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This episode features WTS alumnus and Duke Divinity School Th.D. candidate, Alberto La Rosa. Alberto’s doctoral work focuses on a theology of immigration, and in this interview he shares why his work is important in today’s cultural moment, and what it is like to approach theology of immigration as an immigrant himself. Sara Sanchez, a current WTS student originally from Honduras, sat down with him.

 

This episode features WTS alumnus and Duke Divinity School Th.D. candidate, Alberto La Rosa. Alberto’s doctoral work focuses on a theology of immigration, and in this interview he shares why his work is important in today’s cultural moment, and what it is like to approach theology of immigration as an immigrant himself. Sara Sanchez, a current WTS student originally from Honduras, sat down with him.

After pastoring churches in Illinois and Michigan for 10 years, class of ’66 alumnus George Boerigter decided to use his seminary training for something different–running a business! Check out how he does ministry at his company, SoundOff Signal in Hudsonville, MI.

North Holland Reformed Church ministry team

L to R: Associate Pastor Audrey Edewaard,Lead Pastor Steven DeVries. Worship Director Jed Grooters, WTS intern Nathan Longfield

 

“Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young,” Paul writes in 1 Timothy. Thankfully, for the ministry team at North Holland Reformed Church, their youth is counted as a strength, not a weakness.

North Holland is one of the oldest churches in the West Michigan area, planted in 1852 by Dutch homesteaders. However, its pastoral staff is one of the youngest, consisting of three recent WTS graduates all under the age of 30.

North Holland has a long history of hiring first-call pastors, with one-third of their lead pastors coming fresh out of seminary. Their first pastor was Rev. E. C. Oggel, a student from New Brunswick Theological Seminary.

Steven DeVries ‘14 completed his seminary internship with North Holland right around the time their pastor was preparing to accept another call. Part of what Steven liked about the church was their desire to raise up young men and women to be leaders in ministry.

As an intern he was never dismissed from consistory meetings so they could talk about “the real stuff.” The entire life of the church was very accessible to him.

Now in his fourth year as lead pastor, Steven and his team are thriving with a congregation that is heavily invested, flexible, and willing to grow.

When Jed Grooters ‘17 was hired as the worship director in 2015, he wanted to introduce more contemporary worship to transition to a “blended” style. For most of its existence, the church had sung hymns with an organ or piano exclusively. The long history of the church combined with his youth compelled him to be humble and do a lot of listening.

“This isn’t about my opportunity to express myself as a worship leader,” he explains. “This is a space we create together—all of us—to meet with God.”

Jed helped the congregation find their musical “voice” in worship and was encouraged by their positivity throughout the process.

“I’ve taken plenty of risks, pushing them in a new direction, and they’ve taken it all in stride,” he says.

Associate Pastor Audrey Edewaard ‘16 says that the people at North Holland are always willing to try something at least once.

“We have a congregation that is very willing to extend trust,” she explains, “and that means a lot, because we’re young ministers. So, we kind of know what we’re doing, and we also kind of have no idea.”

North Holland uses a ministry team model in which congregants come together to make decisions alongside the pastors. This allows the congregation to take ownership in children’s ministry, adult discipleship, etc., and it also takes pressure off the staff.

The church has families that have attended for six generations as well as families who have recently moved into the area. Both groups are represented on consistory and ministry teams, so there is no sense of an “old guard.”

The church had deep “blue-collar roots” for generations, but now there is more socioeconomic diversity.

“One year on the executive team there was a truck driver and plumber alongside a lawyer and college professor,” Pastor Steven says. “Church members love to help each other out and if you need something done, there’s probably someone who does it here.”

The oldest member of the church is 98, but there are also a lot of young families.

Steven calls the older congregants the “senior saints,” and he loves visiting and connecting with them.

“We have a lot of older people who break stereotypes,” he laughs.“I wear blue jeans all week and visit people in their 80’s and 90’s, yet I’ve never heard a comment about how I’m dressed. They care more about presence than presentation.”

When he was hired, it meant a lot to him that many older congregants voiced their strong support and trust in his leadership. “They didn’t just dismiss me as a kid pastor.”

“I’ve noticed a generosity toward us in our age,” agrees Nathan Longfield, WTS intern for North Holland. He sees the congregation willing to guide, “but not in a demeaning way.”

“In a lot of places, people say ‘Our church is dying, we can’t keep the young people,’” notes Pastor Steven, “but I think that’s because they don’t trust young people as competent leaders.” At North Holland, he has never been second-guessed or diminished because of his age.

Pastor Audrey agrees. During her first month, she visited a congregant who had open heart surgery. To this day when he introduces her, he says, ‘This is my pastor, Audrey, and she was there when I had open heart surgery.” That affirmation is very encouraging to her.

Teamwork

Going to seminary together has its benefits for the North Holland team. Steven graduated a few years ahead of Audrey and Jed, but they had many shared classes and experiences.

Audrey says there is less anxiety around having difficult conversations and thinking critically, because they have a shared foundation and language.

Nathan feels that the staff understands the pressures of seminary, since it wasn’t too long ago they were in his shoes. “There’s a sense of growing together,” he says. “Learning as the intern feels less one-directional. They’re teaching me things, but we’re also working as a team.”

“From the beginning, working with Steven has been phenomenal,” says Jed. “His natural and disciplined pastoral gifts are incredible, especially for a person with his years of experience. He’s a genuine and caring person who is also remarkably stable.”

“Audrey is a blast,” he adds. “Her energy, talent, sincerity and humility are all so rare, and I can’t speak highly enough of her as a ministry partner.”

Capital Campaign Brings Changes

In 2016, North Holland launched a capital campaign to raise 2.5 million dollars for an extension and remodel of their building. “Reach Out” is the result of a longtime dream for a fellowship hall and gym and to make their building ADA accessible. The church wants to have space to better serve their community and have meals and events together.

For a church of 300 people, 2.5 million was a big goal, but they had a 95% YES vote on the project.

Pastor Steven had never done any fundraising before, but during the campaign, the seminary sent him to the Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising (ECRF) training through the generosity of a Lilly Endowment, Inc. grant.

“As a young leader still unsure about a lot of things, ECRF built my confidence up,” he shares.

Near the beginning of the campaign, he had a meeting scheduled with a couple whose support he knew the project would need in order to succeed. The day of the meeting, Steven was visiting another congregant at Holland Hospital when his car battery died.

When he called the potential donors to explain what was happening, they drove from the north side of Holland to pick him up for the meeting. After they discussed the project, the couple declared, “We should go jump your car!” and even helped him file down the battery terminals to get his car started.

“Of all the fear around making a presentation, at the end of the day you’re asking people to support something they love,” Steven realized. The couple’s generous spirit impacted him greatly.

Pastor Audrey hopes the project will help them reach out to their immediate community, specifically to the elementary school across the street.

Jed says that the building project is a testament to the kind of people who make up North Holland. He likes to think of their 165-year-old church as a new church plant trying to reach their community in different ways.

“This congregation is generous,” he says, “These people have lots of history and patterns, but they’re adaptable and willing to take risks. They will take their money and time and invest it. They’re willing to take young people like us and give us opportunities before we’re ‘polished.’ It’s rare; you don’t just find this anywhere.”

The Sunday service time at North Holland is 9:30 a.m. The church is located at 12050 New Holland Street, Holland, MI.

 

In February, I informed the Board of Trustees that after much prayer and deliberation, Nancy and I have decided that my time as president is coming to an end. This coming school year of 2018-19 will be my last year as president.

There are many things that I want to get done. This won’t be a victory lap! This will be a very intentionally focused period.

First, I want to bring to completion our new building, fully funding the project. When we asked the Board for permission to start this project, I said to them, “I promise I will stay as president until that building is up, the flags are flying, and every debt is paid.” I’m happy to say we are really close.

I want to continue to support the work of Dean Alvin Padilla and the rest of the faculty as they make enormous strides in our Hispanic Ministries Program. Every population census you can possibly read will tell you that by 2050, the largest cross-section of our population will be Hispanic. It was such a gift to us when Alvin Padilla agreed to come and be our academic dean, and I’m so grateful for that.

I now have permission to say that Eddy Alemán has been nominated to be the new General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America. Eddy is Latino, a graduate of WTS, and also a member of our Board of Trustees. What great energy and synergy we have to do the work that is coming!

I also want to both bless and help the faculty as we move toward important hires over the next year. Several faculty members have left or will be leaving, and we need new people to join our team. I am eager to keep this stunning record of great young scholars who are Reformed, evangelical and ecumenical.

I will work very hard in the next year continuing to make this a place that helps men and women flourish in ministry. All the hard-fought efforts over the years that have opened the doors to women in ministry have recently met with resistance. We’re not going to allow that. We’re going to keep working hard until we enter in to that vision of the prophet Joel: On that day I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Last but not least, I want to ensure in the midst of our ever-expanding diversity that we have a clearly gracious, generously articulated Reformed Identity. I’m going to ask the Board of Trustees to call forth a task force to help us articulate what we mean when we say Reformed identity, so we can be expansive and welcoming but also clear about who we are and what we intend to do. This is no time to be ashamed of our Reformed identity, but to embrace it and move into the future.

I intend in the name of Jesus to give my best to all of these things, and I will, I promise you, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord our labor is not in vain. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.

In this episode, WTS professor of New Testament Dr. Robert Van Voorst discusses his latest book, “Commonly Misunderstood Verses of the Bible: What They Really Mean.”

In this episode, WTS professor of New Testament Dr. Robert Van Voorst discusses his latest book, “Commonly Misunderstood Verses of the Bible: What They Really Mean.”

Senior M.Div. student Kristen Uroda was studying illustration at Massachusetts College of Art & Design in Boston when God called her to ministry.

“My plan was to be a famous artist, live in the city, and do mission trips,” she says, but during one such mission trip to Cincinnati, OH, she found herself falling in love with the inner workings of the church. When the leaders made an altar call for those called to ministry, she heard God say, “That’s you. Go.”

Back in Boston, she told her pastor that Europe was on her heart, even though the mission opportunities through her Korean-American congregation were predominantly in Asian house-churches. Providentially, her pastor had just met some pastors from Romania who needed interns. For one year, she helped that team plant a church from the ground up. When she returned home, her pastor encouraged her to start looking at seminaries, and she found Western (WTS).

“I really liked the program and how WTS wants to form students as full-rounded pastors and not just fill us with information and send us on our way,” she explains. She enrolled and moved to Michigan.

First year Master of Divinity students take a ministry formation course called The Abbey. One aspect includes lengthy discussion of the Enneagram personality profile.

“Going through the process of the Enneagram was very hard, and we all came out rather shell-shocked,” says Kristen, “but it helped me develop my pastoral heart. This is what I was praying for, and this is what I got. You don’t see other seminaries do that really deep inner work. It is so critical to formation.”

For her “Teaching Church” internship site, Kristen landed with Engedi, a youthful, cutting-edge church planted from a large Wesleyan church in Holland.

Kristen spent her first year learning all she could about the nuts and bolts of the church—things like finances, leadership, and day-to-day operations. Her internship led to a paid position as the executive pastor’s assistant.
When a communications position opened up, Kristen showed the church her art portfolio and they immediately offered her a new role—design coordinator.

“I definitely did not see myself in the place where I am now,” she admits. “When God called me to ministry, I thought I would have to give up art. I didn’t see how those two were ever going to fit together.”

“Art has always given me a lot of life,” Kristen says. “When I don’t do it for a long time, I feel like I’m not living up to what I was made to do.”

Kristen isn’t sure yet how God will combine her passion for church planting with her passion for art, but she is more convinced than ever that he has a plan for both.

Recently Kristen helped lead a youth trip to Guatemala where she designed a mural for an impoverished community. Also, last year National Public Radio (NPR) hired her as an illustrator. 

“My inspiration and vision is how I can make this world a more beautiful place. The world can be dark, scary, and uncertain, but art touches the heart in ways that words alone can’t. Guatemala was an opportunity to test that out,” she says. “Maybe the church God is calling me to plant will look different than the usual kind of church.”

Whatever church she plants, Kristen wants it to be multi-cultural and multi-lingual.

“I can do it!” by Kristen Uroda

“What would it look like if pastors around the world and within neighborhoods could work together? Where it’s just the shared identity under Christ’s name? I think the church is our best bet for crossing cultural barriers and healing divisions.”

Kristen’s interests could land her anywhere—her passions range from the Native American community to the people of France. She is open to wherever the Lord leads.

She is grateful to her pastors at Engedi for making space for her gifts and helping her incorporate them into both leadership and worship. As for her time at Western Theological Seminary, “I went in not really knowing what it was going to be like, and it has been a good experience!”

Above all, she now knows that wherever God leads, she will be using both her pastoral and artistic gifts to meet the needs of people.

 

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