Submitted by Ruth Nobel and Judy VanTil
What a beautiful name!
At the organizational worship service on October 30, 2019, Pastor A. Lanning (Byron Center PRC) gave three reasons why this name is wonderful: when we say unity, it is a confession of an attribute of the church—its oneness, as described in the Apostle’s Creed, an holy catholic church; when we say unity, we point to the church’s head, Christ, since He is the foundation of unity; when we say unity, we are reminding each other of a well-known text and its calling to keep the unity of the Spirit. He then preached from Ephesians 4:3–4:“Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.” Under the theme “Keeping the Unity of the Spirit,” we were instructed in the uniqueness of this unity—being spiritual, it has nothing to do with external similarities; the keeping of it involves a striving, positively by studying and hearing the Word, and negatively, fighting any potential destroyer of it (notably, an unruly tongue).
During the last segment of the service, the following officebearers were elected: elders—Ken Elzinga, Larry Looyenga, Bruce Lubbers, Sid Miedema, and Duane Mingerink; deacons—Jeff Booth, Phil Doezema, Rich Sleda, and Jason Vander Meulen (pictured below).
The following Sunday, November 3, we met as a new Protestant Reformed Church for the first time! In the morning, Rev. J. Slopsema preached from the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 52 and Rev. R. Van Overloop (former pastor at Byron Center PRC) in the evening from Acts 17:11—”The Noble Receiving of the Word Preached.”
God’s providential hand has been evident in the rapid formation of this new congregation (9 months!). The BC PRC Long-Range Planning Committee hosted an information-gathering meeting on February 6, 2019. On February 20, Byron’s Council received a letter from 27 families and 6 individuals requesting permission to form a committee to investigate starting a daughter congregation, which was approved. On February 28, a letter was distributed informing the congregation of an informational meeting March 12 for investigating the startup of a daughter congregation. The reasons given for this recommendation were the following: the congregation is too large for the facility; the workload for the pastor and officebearers is too heavy; and should a daughter church form, it would affect further plans for Byron’s building expansion. The steering committee (Duane Mingerink, Michael Kooienga, Rich Sleda, Chad Mingerink, Joe Lubbers, and Sid Miedema) worked diligently, so that the May 2 meeting agenda included the recommended perimeters for the new church’s location, estimated budget, Zion Christian School as a beginning location with attendant responsibilities, and a sign-up sheet for interested members. This list exceeded the minimum required 30 families in order to begin to worship separately. The June 9 update announced the first separate worship service! On July 7, approximately 50 families and 9 individuals met at Zion Christian School, with Byron’s Council providing a rotating schedule of elders and deacons to attend and supervise these worship services. Two former pastors preached for us: Prof. D. Kuiper, from LD 41 and Rev. A. Lanning on “The Old Paths,” Jeremiah 6:16.
Our “send-off” from Byron Center was indeed “bittersweet.” On June 30, Rev. Lanning’s sermon on “Finally, Brethren, Farewell” (2 Cor. 13: 11) was a blessing, and was followed by a time of fellowship and refreshment. Especially remarkable was the gracious spirit and desire to ascertain and follow God’s will that existed throughout this transition from daughter to sister. Many letters reflected this by such comments as, “The process so far has been characterized by orderliness and brotherly love.” “Please pray for the Lord’s guidance in this endeavor.” “Thank you to all our brothers and sisters in Christ here in BC PRC. Thank you for your fellowship, your encouragement, your admonitions, your love…. We will greatly miss this close fellowship we have enjoyed with you.”
On July 28, we chose our name: Unity! On August 7, Byron Center’s Council approved our request for organization and brought it to the September meeting of Classis East, where it was unanimously approved. Yet one more head-count list was compiled! The charter members, numbering 69 families, are pictured below.
We have been experiencing a full congregational life already. Besides having rich provision in the preaching (including Prof. B. Gritters, Byron Center’s first pastor and Rev. A. Spriensma, former pastor), Sunday School met in the summer, and catechism and societies have begun. We have had baptisms and the Lord’s Supper, a potluck/church picnic in August and other social activities, including song services. And, we have already experienced loss of loved ones. There have been a few minor “bumps in the road”—crackling microphones, dripping hot evening services and rearranging catechism/society meeting times and places, but the transition has been amazingly smooth. We are looking forward to hearing “our” Rev. Slopsema regularly open up the biblical truths in the Heidelberg Catechism each Sunday morning, and other godly servants each evening service. We have enjoyed many visitors and new members joining us. Various committees are active, from coffee-with-cookies servers to set-up/take-down crews.
We face the future with anticipation of the next steps: calling a minister, planning and working towards a permanent worship facility—all in God’s good time and, we trust, in the unity of the Spirit.
Truly our cups overflow with God’s goodness to us!