July 21 • 09:37 PM

We're family—warts and all

June 06, 2007
As with most sectors of the Christian church, the denomination of which I am a member, the Christian Reformed Church, was birthed in and shaped by ethnicity. Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, German Lutheran, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran, American Lutheran, Missouri Synod Lutheran, Scottish Presbyterian, Dutch Reform-ed, RCA (Reformed Church of America), provide just a smattering of examples of others shaped primarily by their ethnic origins. Within those groups are splinters and branches, often (but not always) formed when folks, like squabbling siblings, have trouble agreeing. Sad and heart-rending as those splits are when they happen, the splits provide new beginnings and new frontiers.

This year marks 150 years of existence for our denomination, which began in the Netherlands as a search for religious freedom. The CRC in Imlay City began when, in the early 1920s, S.H. Large, a dentist, and Fred Butler and Harry Palmer, two businessmen, asked John De Haan of Hudsonville to test a celery crop on 10 acres of Palmer's farm near the M-53 and M-21 intersection. When that proved successful, the three established the Belle River Celery Company in 1923 and hired Peter Laarman, also of Hudsonville to come and manage the celery (and onion) production. Laarman's trip over here with his new bride, Cora, was their honeymoon, and they were soon followed by others whose experience in the lowlands of their homeland, the Netherlands, equipped them to farm the soil here. The main road connecting the Thumb to Detroit provided a straight route to a good market for the produce, which was definitely a perk during depression years.

As the little core of Dutch folk grew, the Christian Reformed Church saw the potential for a church-plant.

Not as a matter of pride or human achievement, but as a testimony of God's faithfulness, we here in Imlay City join the rest of the denomination in celebrating. As Rev. Arthur J. Schoonveld says in a month's worth of devotionals to be used during the celebration, "There are many sins of which the church must repent. But through it all, our God remains faithful. And whatever has been accomplished for good is only because of the Lord's great faithfulness."

A denomination-wide celebration is being planned; also our local congregation had an evening filled with fun, food, and celebration. Highlights from each decade of our existence were dramatized, giving us a feel for the winds of change that have blown through, and highlighting the issues of the day which threatened to disrupt the unity in each generation. We smile now at issues which caused serious disruption just as our children will probably laugh at issues which seem big to us.

Following dinner, we were treated to a glimpse of predictions placed in a time capsule New Year's Eve of 1999 as we faced the new century. Jack Hoeksema read them. The first one was (and if you know Jack you'll know why this one brought howls of laughter throughout the fellowship hall): by 2005 there will be a 100% cure for baldness. (Note #1: I guess we were a little late opening the capsule. Note #2: Jack said I could put this in the paper.) Other predictions were: Willene will be writing for the Detroit Free Press (Note #3: hmmm-thanks for the vote of confidence from someone); there will be a vegetable ice cream that is good and good for us; there will be a Pizza Hut in Imlay City; gas will rise to $2.00 a gallon, sales tax will be 8%, and 2% milk will be $3.50. It was predicted that every home would have a computer and every student would have one in his room; that there would be an affordable battery-driven car; and that the DOW would be 20,000.

Truthfully, however, while I love examining our roots, I am much more energized to see the evidence of new growth, of tangible fruit, which God has graciously allowed us to experience. For instance, I took the pastor and youth group leader's challenge to attend part of the "afterburn" following Acquire the Fire, and got all goosebumpy as I listened to kids who hadn't grown up "speaking churcheeze" tell of their encounter with the Savior, and of how, for the first time in their lives they felt a sense of belonging, of purpose, in their lives, all because a friend had invited them to come find out what this God thing was all about. I was equally stirred when I heard some—who had grown up saying all the right things—have the courage to share how God had convicted them of, and freed them from secret sins. I get incredibly energized when I see someone new bring someone new. I'm overwhelmed with emotion when I see someone who hasn't been with us in a long time come back. Those are family emotions. Because we are family—warts and all—saved by grace and held together by a God who keeps covenant. And by the grace of that same God, we are no longer so ethnically ingrown that we're of no good to anyone else. He is working us into a beautiful mosaic, having to be put now and again on a stretcher like fine lace. Soli Deo Gloria!

Castle Creek
07 - 21 - 19
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