Thursday, June 15, 2017

Stories of Welcome

Rev. Dr. Leanne VanDyk
WELCOME was the theme of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan's June 13th meeting hosted by the Buchanan Presbyterian Church.  Dr. Leanne VanDyk, a member of Presbytery serving as president of Columbia Theological Seminary,  challenged us with Paul's charge to the Church in Rome, "Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God" (Romans 15:7).  However, the work of welcome is not as easy as it sounds.  It has backbone and substance to it.  The Apostle Paul then gives greetings to a long list of names in chapter 16.  Leanne then unpacked the stories underlying Paul's greetings. stories which the first hearers would have recognized as the hard work of reaching across the aisle.  Some of relationships were probably as complex as the ones in our lives. We are called to welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed you to the glory of God, especially when it is hard.

Then Dr. Doug Kindschi, director of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University, and elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids, shared with us the history, contextual need, and the theological grounding for interfaith engagement and dialogue.  He described six steps of interfaith engagement: tolerance, hospitality, understanding, respect, acceptance, holy envy.  He related these steps to the stages of human development: baby (tolerance), young child (hospitality), preteen (understanding), adolescence (respect), adult (acceptance), and children as parents (holy envy).   He shared the story of Grand Rapids' recent interfaith initiatives and examples of what congregations can do, such as the "Pieces for Peace" Project of the First Presbyterian Church in Holland.  Women of various faiths who were concerned for peace gathered this winter and made squares for a larger quilt, as a joint witness for peace.  The spiritual challenge is, can we recognize God's image in someone who is not like us?  If you are interested in receiving copy of Dr. Kindschi's powerpoint file, email him at  and he will be happy to share it with you.

The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance of PMA announces June 20th, World Refugee Day in the following link:  #WeChooseWelcome is a rallying call from Presbyterians across the U.S. expressing their commitment to welcome refugees of all nationalities and faiths.  Several of our congregations are sponsoring refugees:  First Presbyterian Churches in Holland, Kalamazoo, Jackson, and Westminster in Grand Rapids.  They all have welcome stories to tell.  

We welcomed Rev. Amber Nettleton, the new pastor at Pine Island Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo.  She comes to us from the Presbytery of Cascades and is the daughter-in-law of Rev. Doug Nettleton.  We welcomed Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon, the new lead pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Grand Haven.  We welcomed Rev. Deborah McCreary, who is serving Benton Harbor, First during Rev. Laurie Hartzell's sabbatical.  We welcomed Rev. Deborah Semon-Scott, an Episcopal colleague serving as interim pastor for Coldwater, First.  We examined and welcomed candidate Christina "Chrissy" Westberry, to her new call as associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo.  Welcome to this ministry!  We also heard from inquirer Austin Wicks, the son of Revs. Mike and Sally Wicks, and moved him to candidacy.  Austin has just graduated from Louisville Theological Seminary and is seeking a field placement during his candidacy year.

Vice Moderator, Rev. Karen Kelley
Vice moderator Rev. Karen Kelley reported five core values identified by the Leadership Team:  "As Partners in Christ's Service, we seek God's way of grace, through inclusion, formation, and inspiration."  In a brochure description of inclusion it states, "The Presbytery seeks in all its work to open the circle wide, to practice extravagant hospitality, to reach out to those who are not represented at the table, and to have respect and mutual forbearance toward one another.  Core values are both current and aspirational.

The Buchanan Church hosted our meeting.  The members greeted us, helped us find parking, met us at the door, fed us.  The air conditioning in the sanctuary was a gift on a 90 degree day!

Hesperia Presbyterian Church's New Entrance
 Finally, on June 8th, it was my joy to represent the Presbytery, along with Rev. Paul Tomlinson and elder Robert MacCord, members of the Committee on Ministry, at Hesperia Presbyterian Church's dedication service for their new addition.  This addition provides a new covered entrance, with elevator and three accessible restrooms on two floors.  It blends seamlessly with the rest of the building.   Old matching stained glass windows which had been removed from the bell tower years ago were found in storage and incorporated in the addition.  Rev. Tomlinson led a Presbytery Listening Team for the Hesperia congregation in the spring of 2015 when the Session and congregation wrestled with the PC(USA)'s understanding of marriage.  The Listening Team's survey of the congregation showed that a large majority of members wanted to remain.  Paul later moderated the Session until Rev. Calvin (Cal) Bremer was engaged as Hesperia's pastor.  Looking to their future, one of the first decisions of the Session with Paul was to address their accessibility need.  Through this capital project, the congregation says to itself and the community, "We are here to stay. WELCOME!"
Rev. Paul Tomlinson with Elder