Sowing in Tears and Reaping with Shouts of Joy in Ohio
I served for twelve and a half years as a church planter and pastor in Dayton, Ohio. It was both my longest and my most difficult pastorate. Military officers' families stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton would come to us from Presbyterian and Reformed churches all over the U.S.A. They would join, become active, and then after three or four years be transferred. They may have been better off for having been with us, but it was no way to start a church.
Growth was slow. We came to believe that, in this case, meeting in the Seventh-Day Adventist building was actually a hindrance. So in the fall of 1977 we moved into a public school in Huber Heights, a growing suburb east of Dayton. After a couple of months, we gave up on that, toothe rent was too high, and the school district refused to give us heat in the chilly autumn months.
In God's time, we found and bought a house church in Huber Heights. It had been the incubator for several hatchling churches before ours. A grandfather clause permitted its continuance after the residential community in which it was located was incorporated into a city. We were there for about four years before we left for our next call. The auditorium could seat fifty to fifty-five worshipers. In our last years there, we were filling it.
In his wisdom, the Lord used us as a springboard to bless people well outside the perimeter of our furthest reach. Ruth Jarvis lived in Columbus, seventy-five miles east of Dayton. She contacted our OPC Home Missions general secretary, LeRoy Oliver, looking for a church that preached the Reformed faith. She had read somewhere that there was an OP church in Jamesville, Ohio. There wasn't. She may have mistaken Janesville, Wisconsin, for Jamesville, Ohio. Roy sent the letter to me, asking me to look into it.
So my wife, Gerry, and I contacted Ruth. The evening we met with her, she had gathered a few other people with the same hunger. We were having afternoon worship services instead of evening services in Dayton at that time, and I suggested that Ruth and her friends come and check us out. On the target Sunday, they arrived just as we were ending the service. They had gotten lost, but meanwhile realized that it was too far, anyway.
I offered to go to Columbus and conduct a Bible class in their homes. They assented eagerly. For the next three years, I went every other Thursday night. It was an exciting time. Finally, on the Sunday evening before Labor Day in 1977, we had our first worship service in the basement of one of their homes. Our hostess that evening accompanied our singing on her flute.
At the close of the service, I asked if they wanted to begin Sunday worship services. They said yes. So I began to preach two Sundays a month in Columbus, with available preachers filling in on the other Sundays. We met first in a Holiday Inn, and then in the basement of a bank. This arrangement continued until May, when their first pastor arrived. That church is now two or three times larger than her mother church.
Grace OPC in Columbus gave birth to two daughter churchesone in Mansfield and the other in Pickerington. The Columbus church is attempting to start another one in Delaware, Ohio, just north of Columbus. Since we left, the Dayton church has built its own building in Green County, east of Dayton.
The Dayton congregation has started another daughter church in Vandalia, Ohio, just north of Dayton. In the days of my ministry there, I was often overwhelmed with distress at the lack of growth. Looking back, I now realize that the seed that produced one struggling congregation has resulted in the planting of five more so far. I didn't do it. Only after I left did that fruit manifest itself. "He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him" (Psalm 126:6 NKJV).
Ordained in 1938, Lawrence Eyres served for many years as an OPC minister. Reprinted from New Horizons, November 2001.