Michigan Church Laments Pastor's Disappearance

November 8, 2013 — Last week Fuller Avenue Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Mich., held a service of prayer for the family of George Vander Weit, the retired pastor who had served that congregation and went missing from his Rochester, Mich., home on July 5 this year.

Cathy Winterhalter, the worship assistant at Fuller Ave., had worked for many years alongside Vander Weit. She suggested the service for the family and community because “It seemed like a healthy thing to do for all of us.”

About 100 people gathered at the church on a Wednesday evening to lament Vander Weit’s absence. A service of Scripture, song, and prayer was interspersed with members sharing remembrances of his ministry.

“We sang songs that were special to George during his ministry and during his time of struggle,” said Winterhalter. The service closed with words of hope for the future.

Vander Weit’s son Randy attended the service. Afterward he said, “I felt it was a God-honoring service and a good time to hear how my dad affected the Fuller Ave. family, individuals, the Fuller community, and the CRC as a whole.”

Updates from the family have been posted periodically on the Facebook group “Help Find George Vander Weit in Rochester, MI.”

Vander Weit also served Christian Reformed churches in Wayland, Mich.; Cleveland, Ohio; Troy, Mich.; and, most recently, Han-Bit Korean CRC in Rochester Hills, Mich. He has also been a prolific writer for The Banner.

The family has been working with the Rochester chief of police to organize a volunteer search party on Saturday, November 9 at 9:00 a.m., meeting at the Rochester Fire Department. It is hoped that the falling of leaves and change of seasons may make visible areas that were previously obscured.

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I continue to find this story profoundly disturbing, and it raises the question of how well we care for the emotional health of pastors. Do we as pastors take any intentional steps to protect our emotional and mental health? Do our councils take any such steps, or is it even on their radar?

I agree Randy, I find this story troubling too.  You raise great questions here.  I think that despair or depression is a challenge with many roots.  I think your first question is the operative one, somehow we need the discernment to know what we need, the freedom to give ourselves permission to ask for what we need, and the courage to do the asking.  These things come up against the culture in which we live, our own personal stories, the expectations others have of us, and we have of ourselves.  There is grace for us, we need to ask for it.  I say these things with no reflection on George.  I never met him, but only know him as a brother in Christ and in ministry.  His story does linger with me.

You might also want to read a wonderful piece about George Vander Weit, written by Charley Honey in Grand Rapids. We linked to it on the Banner's Facebook page. Otherwise, you can probably find it on mlive.com.