Four years ago the Todd Wagenmaker family went on vacation to the Keweenaw (pronounced key-when-ah) Peninsula on the northwestern end of Michigan's Upper Peninsula (UP). Thousands of people go to the UP every year to fish, hunt, boat, bicycle, and ski and for the pure enjoyment of the outdoors. In the course of that ordinary American tradition of family vacations, God laid the groundwork for a new Orthodox Presbyterian congregation.
Todd looked around and saw so much that attracted him to Houghton, the gateway to the Keweenaw Peninsula. What a wonderful place to raise a family, he thought. With virtually no crime in this town of 12,000 people, children can be out and about on their own in relative safety.
And what a wonderful place for ministry! Houghton is home to Michigan Technological University. One thousand international students and foreign-born faculty are part of this campus of 7,000 students. Ministry to internationals had been important to Todd and Julie for years. And no Reformed church was anywhere in the area.
Church planting had been part of Todd's call to the ministry since his days as a seminarian at Westminster Seminary California. Following graduation, he pursued a vocation that would allow him to partially support himself as he planted churches. As an attorney, Todd has been able to regulate his schedule to allow the time needed to pastor. Immigration law is now his specialty.
Following that eventful vacation, the question was, How do you begin to plant a church when you live 420 miles away? Todd placed an ad in the Daily Mining Gazette, seeking contacts interested in planting a Reformed church in Houghton. Through the ad and subsequent visits, several contacts developed. In the meantime, the Wagenmaker family moved from St. Louis to the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn, as Todd took a call to pastor a church there. But he also remained interested in Houghton and continued to visit that town regularly.
Other families joined the effort to establish a Reformed church in Houghton. One was the Ed Pearce family. Ed is the brother of OP pastor Ron Pearce of Church of the Covenant in Hackettstown, New Jersey.
Todd also contacted the OPC about his interest in planting a Reformed church. He was a good friend of Dale Van Dyke, pastor of Harvest OPC in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Todd said, "I have always admired the OPC's commitment to being a confessionally Reformed denomination." And so encouragement and counsel were sought from the Church Extension Committee of the Presbytery of the Midwest and regional home missionary Jim Bosgraf.
In February 2004, the Wagenmaker familyTodd, Julie, and six children between the ages of 2 and 14moved to Houghton.
Once they had arrived, Portage Reformed Church began to meet regularly to worship God. This new mission work has had a twofold goal: (1) to provide a church home for those interested in Reformed Christianity in the community, and (2) to bring the gospel to the unchurched, especially the international students and faculty of Michigan Tech.
On the church's website, visitors find this invitation: "So whether you are a Yooper [that is, a lifelong resident of the UP] who has not been in church for years, or whether you are an international student at Michigan Tech, we invite you to find out more about the Christian faith."
An article in the Michigan Tech Lode introduced Portage Reformed Church to the Michigan Tech student body. Todd is quoted as saying, "Being an attorney and an ordained minister, I try to offer an articulate, concise, cogent explanation of the Christian faith. We like to think we engage the mind and renew the soul."
A photographer for the Daily Mining Gazette saw the family out sledding, shortly after they moved into town. A front-page piece featured two large pictures and told the reader that the Wagenmakers had moved to Houghton "to form an Orthodox Presbyterian church in the area."
The congregation is presently very small, numbering just twenty people. They are praying that as they reach out with the gospel of Jesus Christ, God will cause the church to grow.
Outreach includes sponsorship of The Back to God Hour and The Whitehorse Inn on the largest radio station in the area. Through immigration law seminars, Todd has been able to build relationships with internationals. In Houghton he has spoken about Jesus Christ with people from India, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan who are Jewish, Muslim, and agnostic.
Next winter the Wagenmakers want to learn how to snowshoe. This summer they plan to learn how to fish and sail. All year long they will be telling people about Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins that he offers. They will also continue introducing Portage Reformed Church (OPC) to this community where Reformed Christianity is unfamiliar and even seems cultish to some.
Zachary Keele was a disenchanted dispensationalist, attending various Baptist churches with his family in Colorado. He had chosen to attend Geneva College solely because it was a Christian college with an engineering program. However, by the time he graduated from Geneva, through the working of the Holy Spirit in his life, he was a Bible studies major, Reformed in conviction, and a member of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, seeking the gospel ministry in the OPC. While at Geneva, he met a young woman who was also making a journey to the Reformed faith and the OPChis future wife, Tovauh. Five hours after the morning graduation ceremonies at Geneva on May 15, 1999, Zach and Tovauh were married.
Zach's desire to become a pastor in the OPC led the Keeles from Geneva and Grace OPC to Westminster Theological Seminary (now called Westminster Seminary California) in Escondido, California, for his education and training. There Zach and Tovauh joined Bonita OPC and entered quickly into the life of the congregation. When Pastor Michael Dengerink accepted another call, Zach had the opportunity over the next year to serve the church. During this time, he gained invaluable experience exhorting regularly, teaching Sunday school classes, and visiting the families of the congregation with elder Maynard Skidmore until the arrival of Pastor Stephen Parker. Zach's continuing desire to serve in the OPC led him to help out with the newly formed Escondido OPC mission work.
Escondido OPC had started as a prayer meeting and Bible study in the home of Bryan and Lisa Estelle. The Estelles, along with D. G. and Ann Hart and David and Katherine Van Drunen, desired an OP congregation in Escondido. Soon Steve and Kathleen Baugh joined the group, and together these families contacted regional home missionary Don Poundstone and petitioned the Presbytery of Southern California to be constituted as a mission work of the OPC. Don assisted the group through the next couple of years before a call was issued to Zach to become the organizing pastor. Zach gladly accepted the call, and he was ordained and installed in February 2004.
Now, as an ordained minister in the OPC and the organizing pastor of this mission work, Zach rejoices in the good things that the Lord is doing at Escondido OPC. The congregation, which meets at the chapel on the campus of the seminary, averages sixty people in attendance at the morning worship service and twenty-five people at the evening worship service. During the past year, Zach has preached through the book of 1 Peter during the morning worship services and Micah during the evening worship services.
In preaching thirty-five sermons on 1 Peter, Zach came to see how Peter has a keen focus on the Old Testament while linking it with the accomplishment of redemption through the person and work of Christ and the building up of the church in Christ. Zach encouraged the people with regard to who they are in Christ and what that means for them in their daily walk. The congregation has been very appreciative of this Christ-centered preaching and has found it helpful in seeking to live the Christian life amidst the difficulties and pressures that arise in a fallen creation.
It is Zach's hope that Escondido OPC will be a church that has a high view of the Word and the sacraments and will see worship and the Sabbath as important. The church prizes the Reformed faith and the Westminster Confession and Catechisms as it seeks to be a solidly grounded and strong congregation. The church also seeks to be known as a warm and generous body, praying for one another and giving from the heart.
So far the Lord has blessed the congregation with families that are new to the Reformed faith from the community. Many of these newer families are appreciative of the Family Catechism Time following the morning worship service. Family Catechism Time was designed both to help parents who wanted to learn how to train their children in the knowledge of the Lord and also to help and encourage the entire congregation in their spiritual growth. During Family Catechism Time, the church, from the youngest to the oldest, gathers together as Zach leads the interaction while going through the Westminster Shorter Catechism and walking through Bible stories together. Zach is also grateful for the help he receives in leading this instructional time from fellow OP ministers Steven Baugh and Bryan Estelle, professors at Westminster Seminary California whose families are a part of the mission work. One of the aspects of Family Catechism Time that Zach enjoys most is that it communicates to the children that they are indeed members of the church and are important in the life of the whole church.
In building relationships in the church and making sure that he faithfully shepherds the flock, Zach regularly calls upon the individuals and families of Escondido OPC. This enables him to pray for and to serve the congregation since he knows them intimately and is familiar with the concerns and pressures confronting them. The congregation has responded well to such visits, as they know that their pastor loves them and is eager to care for them. The visits are also a blessing to Zach, as he sees how the Lord is working in lives and building his church.
Plans for Escondido OPC include a training class this summer for prospective officers, the establishment of a midweek prayer meeting, and increased involvement in the community. The congregation is committed to inviting friends and coworkers to come to Escondido OPC and join in the worship of the living and true God. As for Zach, he is thankful for the great families that are a part of Escondido OPC, for God's goodness to him, Tovauh, and their infant son Alexander, and for this opportunity to serve and grow with the people of God.
Ken Hovingh has come to church planting and to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church later in life. For twenty-seven years he was a math instructor. As a seminary graduate, he was also active in ministry. This included pulpit supply and taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to Ghana, West Africa. Over the years, Ken and his wife, Barb, were part of a variety of different Bible-believing churches.
As retirement from teaching approached, the Lord was directing them to be more involved in ministry. Their son Joe, a member of Little Farms Chapel (OPC) in Coopersville, Michigan, encouraged his dad to consider ministry in the OPC. With the encouragement and assistance of Pastor Bob Van Manen of Little Farms Chapel, Ken entered the ministry of the OPC. He says, "I am grateful for the OPC. For a group of people to have the standards and the commitments that this church family does is quite unique."
Supplying pulpits throughout the Presbytery of Michigan and Ontario brought Ken into contact with Providence Presbyterian Church, a mission work in Manistee, Michigan. Before long, Ken was called to be the organizing pastor.
Manistee is a community of 7,000 on the shore of Lake Michigan. It is home to many retirees. Summer vacationers visit the lakeshore in large numbers.
Providence Presbyterian Church has been meeting together for five years. The nine families come from varied church backgrounds, but are being unified by the Spirit of God working through God's Word. Sunday evening is a discipleship training time. Pastor Hovingh is encouraging and assisting the people to develop the personal disciplines of Scripture reading, Scripture memorization, and prayer. The goal is to see Christ make them fishers of men as they learn to follow him.
Opportunities for conversations about Jesus Christ have increased. The Lord has responded to the growing desire of the people to see the unsaved brought to faith in Christ. Additionally, four people are preparing for membership, including a single woman, the husband of a member, the wife of a member, and a covenant youth.
Ken is grateful to the Lord for this opportunity to serve as the organizing pastor of Providence Church. Rejoice with him!
Please pray that the Lord would give Ken wisdom and strength. He is facing an increasing number of preparations each week, more opportunities for pastoral care, and the responsibility of ministering to his elderly parents. His father's health is failing, so he goes to Grand Rapids one day a week to help care for him.
Pray for the continued spiritual growth of Providence Church, especially that the people would be better-equipped disciples of Jesus Christ, understanding how to follow him on a day-to-day basis.
Pray that the mission work would continue to develop more of a sense of community and unity.
Reprinted from New Horizons, July 2004.