Richard R. Gerber
"A sower went out to sow." Are you seeing the iconic picture of a man with a bag of seed slung over his shoulder, scattering seed by hand? But there is a lot more to this activity of sowing.
The farmer makes a huge investment in the harvest. He owns or leases the land. He spends time planning what to sow, where to sow it, and when the sowing needs to be done. He invests in machinery to cultivate the land, sow the seed, and bring in the harvest. Money and time have been spent, but there is still no harvest. Throughout it all, the farmer lives in the hope of a harvest.
Church planting is very similar.
In January 2008, regional home missionary Jim Bosgraf and Presbytery of the Midwest Church Extension Committee chair Jim Megchelsen made a visit to the Quad Cities to meet with people who were interested in seeing an Orthodox Presbyterian church in the area.
The Quad Cities, consisting of Moline and Rock Island in Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa, are clustered together along the banks of the Mississippi River. Reformed witness in this region of 380,000 people is very limited. The nearest NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council) congregation is forty miles away. The John Deere company, which marks its 174th anniversary this year, is headquartered in Moline.
Pastor Megchelsen's brother-in-law and sister, Dave and Ann Mattes, live in the area. They, along with others, were interested in having an Orthodox Presbyterian church. Following several meetings, RHM Bosgraf led a Sunday-evening Bible study for two months. Morning worship services began on April 6, 2008. Covenant of Grace OPC in Batavia, Illinois, where Jim Megchelsen serves as pastor, took on oversight of the mission work. John Wiers served part-time as pastor for more than two years. Sovereign Grace OPC of the Quad Cities took root, grew, and gained some stability.
The congregation has twenty-nine members, and morning worship attendance is well into the thirties. Family friendliness is a hallmark of Sovereign Grace. The congregation readily welcomes and assimilates new people. Its commitments are straightforward: Christ, the Bible, the gospel, and Reformed doctrine and worship. There is a great sense of fellowship. On the second and fourth Sundays of each month, a fellowship meal follows worship. A sense of being a family in Christ is growing.
In 2010, the search began for an organizing pastor to labor full-time to nurture the continuing development of Sovereign Grace OPC. The Rev. Ken Golden took up those labors in February of this year.
Ken, his wife, Cressid, and their four children have moved into Davenport, Iowa. They find that getting around in the Quad Cities is easy. You can drive almost anywhere within twenty-five minutes. The Mississippi River is a prominent geographical feature, but not a barrier.
Ken came to ministry in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church by a circuitous route. He was raised in a nominal Jewish home by parents who championed Zionism over observant Judaism. As an undergraduate, Ken studied the fine arts and often found himself searching for spiritual meaning through existential interaction between the artist and his canvas. Ken and Cressid, who was a nominal Roman Catholic, met in college and later married.
After several years of feeling a spiritual disconnect, they were invited to study the Bible with a Christian group. Once Ken started reading the Bible, he couldn't stop. Later they professed their faith in Christ and joined the Christian Reformed Church. Ken was given opportunities to teach, and he began to experience the first pangs of an internal call to the ministry. At Westminster Seminary California, Ken and Cressid united with the OPC. Ken was previously the pastor of New Covenant Fellowship in Independence, Iowa.
Please pray that, as the OPC makes kingdom investments in the Quad Cities, God would be pleased to give the growth necessary for the solid establishment of this congregation. Pray, too, for Pastor Golden and the people of Sovereign Grace OPC as they labor diligently and prayerfully. Ask the Lord to help the Golden family as it gets established in the Quad Cities.
In another region of the country, the laborers also press on in hope of the harvest.
Tim and Joanne Beauchamp (pronounced "beach-um") and their five children arrived in Bridgton, Maine, after days of travel. The change from north Texas was stark, especially since they arrived in the middle of a Maine winter.
Bridgton is located in the western lake region of Maine. As you drive around, you might wonder where you are. Signs point you to Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Naples. This sparsely populated area is over an hour's drive northwest of Portland. Bridgton is the largest town in the area, with a year-round population of about five thousand.
The Beauchamps have found that lots of travel is required in order to shop in larger stores. Tim notes that the local residents are friendly but reserved. Getting names and contact information as he meets people has not been easy.
The family is discovering the joy of crystal clear lakes for fishing and swimming, evergreen and hardwood forests for hiking, magnificent vistas, and nights punctuated by the piercing cries of a pair of loons on the lake.
Tim is in Bridgton to help carry on the development of Pleasant Mountain Presbyterian Church. The mission work started about a dozen years ago with a Bible study. Most of those involved, including a ruling elder and a deacon, had some connection with Second Parish OPC in Portland. John Hilbelink, Second Parish's pastor at that time, was a great encourager of the mission work.
In 2003, evening worship services began in the town of Denmark. Pleasant Mountain is a landmark there. Several years later, worship was moved to Bridgton, where services could be held in the morning at the community center.
Over the years, the congregation grew, but it was still relatively small. Pastor Hilbelink came every month to lead worship. Other OP ministers came regularly. Licentiate Ian (Cornelius) Van Leeuwen moved into the area to assist as a regular supply. Young families were added to the work. They were committed to raising their covenant children faithfully. At present, there are eleven year-round households. Worship attendance is generally around forty.
Tim rejoices that on many Sundays visitors are present at worship. Most of the visitors have been invited by those in the congregation. Pleasant Mountain Presbyterian Church evidences a great sense of trust in God to establish this church. At 5:00 on Monday mornings, almost all the men gather for prayer.
Summer brings vacationers and visitors to worship. Dick Gerber, the associate general secretary of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension, and his family have been among them since the beginning. He says, "Prior to the establishment of Pleasant Mountain OPC, the area was a spiritual wasteland. Finding faithful worship and preaching that even referred to the Bible was nearly impossible."
The congregation has been able to purchase an older building next to the community center where it formerly met. It needs a lot of beautification and renovation to maximize the usability of the space.
Praise God that a church that exalts Christ and is faithful to the Bible is being established. Pray that Pastor Beauchamp and the congregation will show the beauty of Christ to local residents and vacationers who are in the region because of its natural beauty. Pray for Tim as he seeks to bear testimony of Christ. Pray for the congregation as it seeks to make an impact in the community and to support the covenant nurture of the children in the congregation.
Sowers are being sent out to sow. Reapers are gathering in the harvest. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church continues to send men and their families throughout North America to proclaim Christ and plant new churches. People in mission works across the land are making great sacrifices. Times of planning, cultivating, sowing, harvesting, and preserving are all from the Lord of the harvest. Pray that he will grant diligence, wisdom, strength, perseverance, and prayerful patience.
The author is associate general secretary of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. New Horizons, July 2011.