Northern Ontario’s URC connection

Rev. Ancel & Linda Merwin with Nathaniel

Congregations of some United Reformed Churches may feel as if they’re rather isolated from other URCs, but few churches are more distant from other congregations in the federation than the United Reformed Church of Thunder Bay, ON.

Even though the church is located in Ontario, the Thunder Bay congregation is part of Classis Western Canada since the closest URCNA congregation is Providence URC in Winnipeg, MN. And that is still about 450 miles (725 km) or an approximate nine-hour drive away.

But the closest URC congregation in Ontario is almost twice that distance. Thunder Bay lies along the northwestern shore of Lake Superior and is approximately 800 miles (nearly 1300 km) or about a 16-hour drive from Grace URC of SimcoeCounty in Oro-Medonte (Classis Ontario East). In God’s providence, that is the congregation Thunder Bay’s new minister, Rev. Ancel Merwin, served before being installed at Thunder Bay on November 23, 2012.

Rev. Merwin says, “You know that you live in a big province when you can go from Classis Ontario-East, which had the Prince Edward Island URC in it, to Classis Western Canada, which includes all the prairie and BC churches.”

Rev. Richard Anjema, of Providence URC, flew from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay to conduct the installation service. Preaching from 1 Timothy 4:13-16 on “The Effective Ministry,” he reminded the congregation that the minister must be diligent and faithful while the congregation should respond with love, respect, and prayerful support.

“We were very thankful that Rev Anjema could lead the service, as we knew him from our former ties in Classis Southern Ontario,” says Rev. Merwin. “He had been at the Hope URC of Brampton while I was about an hour and a bit north at the Grace URC of Oro-Mendonte. He was the closest minister to me then and now he is again!”

Rev. Ancel Merwin is a 2000 graduate of Mid-America Reformed Seminary and was ordained in 2001 at the Grace URC in Oro-Medonte, ON. Having served and grown close to that congregation for 12 years, it was painful for him and his family to leave the Grace family behind.

“We’re truly thankful that God put us there for a first charge,” he says. “We made many friends and felt that it was our home. I honestly thought that it would be the only church I’d serve, but that was not the Lord’s plan.”

He accepted the call to Thunder Bay on August 20, but had many opportunities for good-byes until his last Sunday on October 21. One of the most emotional for him was his last classis meeting, which was also the first meeting of Classis Ontario-East.

Rev. Merwin and his wife, Linda, have a son, Nathaniel, who is six. The Merwins arrived in Thunder Bay on October 30, after a two-day trip from Orillia traveling through wet snow and hazardous conditions just before the remnants of hurricane Sandy hit southern Ontario. Rev. Merwin’s first Sunday at Thunder Bay was November 4.

The church consists of about 260 souls in over 60 families, which is more than double the size of Rev. Merwin’s previous congregation. Another challenge in their new location is its distance from family, especially Linda’s family in southern Ontario. But the Merwins feel blessed and comfortable in their new church home.

“Thunder Bay is a very friendly, warm, and welcoming congregation,” Rev. Merwin relates. “My wife plays the piano for some of the services. Our son Nathaniel makes friends easily and already has lots of new buddies.”

The church building is located along Kings Hwy 130, just south of Hwy 11/17, west of Thunder Bay. Worship services are at 10:00 AM and 2:30 PM. The congregation organized and joined the URCNA in 2001 and was served by Rev. Barry Beukema until 2011.

Although Thunder Bay is the most populous municipality in northwestern Ontario, the area is primarily a dairy farming community. The picturesque valley is surrounded by mountains and near scenic Lake Superior. A majority of URC families are farmers.

“There’s a real need for the truth to be preached up here,” says Rev. Merwin, “and we hope that our URC will continue to be a strong Reformed witness in the area.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 13 of the February 6, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.


Covenant Reformed Church of Grande Prairie reorganizes

sign-crossAfter being unorganized for several years, the Covenant Reformed Church of Grande Prairie (AB) is once again an organized congregation in the United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA).

Rev. William Van der Woerd, who has served the congregation for the past five and a half years, explains that the church’s council resigned in 2006. But prior to that, office-bearers arranged for the council of the Orthodox Reformed Church of Edmonton, AB, to provide care for the remaining members of the congregation.

“For nearly seven years, we have been under the oversight of the Orthodox Reformed Church of Edmonton, who regularly sent elders for a five hour drive north to Grande Prairie to make family visits and attend to the administration of the sacraments,” he says. “We thank them for their diligent service to the Church of Jesus Christ.”


That long distance oversight concluded on December 30, 2012, when two elders and a deacon were installed in the Grande Prairie congregation. Rev. Van der Woerd conducted the installation service with Edmonton elder Peter Wright in attendance. The Covenant Reformed Church of Grande Prairie again became an organized URC congregation.
“Our goal is to proclaim the Word of God faithfully so that God’s covenant family in Grande Prairie may be regularly fed and spiritually nourished,” says Rev. Van der Woerd, “and to be witnesses of the power of the gospel so as to call others to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.”

“Our hope is that the Lord will work in the hearts of others to join us in the task,” he adds, “and since Grande Prairie’s economy is booming and Grande Prairie is ranked among the top entrepreneurial cities of Canada, the area has a lot of potential for adventurous families who wish to pursue a career or business venture in a location that has a United Reformed Church.”

closeRev. Van der Woerd accepted Edmonton’s call to serve the Grande Prairie group in 2007. The congregation now consists of seven families and seven singles for a total of 30 members. Worship services are held at 10:30 am and 3:00 pm each Sunday at the church, located at 10803 94th St. in Grande Prairie, AB.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 11 of the January 16, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.

New pastor and bonus radio ministry for Escondido URC

Dr. R. Godfrey, Dr. J. Van Ee, Rev. C. Gordon, Rev. S. Donovan, and Rev. S. Oeverman

One result of Rev. Chris Gordon’s move from Lynden, WA, to Escondido, CA, has been that the broadcast reach of his radio program, Abounding Grace, is greatly expanded.

In addition to being aired five days per week, three times daily, in the Pacific Northwest, the half hour program is now also broadcast five times per week in southern California. The new programming slot is from 1:30-2:00 PM on K-Praise, 1210 AM.

“This is a very big opportunity to advance the gospel to the San Diego area,” says Rev. Gordon. “We are right after David Jeremiah and before Mark Larson. A great spot indeed.”

And the gospel message is being proclaimed in still another new area. Abounding Grace has begun airing at 7:30 AM on Saturdays and Sundays via 1360 KPXQ in Phoenix.

Rev. Chris Gordon received and accepted the call to become the “Preaching Pastor” at Escondido URC in June of 2012. He and wife, Darcy, with their children, Kendal, Collin, Zachary, and Lucy, moved to California the first week in August. His installation was held at Escondido URC on August 19.

Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, an ordained URCNA minister and President of Westminster Seminary California, preached from Psalm 119:129-136 on “The Wondrous Word.”

the Gordon family

“We were challenged to love God’s Word and long to hear it preached every Sunday,” explains Rev. Gordon. “The sermon was a great encouragement to view the preaching of the Word not as a burden, but a blessing for our spiritual nourishment.”

Rev. Steve Oeverman, recently called to serve Grace URC in Linn, OR, led a section of the service’s liturgy. Rev. Stephen Donovan, Pastor of Congregational Life at Escondido URC, read the form for installation. Dr. Joshua Van Ee, URCNA minister and Assistant Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Westminster Seminary California, gave the charge.

Rev. Gordon is a 2004 graduate of Westminster Seminary California and served the URC of Lynden, WA, from 2004-2012.

He reports that his daughter is enrolled at Calvin Christian School and all the children are adjusting well to their new location. “They love the sun and the beach, a big change from the rainy Washington days.”

The Gordons are living in a parsonage in Escondido, but still own their home in Lynden. Rev. Andrew and Millie Cammenga are now living in that house while they temporarily serve the Lynden congregation.

“The church has received us warmly,” says Rev. Gordon. “I am really enjoying my time here getting to know our new church family and ministering the Word. There are many opportunities here to advance the gospel to the surrounding community. This is a very exciting new phase of ministry in an area with such a wide population base.”

His goal is to remain faithful in preaching the Word and ministering to the needs of the saints. “Romans 1:12 comes to mind, that we may be encouraged together by our mutual faith.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 8-9 of the October 24, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.

URC of Nampa dedicates new building

After ten years of renting worship space, the United Reformed Church of Nampa, ID, celebrated the dedication of its new building on March 31, 2012. Sunday worship services were first held in the new facility on April 1.

The dedication service began at 3:00 p.m. with an informal time led by the church’s three elders. Tom Simmonds welcomed attendees and Martin Van Egmond led a time of acknowledgments that Rev. Nick Smith reports was “particularly appreciated and enjoyed by the congregation.” Vance Barbour facilitated greetings from representatives of various churches that had received formal invitations.

The ceremony transitioned into a more formal service as a small choir sang, “I Love Thy Church, O Lord” with the congregation joining in the last two stanzas.

Three ministers led this portion of the service, focusing on different aspects of the occasion through Scripture readings, brief exhortations, prayers, and congregational singing. Under the heading, “For the Glory of God,” Rev. Nick Smith opened with a responsive reading of scriptural texts prior to his exhortation. Rev. Jonathan VanHoogen, Cloverdale URC in Boise, ID, spoke about “For the Church,” followed by Rev. Rick Hogaboam, Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Nampa, ID, speaking on “For the City.” Rev. Smith closed the service with a responsive benediction and a doxology.

“The congregational singing was one of the highlights of the dedication and our subsequent worship services in the new building,” writes Rev. Smith. “We have long been a robust-singing congregation, but the acoustics of the new sanctuary really emphasized and accentuated the importance of congregational participation in worship.”

The United Reformed Church of Nampa is comprised of 148 individuals in 37 families. About 20 additional individuals in several more families regularly attend services. The congregation meets for worship at 10:15 am and 6:00 pm in its new location at 12693 Orchard Ave., which is on the west side of Nampa.

The location is convenient for many rural members who drive in from the west as well as for members who live in towns east of Nampa, since they have easier access to the new facility via a freeway.

Rev. Paul Ipema (now at Community URC in Schererville, IN) was the planting pastor for the church, which met for less than a year prior to organizing and joining the URCNA in 2002.

When the congregation began meeting in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, rent was relatively low for the good location.

“As the years went on,” explains Rev. Smith, “rent increased, and the UCC adopted an aggressively public political agenda that interfered with our ability to communicate who we are to the community.” He adds, “We are eager to have a more consistent, public, clear Reformed witness in Nampa.”

The church has seen an increase in visitors after only two Sundays in the new building, with ten additional families visiting on Easter Sunday. The church also anticipates more opportunities for fellowship activities, such as a monthly congregational meal.

A ground-breaking ceremony was held July of 2011 and construction began soon afterward. Progress continued through the winter with the final touches completed this spring. The rectangle shape of the new facility is efficiently laid out, with the sanctuary and fellowship hall on each end. The sanctuary will comfortably seat 260 persons and about that many people can be seated in the fellowship hall. Hallways flanking a nursery and kitchen provide access to classrooms and offices. More information about the congregation is available at

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 18 of the May 2, 2012, issue of Christian Renewal.