of 53 sermons, and in the Barrhead CanR congregation I preached 33 times.”

More than a year ago, Rev. Pontier requested that his council grant him emeritus status effective May 8, 2017. In accordance with the Church Order, Classis Western Canada offered concurring advice. Rev. Pontier explained that he prefers the term ‘emeritus status’ to ‘retirement’ since he hopes “to remain active in ministry in various ways yet to be discovered.”

Following his official change in ministry status, he preached in URC and CanR churches in Edmonton on May 14 and returned to Emmanuel’s pulpit as a guest minister on May 21 for one service, during which two of his catechumens publicly professed their faith.

The Pontiers hoped to arrive at their new home near Pella, IA, on May 26. Part of the attraction to the area, no doubt, was the presence of two daughters. Grace is married to Rev. Doug Barnes, minister of Covenant Reformed Church. Sarah and Dan DeVries (Prairie City) and their family also belong to the congregation. Other siblings include David and Andrea Pontier in Oak Forest, IL, Jonathan and Tonya Pontier in Orange City, IA, and Rachel Pontier, who is transitioning from Houston, TX, to Macon, GA. Rev. Pontier and Lois have 15 grandchildren and anticipate another later this year.

wall hanging-cRev. Pontier does not view emeritation as inactivity. Even before the move, he was scheduled to preach in northwest Iowa for three Sundays in June. Synod Wyoming 2016 had elected him as alternate and Rev. Talman Wagenmaker as Stated Clerk. But upon the unanimous advice of the Grace Waupun council, Rev. Wagenmaker declined to take up the appointment, and Rev. Pontier will now serve as the federation’s Clerk. He has also been appointed as Secretary pro tem for NAPARC, subsequent to the resignation of Rev. Ron Potter for health reasons.

URCNA Church Order permits emeritation due to age or disability, but declares that a minister of the Word “is bound to the service of the churches for life” (Article 9).

“Ministers in good health ought not to be too quick to seek emeritation, especially if there is a shortage on ministers,” Rev. Pontier said. “But neither should older men try and stay on too long since age inevitably reduces stamina and vigor even where no obvious disability is present. The ministry is demanding and stressful, requiring vitality and strength. But each person and each situation is different, and it is good that there is no one rule binding on all.”

He said, “Retirement, as a time of self-indulgence, is a worldly concept that has no place in the lives of God’s people. But retirement as an opportunity for different avenues of service appropriate to age and changing circumstances is a gift not to be squandered.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the June 14, 2017, 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.

URCNA Pastors and Missions Conference

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Rev. Harry Bout, Mr. Paul Wagenmaker, Rev. Paul Murphy, Rev. Bill Pols, Rev. Richard Bout, Rev. Rich Anjema, and Rev. Bernard Westerveld (ERQ)

The URCNA Pastors and Missions Conference, held on May 15-18, 2017, focused on the theme: Reformed and Relevant—Reaching Our Generation with the Gospel. The facilities at Guelph Bible Conference Centre in Ontario provided a relaxing atmosphere and enjoyable activities for more than 30 pastors, many accompanied by their wives, who attended. Elders, lay persons, and students also benefitted from various presentations. Attendees could register for all or parts of the conference, while lectures on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings were open to anyone at no cost.

“We were glad to see many come out and join us in some great singing and worship and hearing a message from our main speakers, Dr. Eric Watkins and Rev. Paul Murphy. Numerous young people came to those evenings and came away very excited,” said Rev. Richard Bout, URCNA Mission Director and a conference organizer. “This year’s conference was a great time of learning and fellowship. Our speakers and workshop leaders were from the OPC, Can Ref, PCA and the URCNA and did an excellent job in explaining the calling we have been given to be an evangelistic, outward-facing church.”

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Dr. Brian Lee. Dr. Eric Watkins, Rev. Paul Murphy, Rev. Norm VanEeden Petersman

Two other pastors assisted Rev. Bout with planning the conference: Rev. Brian Cochran, Redeemer Reformation Church (URC) in Regina, SK, and Rev. Norman Van Eeden Petersman, who formerly served at Adoration United Reformed Churches in Ontario and is now pastor of Vancouver Associated Presbyterian Church (APC). The Vancouver church is the single Canadian congregation of the APC, a small Scottish federation of about twenty congregations that came into existence in 1989 by seceding from the Free Presbyterian Church.

“Our planning for this conference started in February of 2016,” explains Rev. Van Eeden Petersman, “when we agreed to work together to organize the 2017 conference.”

The conference consisted of two components: a pre-conference from Monday evening through Tuesday afternoon geared toward pastors, and a general missions conference open to lay people as well as ministers from Tuesday evening through Thursday morning.

 

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Rev. Rich Anjema

The pre-conference sought to generate fellowship and reflection among attending ministers and missionaries and their wives. After Monday’s evening meal, Rev. Paul T. Murphy, Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship (URCNA) spoke on “A Church for God’s Mission: Not a Mission for His Church—Understanding the Great Commission.”

“I was advocating a change in perspective so that instead of missions/evangelism being a line item on the church’s agenda/budget, that it is the raison d’etre of the church second only to worship,” he said. “This calls for a radical rethinking of how we do church and evangelism.”

Using several texts, he showed that God is a missionary God and that covenant is for the sake of the nations. He made several points of application. We should have a “go” rather than a “come” mentality about evangelism. We should view election missiologically, not just soteriologically. We ought not discuss covenant without mission. We shouldn’t distinguish between established churches and mission churches because every church is a mission church. We need to recover the office of believer as described in Q&A 32 of the Heidelberg Catechism to realize that every Christian is a witness. And many of our congregations need to ‘outgrow the ingrown church’ (as per C. John Miller). Rev. Murphy concluded by demonstrating from Luke 15 that God rejoices when we join Him “on mission.”

Reaching Generation Y

On Tuesday morning, Dr. Eric B. Watkins, Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in St. Augustine, FL, spoke about “Preaching to Generation Y: Reaching the Lost Without Losing the Reached.” He examined the challenges of preaching to a generation that has lost direction in many ways and seeks identity in the wrong places. He addressed questions such as: How do we engage a media-driven culture? What language will reach Generation Y without abandoning previous generations? How can we remain faithful to our time-tested creeds and confessions and yet reach a generation that is losing interest in history?

porch 1Rev. Harry Bout, emeritus minister of Immanuel URC in Jordon, ON, addressed a crucial topic in the second lecture of the morning. He urged pastors to “Take Heed to Yourself—Your Public Ministry and Your Private Walk.” Rev. Bout serves in the Niagara Migrant Ministry, is involved with Hispanic outreach in southern Ontario, and for several months each year works in Tepic, Mexico.

Participants could choose from three afternoon breakout sessions, one designed especially for pastors’ wives. Rev. Cochran spoke about “Training our Youth to Stand Strong in a Digital Age.” Rev. Neil Stewart, Grace OPC in Sheffield, ON, spoke on “Avoiding Burnout in the Ministry.” Mrs. Julie Murphy addressed other wives of ministers regarding their roles as “Women in the Trenches.”

About twenty pastors’ wives attended the entire conference, according to Rev. Richard Bout. He said, “We really wanted to build them up in the important role they have in their husbands’ ministries.”

The Tuesday afternoon sessions were followed by a prayer time, free time for fellowship, and the evening meal.

Church Plants

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Revs. Murphy and Zekveld

The missions conference began with Tuesday evening’s lecture, as Dr. Watkins spoke on “Reformed and Evangelistic: Cultivating Outward-Facing Church Plants.” He noted that Reformed churches face the challenge of cultivating a culture of evangelism. He explored ways self-consciously Reformed churches and church plants can effectively do evangelism by faithfully, yet creatively, bringing the gospel to those outside the church. A Question & Answer panel discussion followed.

Urban Opportunities

Wednesday’s first session featured Dr. Brian Lee, Christ URC in Washington, DC, discussing “The Challenges and Joys of Urban Church Planting.” He began work as a church planter in DC in 2008, and the church organized at the beginning of 2016. The second morning session was on “Discipleship through Home Bible Studies” with Rev. Connan A.V. Kublik, New City Church (PCA) in Hamilton, ON. He spoke about the power of the gospel to accomplish true transformation as it is heard and believed.

volleyball-1The afternoon breakout sessions offered three choices. Rev. Mitch Persaud, New Horizons Church (URC) in Scarborough, ON, enlightened attendees on “Learning Cross-Cultural Etiquette.” Rev. Tony Zekveld, Hope Centre in Toronto, ON, addressed “Witnessing to Sikhs and Muslims.” Rev. Cochran spoke again about “Training our Youth to Stand Strong in a Digital Age.” Rev. Persaud and Rev. Zekveld repeated their presentations later in the day.

Community Outreach

On Wednesday evening, Rev. Murphy spoke on “Reformed and Missional: The Challenge of Being an Evangelistic, Community-Centered Church.” Using Philippians 2:15 as an illustration of being the light of the world, he encouraged churches to do evangelism “in an organic and covenantal” way. Organic in the sense of seeing and meeting needs with the gospel as we “integrate and ingratiate ourselves into the community.” Covenantal as in taking advantage of family ties to follow up with evangelistic contacts. He challenged churches to “develop a culture of evangelism, which needs to be personal and loving.”

He said, “My application here was whether or not we would really love the unlovely and welcome them into our midst because that it what God did with you and me. I tried to promote the love of God for sinners so that we would be channels of that love to others.”

Another panel discussion and a time of refreshments finished the day’s events.

Sam and Emily Perez family
The Sam & Emily Perez family

On Thursday morning, Rev. Bill DeJong of Blessings Christian Church (CanRC) in Hamilton, spoke on “Reaching Your Community with the Gospel: Practical Ways to Reach Out Locally.”

The conference concluded with Dr. Watkins speaking on “From Geneva to Disney World: Reformed Worship in a Postmodern Context.” In his description of the lecture, he noted, “The consumeristic narcissism or our postmodern context has created a serious challenge” for Reformed churches. It can be difficult to explain why they continue to worship as they do when many evangelicals are exploring other options. His talk suggested that Reformed worship is not only “distinct and beautiful,” but that it also has “a lot more to offer our postmodern friends than either they or we may have imagined.”

This was the second URCNA conference focusing on pastoral ministry and missions, although similar conferences have been held every other year since 2009. Pastors met for that initial conference on ministry at Puritan Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI. A missions conference in 2011 took place in Denver, CO. In 2013, the first combined conference was held at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, IN. Two committees planned that event, when the final pastoral ministry session also functioned as the first session on missions. A 2015 pastors conference took place in Escondido, CA.

Rev. Van Eeden Petersman describes participation in the 2017 conference as “a real joy.” He said, “Having speakers from the URC, OPC, PCA, and Canadian Reformed churches was a good way to have us reflect more broadly on our work and what it means to be, as Paul Murphy made plain, a church that exists for the sake of mission. After every session and during every mealtime, that was a lot of intense and focused discussion of what we are to be doing and how we can do better in our current contexts.”

women-1Rev. Cochran described the messages by the main speakers as “very insightful and convicting,” causing many pastors to “repent of our lack of an outward focus on sharing the gospel with others” and encouraging them to “strive by God’s grace to cultivate a culture of evangelism in our churches.”

But the setting and schedule permitted plenty of less interaction and reflection as well. Attendees took part in basketball, volleyball, ping-pong, and horseshoes. Rev. Cochran described the conference as “a great time of refreshment and fellowship” and noted that “the singing of Psalms and hymns to God was wonderful.”

Pastor Rich Bout reflected, “We live in challenging times for the church, and we have a lot to learn in how to faithfully share our faith in the gospel with those around us. One of the special blessings of this time together was the posture of humility and prayer that the pastors and elders demonstrated as they took in biblical exhortation from a variety of angles.”

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.

 

Rev. Ronald Scheuers: epitome of servant leadership

Artist
Rev. and Mrs. Scheuers (photo by Richard Docter)

The retirement of Rev. Ronald Scheuers may be his and his family’s gain, but it is certainly a loss within the URCNA. In decades of denominational conflict and as the new federation felt its way forward, Rev. Scheuers provided humble, servant leadership.

“During the early, growing years of the URCNA as a fledgling federation, Rev. Scheuers proved again and again to be a special gift of the Lord to the churches,” says Dr. Cornel P. Venema, President of Mid-America Reformed Seminary. “In a period of history marked by conflict and distress, immaturity and growing pains, Rev. Scheuers was steady at the helm—gentle in manner, solid in conviction, wise through experience, fair with others, and firm in his leadership. Lest you think I exaggerate, I am confident that delegates to assemblies at which Rev. Scheuers was elected chairman will agree with me.”

Rev. Bradd Nymeyer, who served many years as the URCNA’s Stated Clerk, concurs with that assessment. He says about Rev. Scheuers, “His service to the federation cannot be over-stated. His gentle, pastoral approach to difficult issues gave many great reassurance in times of uncertainty.” He adds, “His calm demeanor served him well in the three times that he served as chairman of synod. He is a churchman, a pastor, and a preacher, and excels at all three. His retirement will be felt by the entire federation, as well as his local congregation.”

The congregation of First URC in Chino, CA, marked the retirement of its senior pastor with a special celebration on Friday, January 6. The retirement committee decorated the fellowship hall, where attendees enjoyed a catered meal of tri-tip sirloin, mashed potatoes, and vegetables. About 200 people gathered for the meal, and many more arrived later for a program in the sanctuary, which seats 600 and seemed nearly full. Guests went beyond members of the congregation to include friends, former staff members, fellow ministers, and surprise appearances by relatives from Wisconsin.

The program featured a slideshow and video clips, a skit, and singing. The church presented Rev. Scheuers and his wife, Faye, with a gift of appreciation for his years of faithful service. Rev. Scheuers spent 39 years in full-time ministry, more than 23 of them in Chino.

“Our church family has been so good to us through the years,” says Rev. Scheuers. “We are grateful that we can retire in this area and continue to live among the people of the congregation of First Chino.”

Weavers-Scheuers
The Scheuers with the Rev. Joel Weaver family

On January 8, Rev. Scheuers preached his farewell sermon on the theme, “Let No One Take Your Crown,” based on Revelation 3:11. He noted three points: The Lord’s Coming, The Church’s Calling, and The Believer’s Crown.

First Chino has called Rev. Bradd Nymeyer, scheduled to be installed on May 14. He has considered Rev. Scheuers his friend and mentor for over 20 years. “He personally stood up for me when I was being dismissed from the ministry in the CRC, even though it was costly to his name and reputation in that denomination,” says Rev. Nymeyer.

While the congregation awaits its new senior minister, Pastor of Youth Quentin Falkena is doing what he can to help make the transition smooth. And he’s thankful for the excellent working relationship he enjoyed with Rev. Scheuers.

“I have had the unique and unparalleled privilege of working with Pastor Scheuers for over eight years,” he says. “I’m grateful for the opportunity that I have had to work beside him and learn from him what it means to be a faithful servant of God’s people and a dedicated churchman. His diligence, dedication, carefulness and compassion have made a significant mark on my own approach to pastoral ministry.”

He notes, “For most of eight years, Pastor Scheuers and I would meet every Tuesday. We addressed the particular needs of the week, and talked about who needed to be visited, or other matters that needed to be addressed. But it was also a time during which I could pick his brain. Our meetings concluded by reading Scripture and praying. I’ll miss the opportunity those meetings provided to spend time with Pastor Scheuers.”

The Scheuers family, however, anticipates spending more time with a husband and father whose health is gradually decreasing due to Parkinson’s disease.

“Right now, Faye and I are enjoying more time together, more opportunities to enjoy our family, which also includes our first precious granddaughter, as well as life with less stress,” Rev. Scheuers says. “If my health permits, I would like to do some writing and, perhaps, some traveling.”

Rev. Scheuers and Faye are originally from Waupun, WI, and both attended Dordt College in Sioux Center, IA. Faye taught for six years in the Philadelphia area, while Rev. Scheuers attended Westminster Theological Seminary and fulfilled the CRC’s extra year requirement at Calvin Seminary. The two were married in Waupun on August 19, 1977.

The Scheuers have three adult children. Bethany is married to George Hoekstra and they have a toddler daughter, Kenna. Andrea, who has multiple handicaps, lives at home with her parents. Tim graduated from Mid-America Reformed Seminary and is pursuing his Ph.D. at Fuller Theological Seminary with a goal of teaching at the college or seminary level.

“We are so blessed to have all our children living near us,” Rev. Scheuers says.

A minister’s interest kindled the internal call Rev. Scheuers felt as a young man. He says, “In my teenage years, my pastor, Rev. Clarence Werkema, deeply influenced and encouraged me to consider entering the ministry.”

In 1977, Rev. Scheuers was ordained in the CRC at Baldwin, WI.  He went on to serve churches in Luverne, MN, and Kalamazoo, MI, prior to accepting the call to First Chino in 1993.

Reflecting on the highlights of his ministry, he says, “I was especially blessed to see a good number of adults come to faith in Christ through the years. We are greatly encouraged by the usage of the series of instructional material for young people, Life in Christ, which we edited and partially wrote. Some volumes have been translated into several foreign languages. I am also grateful to have been used of the Lord to give leadership on the classical and synodical level to our young federation.”

He concludes, “It has given me much joy and fulfillment to be used by the Lord to preach His Word and minister to His people.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the April 12, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal. Rev. Bradd Nymeyer has since been installed as the Senior Pastor at First URC in Chino, CA.

Annual gathering provides fellowship and teaching for pastors and wives

2016 group-croppedFor the past several years, pastors and wives from Canadian Reformed and United Reformed churches in western North America have gathered for the Western Ministerial Conference (WMC), which many participants describe as more of a retreat.

Part of the relaxed feeling may arise from the conference’s scenic location at Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center in Sumas, WA. But the atmosphere also differs from ecclesiastical meetings because wives attend with their pastor husbands and the fellowship crosses federational boundaries.

Rev. Brain Cochran (Redeemer Reformation URC; Regina, SK) and his wife, Julie, have attended the WMC for the last five years.  He says, “It is a wonderful opportunity for strengthening our ecumenical ties as sister denominations. I’ve grown in my appreciation for the CanRC and in trust and thankfulness for my brothers who are serving in our sister denomination.”

Conference organizer Rev. Ben Schoof (Maranatha CanRC; Surrey, BC) explains who is invited to attend: “All pastors and missionaries and their wives of Regional Synod West of the Canadian Reformed church (Manitoba, British Columbia, Denver, and Washington state) plus any URCNA pastors in the same area.”

According to Rev. Schoof, the retreat aspect is the first intended goal of organizers. “It is a time for pastors and their wives to get away, to recharge their minds and strength and souls.” The WMC “allows ministerial colleagues to get to know each other, reconnect with each other,” and experience fellowship on many levels.

A secondary goal is for learning. “Each time we have a knowledgeable keynote speaker on a topic applicable for life and work in the ministry,” he says. “Often there will be workshops specifically for the wives.”

This year the Langley, Cloverdale, and Surrey CanRCs (Classis Pacific West) organized the Ministerial with the assistance of New Westminster and Cloverdale URCs. The approximately 50 pastors and wives, some who brought along infants, about evenly represented the two federations. The time frame of October 25-27 allowed attendees to enjoy fall weather as well as good food and creation’s beauty.

“The venue and the hospitality are amazing,” Cecilia Vandevelde says. “It’s lovely to be fed with the finest of food, and take advantage of our free time to do some hiking on the trails that are on the property, or rest on the trestle bridges and watch the creek flow past.”

Cecilia and her husband, Rev. Steve Vandevelde (Carman East CanRC; Carman, MB) have attended the conference for four years. While they love the hospitality, they also enjoy the interaction with colleagues during free times and meals. “It’s a safe environment for us to discuss and talk about the hard things that can come along in ministry (either in our homes or in our congregations) and support each other in these things,” she says. “We are both so glad that retired ministers and their wives come too, as they are a wealth of information and encouragement for us.”

As a young couple, the Schoofs are also grateful for the opportunity to learn from more experienced pastors and their wives. Rev. Schoof most enjoys “relaxing and recharging, spending time away from my work, and with my wife, and getting reacquainted with or getting to know my ministerial colleagues.” He adds, “My wife from her side very much enjoys getting to know the other pastors’ wives and learning from them how to manage some of the issues and difficulties that come from being a pastor’s wife.”

Attendees always experience such retreat aspects, but speakers and topics vary greatly from year to year. Rev. Dick Moes, pastor of Surrey Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) in Surrey, BC, says, “Every year the speeches make each WMC special and unique.”

This year’s speaker, Kevin Hoogstad, from Christian Counselling in Burlington, ON, enlightened attendees on the science of the teenage brain. He also administered a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test and applied it to aspects of life such as ministry and marriage.

“His speeches on the teenage brain were very insightful,” Rev. Moes says. “I wish I had heard this material much earlier in my life.”

Rev. Cochran says, “He helped everyone better understand teen culture and how we can engage our teens and disciple them.” He found the Myers-Briggs tests “fascinating” and adds, “It turns out my wife and I are almost opposites on the MBTI but complement each other well. He used it to help us understand how we can better interact with our church members and fellow office bearers.”

“I think everyone enjoyed the Myers-Briggs personality test,” Rev. Moes says. “It gave us a little more insight into what kind of personality we have with its strengths and weaknesses.”

Another unique feature of this year’s ministerial was a presentation from a pastor and wife, who shared their personal story of his struggle with clinical depression. “It was a very moving talk,” says Rev. Cochran, “and I felt very privileged and blessed to hear it.”

In some ways, the WMC functions as a retreat for couples. “The ministerial is definitely a highlight of the year for us,” Cecilia says. “Along with everything else, it’s also a time for us to focus on each other and our marriage. The ministerial is busy, to be sure, but there are moments in between where we can have a chance to talk together and touch base with each other and pray with and for each other.”

Rev. Moes, who served for a second year on the conference’s organizing committee, says, “Since the goals and purpose of the conference are first, warm fellowship and relaxation, and second, inspiring speeches, I think this year’s event was once again a success.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the January 18, 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.