Ross W. Graham
Regional home missionary Jim Bosgraf tells of numerous occasions on which a family or individual from Minneapolis or Duluth or one of the smaller Minnesota communities enquired about helping to start an OP church. "I'd make the seven-hour trip from Illinois to meet with them, but we were never able to see anything happen," said Jim. "With the nearest OP church almost three hundred miles away, we just couldn't follow up effectively."
And so it went, year after year, until two unique events occurred. The first of those events was the retirement of a seasoned pastor and church planter to Minnesota. In late 2001, Rev. Roger Gibbons retired from his pastoral ministry at Knox OPC in Oklahoma City to a home he had built in Garrison, Minnesota. He arrived with a passion to see an OP presence in his adopted home state and with significant skills to work toward that end. Regarding his presence and assistance with home missions in Minnesota, Jim Bosgraf comments, "Roger Gibbons has been the catalyst to draw the pieces together and provide a follow-up presence."
But before he was really able to get settled in his new place, he was asked to help out for several months with a new mission work in Reedsburg, Wisconsin (where Christian McSchaffrey is now the organizing pastor). And then, before he had time to return to Minnesota, he was asked to serve as the church planter of a mission work in Dallas, Texas (where Chad Bond now serves as pastor). When he finally had time to live in his "retirement" home, he started following up on the dozens of contacts he had made by phone and e-mail while away. It surprised no one that it took less than a year for him to gather a group in the Brainerd area, where he now serves as the organizing pastor or Breezy Point OPC (see the welcome on page 6).
The second of those unique events that had an impact on OP efforts in Minnesota was the decision by the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension to focus major prayer attention on ten cities throughout North America where there was no OP presence. One of those cities was Minneapolis. Prayer is a powerful church-planting tool, and soon things began to happen. Contacts came from various sections of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Two Bible studies were begun in the fall of 2004. An Assemblies of God minister named Kim Kuhfuss and some of his people began to explore the Reformed faith and becoming part of the OPC. And on the second Sunday evening in February, Roger Gibbons preached at the first worship service of our new mission work in St. Paul, Minnesota.
What's new at Providence Presbyterian Church, your OPC mission work in Charlottesville, Virginia? Much has happened since its start in September 2000 and the arrival of her organizing pastor, Tony Monaghan, and his family two years later.
Starting with five families, the work has grown to twenty-three communicant members and nineteen baptized children. Among her trials over the past two and a half years was the departure of four families due to job changes. And a number of other families, which had became part of the fellowship, decided to worship elsewhere.
Providence Church has always had the marvelous privilege of worshiping God. Through disagreements and frustrations, the body has been growing together in love, and the ministry of reconciliation continues. By the Word of God and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the people continue to grow up into Christ. The congregation continues to welcome visitors warmly, and members continue to find ways to meet their neighbors and develop friendships.
Please pray for the ongoing interaction of the congregation with the community, and that God would bless those efforts by sending visitors. Pray also that the preaching of the cross of Christ would have a profound impact in the midst of the pride of academic life here in the town of Thomas Jefferson's university, the University of Virginia.
Steady development toward organization as a new and separate congregation has marked Cedar Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Hudsonville, Michigan. Biblical preaching has been at the forefront of Cedar's ministry. Pastor Igo came to Cedar Church in the summer of 2002 with the desire to preach in a manner that is "God-exalting, Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered, expositional, theologically Reformed, redemptive-historically sensitive, and rhetorically sound, such that it moves the mind, heart, and will of each hearer to a deeper love for, faith in, and obedience to the Lord God." God has been pleased to use such preaching to build up the mission work and to nurture the spiritual growth of the people.
God in his providence has also used the serious illness of several in the mission work to foster growth. Through ministering to those who were ill, the body has been drawn closer together.
A strong interest in home and foreign missions has also been fostered. The youth of the church have been part of several mission trips to McDowell County, West Virginia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Youth who successfully complete Dennis D. Hustedt's training manual, "Firm in the Faith" (Evangelical Press, 2000), will have the opportunity to participate in a mission trip to Key West, Florida, in December to work with Keys Chapel and Keys Evangelistic Ministries. The youth will also be assisting with backyard Bible clubs in Hudsonville this spring.
One of Cedar Church's many local outreach efforts was the float she entered in the annual Hudsonville Holiday Parade in November. About 1,500 evangelistic tracts and many invitations to worship God with the congregation at the Hudsonville Christian Elementary School were distributed.
The training of church officers has been part of Cedar Church's development. Eight of Cedar's men were part of an officer-training class held jointly by the OP congregations in the Grand Rapids area. As Cedar Church moves toward organization, these men are being considered for the offices of ruling elder and deacon. Elections will be held this spring.
Helena, cradled in the foothills of the Montana Rockies, is the county seat of Lewis and Clark County-and the state capital. Elkhorn Presbyterian Church (OPC) ministers in this city, just ten miles east of the Continental Divide. Initially two families met and prayed to see a Presbyterian and Reformed church planted among the 30,000 inhabitants of Helena. Then God added three more families.
Pastor Ron McKenzie, from Garden City Presbyterian Church (OPC), made two-hundred-mile round-trips from Missoula to help. When Elkhorn Church became a mission work of the Presbytery of the Northwest in October 2002, the presbytery appealed to Pastor Richard Venema to come and assist the group. At the time, he was assisting at Grace OPC in Wasilla, Alaska. That was his second period of service in Alaska. A few years earlier he had assisted Faith OPC in Anchorage.
At the age of 80, Mr. Venema began to make a monthly trip from Wasilla to Helena. He would stay over two Lord's Days, for ten days of ministry. Then in February 2003 he and his wife, Nijole, moved to Helena. Since then, the work has grown to nine families. The people of Elkhorn Church come from many walks of life-ranching, construction, education, health care, wildlife management, Wal-Mart management, and law.
God is forging this group of people into a church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Most of the families are new to the Reformed faith, but they are growing in their understanding of the fullness of the gospel. Catechetical instruction is one means that the Lord is using. The adults are studying the Westminster Confession of Faith. High school students are studying the Shorter Catechism. Children are studying the First Catechism.
Mr. Venema is in his fifty-first year of ministry. He served congregations of the Christian Reformed Church in Iowa, California, Michigan, and Illinois. He served the Reformed Churches of New Zealand for five years. For the past ten years, he has been in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
Pray that the Lord would continue to add new families to Elkhorn Presbyterian Church, so that she will grow to become self-governing (having within her group qualified, God-appointed elders), self-sustaining (able to sustain her own ministry with people and finances), and self-propagating (doing her share in carrying out the Great Commission).
Church of the Lakes is one of the OPC's newest mission works. Located in the Brainerd Lakes region of Minnesota, this work consists mainly of younger couples.
When Roger and Beverly Gibbons returned to Minnesota after one year of assisting with the mission work in Garland (Dallas Northeast), Texas, Roger began following up on contacts that had been accumulating in Minnesota. Out of those efforts, Church of the Lakes OPC came into existence.
The Brainerd Lakes region has a population of 23,000. In the past, the region was a railroad and wood products center, but it is now noted for its lakes and wildlife. Visitors flock to the area, which is the geographical center of the state. Some of those visitors, who may worship with Church of the Lakes, can be referred to a second church, which is gathering 130 miles to the south in St. Paul.
Church of the Lakes began worship services in October 2004. Nine adults have been interviewed for communicant membership. Fifteen people regularly attend worship.
Pray that the Lord would bring many visitors and enlarge this new body being formed in central Minnesota.
Every once in a while something happens during the planting of a church that takes it back to its beginnings and requires that someone "press the reset button." Such is the case with Providence Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama.
It was back in the spring of 2000 that readers of this magazine first learned of people meeting in the Huntsville suburb of Madison who were hoping to find an organizing pastor. Rev. Mark Smith (now the pastor of Covenant OPC in Forest, Mississippi) became the church planter there in the summer of that year, and the Lord blessed the work with the provision of a good meeting place and the addition of new families.
Then a kind of stagnation beset the new church. The growth of the congregation stopped, the church planter was called away to a new charge, and a sense of discouragement gripped the group. There was talk of disbanding. And then, at the darkest hour of the church's life, a retired OP minister from Birmingham stepped forward to help. Well, he wasn't actually retired. Rev. Carl Russell has been identified as "permanently disabled" by the advancing effects of MS. But Carl's spirit is bright and cheery, and all who know him can tell stories of the energy that comes from his zeal to serve the Lord.
He gathered the four families remaining with the Huntsville church. They recommitted themselves to the work. More came and joined. A gifted ruling elder named Dick Guido was added to the group. And the church called Rev. Mark Winder from his ministry in Natchitoches, Louisiana, to be their new organizing pastor.
Just after his arrival in the area, Mark was asked to open a meeting of the Madison city council with prayer. Now the church is busy passing out 400-500 invitations each month to homes in the area. And they are preparing visitors' packets (costing the church $5.00 each) to hand out, which will include John Blanchard's Ultimate Questions and several sermons from the pastor on a CD.
Welcome back to the new/old Orthodox Presbyterian church in Huntsville, Alabama!
Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States. In the northeast corner of greater Houston sits the growing city of Kingwood. For the past three and a half years, Providence Orthodox Presbyterian Church has been ministering in this portion of God's harvest field. During these years, the Lord has been nurturing and building up the flock at Providence, along with her young organizing pastor, Adam York.
On February 25, Providence OPC in Kingwood, Texas, was organized as a new congregation of our denomination. Adam York was installed as her pastor, and two men were ordained and installed as ruling elders, Scott Elliot and R. Coleman Simpkins.
The road to organization can seem very long. At Providence, some have wondered over the course of time, "When are we ever going to become a real church?" You may smile at this question. Mission works are certainly "real churches." Nevertheless, there is always the need to provide time for recognition that the Spirit is truly advancing a congregation in visible ways. The presbytery looks to see if the members of the mission work love, respect, and defer to one another. Do they respect, submit to, and obey their presbytery-appointed elders? Are they reaching out to their neighbors, relatives, and friends?
Pray that Providence Church will grow into even fuller maturity.
Many large metropolitan areas of North America have no Orthodox Presbyterian Church presence yet. And the urban centers around which many of our OP congregations now thrive beckon to us to come and minister. So in the fall of 2004 a challenge was laid before the church to prayerfully look on the white harvest fields in the metro areas of Memphis, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Tampa, and Toronto, and the urban centers of Chicago, Detroit, Miami, New York, and Washington, D.C., with all their needs and strategic importance.
Since this challenge was first put forward, outreach efforts in Minneapolis have generated two Bible study groups interested in helping to intentionally establish an OP congregation in outlying suburbs of that city.
In Chicago, the large Hispanic population on the city's west side has been identified as the most promising, and efforts are under way to locate a pastor and a place of residence for a ministry there.
In Miami, hopes are running high in the Presbytery of the South that a multilingual church planter can be found to help them establish a multicultural OP church in this city whose population needs the clarity provided by the Reformed faith.
And in Washington, D.C., the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic, whose churches ring the nation's capital, has started exploring that city's needs in depth and has begun a search for a pastor who will help them start a church in one of the neighborhoods there.
These important efforts will be costly-especially those in the urban centers. It will take far more financial resources than currently seem to be available. But we believe that we are following a path of wisdom as we step out in faith. So, as the presbyteries of the OPC begin to grapple with the matter of addressing these urban centers, we have determined also to lay the vision, the approach, and the need for funds before the whole church for prayer and support.
God has blessed our church-planting efforts beyond measure over the past decade, and we have seen him enlarge the OPC as a result. Please consider making a special gift through the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension designated for the "Urban Fund" for those who will use their time and talents to establish one of these new urban OP congregations.
Mr. Graham is general secretary of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Reprinted from New Horizons, April 2005.